The fall of the communist regime more than 20 years ago has enabled Slovaks to quench their thirst for travel, well-paid work abroad, brand-name products and high-quality education overseas. But to be equal partners on the international stage, Slovaks have had to learn the world’s major languages and primarily the contemporary lingua franca, English. Although a majority of Slovaks now say they can speak at least one foreign language, there is still room for improvement, employers say.
Employers clearly state they have increasingly high expectations regarding the foreign-language skills of applicants for high-level managerial positions and specialised jobs, primarily due to an increasing number of foreign companies operating in Slovakia and the rising trend of demanding that employees have good language skills when working with international partners. Slovak jobseekers claim their language skills are relatively high but employers are concerned that some CVs often overrate an applicant’s real knowledge of a language.
English is favoured
Knowledge of a foreign language was a requirement in 62 percent of all job advertisements posted in the first half of 2010, according to the Profesia job portal. English was the required language in 56 percent of those job advertisements, followed by German in 16 percent of the job offers. Knowledge of other languages such as Hungarian, French, Italian or Russian was sometimes a job requirement, but only rarely.
English, as the lingua franca in Europe and in much of the world, is required most often by employers, who offer several reasons why they expect their employees to speak that language.
“Our communication and corporate language within the whole group is English so we require an advanced level of English from employees in many positions,” Anton Molnár, the spokesperson of Slovnaft, a member of the international MOL group, told The Slovak Spectator. Molnár said English-language skill is required primarily from managers at all levels and by specialists because of their close cooperation with other companies grouped within MOL. If English is spoken by managers and specialists in all companies of the group it makes communication more effective and opens opportunities for joint projects, he added.
IBM is one of the few companies operating in Slovakia that requires fluent English from all its employees.
“But we have positions which require knowledge of [English plus] other languages too, often even the more exotic ones,” Silvia Nosálová, the spokesperson of IBM, told The Slovak Spectator.
“There are people of about 40 different nationalities working for IBM and they speak about 30 different languages,” Nosálová said. “They are mostly young people and speaking
a foreign language is nothing unusual for them – quite the contrary.”
Tatrabanka also requires fluent English from its employees. According to Dušan Antoš, the head of the bank’s HR department, knowledge of English is necessary for practically every position in the bank.
“Every other language that a job candidate masters is welcome,” said Antoš, adding that many Tatrabanka employees also speak German or Russian.
“However, we also have employees who specialise on some foreign clients and communicate with them in French, Italian or Korean,” Antoš told The Slovak Spectator. In other companies the requirements for English are less universal and more dependent on the job position. Allianz-Slovenská Poisťovňa, an insurance company, requires its employees to speak English at various levels ranging from intermediate to advanced, depending on the person’s specific position in the company, spokesperson Lucia Muthová told The Slovak Spectator. “That is mainly for positions that require communication with the mother company in Munich and sister companies all around the world,” Muthová said, listing top management, accounting, purchasing, communications, marketing, HR, legal and IT as those departments that most often need English-speaking staff.
According to Vladimír Machalík, the spokesperson for Volkswagen Slovakia, the language requirements for job candidates differ, depending on the particular position. “In administration and in some parts of production, logistics or quality management there are positions that require knowledge of one or more foreign languages, mostly German and English,” Machalík told The Slovak Spectator, adding that these are typically positions in which the employees need to communicate with their foreign colleagues or suppliers.
VÚB Banka requires foreign language skills from job candidates only in cases in which the foreign language really has a practical use, said Alena Walterová, VÚB’s spokesperson, while most often it is English that is required. The positions where language skills are needed include those in which employees must communicate with foreign clients or institutions or with the bank’s headquarters.
“Generally speaking, we consider good knowledge of a language to be the ability to write and to engage in fluent phone or personal communication,” Walterová told The Slovak Spectator.
Judging from the data provided by the Profesia job portal, the number of Slovaks with English- language skills exceeds the needs of employers. As many as 66 percent of those who published their CV on the job portal in the first half of 2010 stated that they had mastered English while companies required English knowledge in only 56 percent of the jobs offered.
Among other languages, 48 percent of the jobseekers on Profesia said they spoke German well, and Russian remained one of the most-spoken foreign languages, with 14 percent of jobseekers listing it as one of their spoken languages.
“The situation around Russian is interesting as companies rarely require this language but it is in third place among people,” Lucia Burianová, the PR manager of Profesia, said.
Hungarian is spoken by 12 percent of jobseekers who posted CVs on the job portal, while only 5 percent of the jobseekers said they spoke French and 2 percent listed Italian as one of their languages.
Profesia noted that Slovaks are more knowledgeable than their neighbours when it comes to foreign languages. Compared to the 66 percent of Slovak jobseekers with knowledge of English, only 57 percent of Czechs and 47 percent of Hungarians speak English, according to Profesia, adding that the situation with knowledge of German is similar, with 41 percent of Czechs and 28 percent of Hungarians listing it as among their spoken languages, as compared to 48 percent of the Slovak jobseekers.
Maintaining language skills
Most employers who spoke with The Slovak Spectator stated that their interest in employees’ language skills does not end when a candidate proves his or her language abilities at the job interview, and said they contribute to maintaining and improving their employees’ language skills in various ways.
Some companies, such as Tatrabanka and Allianz, include language training possibilities into their employee benefit programmes. Volkswagen provides internal training in various areas, including German and English language courses. Other companies say they have a more targeted approach in keeping employees’ language skills at a high level.
At Slovnaft, every manager, in cooperation with the HR department, tailors a package of training activities, including language programmes, for each employee in their department as a part of their career development, Molnár said, adding at the same time that employees have the opportunity to choose training activities and courses for themselves.
“We expect that if a job position requires knowledge of a foreign language, the candidate or employee already speaks the language and will maintain the necessary level of language skills,” Walterová of VÚB said, adding that the bank supports additional language training for its employees when necessary and justified.
14. Mar 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani