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BUSINESS FOCUS - HUMAN RESOURCES

Growing young managers

DO YOU think that manager and leadership positions are only for adults? Well, you had better start practicing from childhood.
Programmes at the Junior Achievement International Slovakia (JA Slovakia) organisation enable children between the ages of 15 and 18 to enter the world of market economy, manage their companies, and present their performance and successes in an environment mirroring Slovak business society.


HIGH school students taste the real world.
photo: Courtesy of JA Slovakia

DO YOU think that manager and leadership positions are only for adults? Well, you had better start practicing from childhood.

Programmes at the Junior Achievement International Slovakia (JA Slovakia) organisation enable children between the ages of 15 and 18 to enter the world of market economy, manage their companies, and present their performance and successes in an environment mirroring Slovak business society.

"We want to teach children to take responsibility for themselves. We want them not to rely on employment offices when they finish school. They should be active themselves and not waiting for someone to arrange something for them," Ivica Forrová, deputy national office director of JA Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator.

JA Slovakia is a non-profit organisation associated with the world network of Junior Achievement organisations in 110 countries, of which 37 belong to the Junior Achievment - Young Enterprise Europe network.

The organisation was established in the USA around 1919 when young people coming to cities from the US countryside were not prepared for the market economy, city lifestyle, and doing business. It was very hard for them to succeed.

In response, the US business society decided to support young people and give them business training by simulating the real business environment, and letting them tackle case studies. This was the basis for establishing the Junior Achievement organisation. Gradually, it spread further around the world.

In 1992, the Czechoslovak organisation was founded. After the republic split in 1993, Junior Achievement Slovakia was established in 1994.

"We offer educational programmes to young people. Our target group consists of students of secondary schools, but we also have programmes for elementary schools and university students. However, it is mainly for young people between the ages of 15 and 18. The programmes focus on the economy, the fundamentals of doing business; teaching children to orient themselves in the market economy, and preparing them for the labour market and making ethical decisions" said Forrová.

The organisation offers its programmes to schools for free. However, schools have to meet some conditions such as appropriate technical equipment and suitable staff. Afterwards, teachers are trained, and the schools get textbooks, exercise books, and an introduction to the methodology.

Teachers can usually take part in additional training, workshops, or conferences during the school year. The school then chooses a group of students, or the whole class to take the special courses. Students can sometimes decide to take up the programme themselves as an extra course, or schools schedule the programme in one of the compulsory subjects.

The programmes usually terminate with competitions, ranging from school to international level, where students can present what they have learned, promoting the students' knowledge and communication and presentation skills.

"The trade fairs of student companies and the young leaders conferences definitely belong among the most attractive for students. They like the trade fairs; they work in teams and for the first time in their lives they experience the feeling of being a member of a company's staff at the fair," added Forrová.

The trade fair is in fact the last phase of a one-year course in applied economics. Students simulate the activities of a stock company for a whole year and, in the final stage (the trade fair), they offer their products and present the marketing strategies and performance of the company.

"It is a real trade fair atmosphere, which they can experience while of school age. They have to communicate with visitors. There is a jury composed of businessmen assessing the companies in certain categories like the best product, the best environmental product, the best managerial team, and marketing presentations. This programme and competition is about teamwork," explained Forrová.

The Young Leader competition focuses on individuals. Students work out essays on a certain topic. The jury, also including representatives of the business community, assess not only the content of the work but also its presentation.

The best students then pass to the Young Leaders Conference, which is, in fact, the Slovak round of the competition. Apart from presentation of their work, they can take part in various workshops, solve case studies, and take part in teambuilding activities.

The international network of Junior Achievement organisations enables the organisation of such events and competitions even on an international scale. "For young people it is a great motivation - the possibility to go abroad and present their knowledge there. It is also good for us - to exchange experience," said the deputy director.

The programmes are originally based on American projects but they are adapted to Slovak conditions. "Every programme that we have is already altered to our environment. Besides, each country can create its own programmes as well," she explained.

Programmes should be connected to practice and not be too academic or theoretical, and thus the JA Slovakia cooperates with renowned businessmen and companies. Apart from knowledge and experience, many of them support the programmes financially.

The knowledge of Slovak students in economic theory is comparable to young people of other nationalities, Forrová said. However, she added, "On the other hand, students from western parts of the world are more communicative and self-confident. Our system of education is different. We are also trying to teach them presentation and communication skills, but that is not enough.

"We can also feel the language barrier. Western students are much better in English. International competitions are all in English, and although someone is good in theory, if he cannot talk naturally in a foreign language, he will not be successful."

In Slovakia in 2003/2004, about 20,000 students were involved in these programmes. "We try to spread the programmes throughout the whole of Slovakia. We are heading eastward, mainly to regions with high unemployment," Forrová added.

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