SLOVAKIA plays host to numerous executive placement companies, which are kept busy by an increasing number of foreign companies setting up shop in the central European country.
All of them report a number of challenging market traits, from a lack of experienced candidates for senior positions, to a wide gap in qualifications between workers in the east and west of the country.
The Slovak Spectator recently spoke to Oliver Schmitt, managing partner of Teamconsult, about the characteristics of the Slovak HR market as the country heads toward EU integration.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Teamconsult is a relative newcomer to the Slovak market, although the company is well established in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Hungary. What attracted you to Slovakia?
Oliver Schmitt (OS): More than 50 percent of our clients in the Czech Republic are also active in Slovakia. In the past, we have run projects in Slovakia via our Prague office, but due to significant increases in volume, we decided to open an additional office in Bratislava. We are expecting many foreign companies, especially western manufacturing companies, to heavily invest in Slovakia in the future.
To be successful in executive search, you also have to be well connected in the local business environment, and we think this is best achieved with a dedicated office on the ground.
The prospect of EU membership and the generally positive economic trend made it even easier for us to make this decision. And, last but not least, I also have a personal relationship with this country as I am married to a Slovak woman.
TSS: What are the particular challenges of the Slovak human resources market?
OS: The biggest challenge is the small number of potential candidates for high-profile positions. We recently searched for a mergers and acquisitions (M&A) senior specialist to become a board member in an M&A boutique. In cases like that, you can expect the number of people qualified for the job to be somewhere between five and 10 for the whole country.
That situation is slowly improving, though. Thanks to extensive training in various companies, and the further integration of Slovakia into the European and global economies, the number of qualified candidates will rise.
But on the other hand, Slovakia is a fairly small market for many foreign investors. For that reason they will always try to keep their operations lean, and centralise their specialised functions in Austria, Germany, or the Czech Republic, for example.
TSS: How have the challenges of the market changed in recent years?
OS: Slovakia is a very centralised country. In the last few years, Slovakia has experienced strong growth rates in the service industries, but those companies are mostly located in Bratislava. Therefore, the gap in qualifications between people in Bratislava and in other regions has increased.
Only by attracting more foreign investors to the less developed areas of the country can a significant jump in the level of qualifications be achieved in those more remote regions.
TSS: Although it's hard to generalise, how does the quality of Slovak candidates compare with candidates in the other countries where you operate?
OS: All our clients are foreign-based investors, so foreign-language skills always play an important role in our selection process. We have noticed that the German language is much more common in Bratislava than in Prague, for example. We think this is due to Austrian TV and the strong influence of the Austrian economy in general.
Compared to the people we meet in the Czech Republic, I can say that Slovaks are very open minded and more willing to discuss personal matters with a stranger. I think that Slovakia is not only geographically between the Czech Republic and Hungary, but also culturally. The mentality of Slovaks seems to be a cross between the mentality of people in those two other countries.
TSS: As Slovakia prepares for EU entry next year, what type of employee is in highest demand, and why?
OS: At least one foreign language on a level to lead negotiations is an absolute must to develop a career. Understanding the mentality of foreign business partners is a big advantage as well.
The changes in Slovak society and the economy will continue, and may even accelerate. Being flexible and solution- instead of problem-oriented will help employees at work and also in their private sphere.
TSS: Some observers have suggested that after EU entry, many skilled Slovaks will leave Slovakia for the higher wages of western Europe. How likely do you think that is?
OS: When Germany introduced a special visa for IT experts a couple of years ago, Teamconsult tried to attract local talent to that market. But we learned that people in this region have strong feelings about their home country. Therefore, I don't think the so-called brain drain will become a big problem.
I am also convinced that if someone decides to leave, that person, in most cases, will plan to come back after a couple of years, bringing valuable experiences with him. The Prague office of Teamconsult can confirm this. It is in contact with many highly skilled Slovaks based in the Czech Republic who are waiting for the right job in Slovakia to take them home.
TSS: Is there anything the government and the Slovak business community could be doing to ensure that qualified workers will stay in Slovakia?
OS: The government is responsible for an environment that promotes economic growth, which will inevitably lead to new jobs that require higher qualifications.
For their part, companies have to recognise that their workforce is their best defence in surviving competition. And we should not forget that people with the right qualifications for foreign labour markets also have excellent prospects in Slovakia.
7. Jul 2003 at 0:00 | Rachel Salaman