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Firms actively join education process

COMPANIES in Slovakia realise that qualified and trained workers are significant assets for their businesses. And because the current interconnection of business and academia is not at the required level, they themselves are joining the process of education. Their activities rank from offering training and internships, sending their experts to lecture at schools, various competitions, to granting their products for educational purposes. The Slovak Spectator spoke to František Jakab, coordinator of the Cisco educational networking academy programme, Erika Burianová, HR director at oil refiner Slovnaft, Kamila Oborilová, the head of the department for education at carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën Slovakia, Dušan Dvořák, of Kia Motors Slovakia and Zuzana Hošalová, public relations specialist at computer anti-virus firm ESET, about their activities in education.

Slovakia needs more qualified technical staff.(Source: SME)

COMPANIES in Slovakia realise that qualified and trained workers are significant assets for their businesses. And because the current interconnection of business and academia is not at the required level, they themselves are joining the process of education. Their activities rank from offering training and internships, sending their experts to lecture at schools, various competitions, to granting their products for educational purposes. The Slovak Spectator spoke to František Jakab, coordinator of the Cisco educational networking academy programme, Erika Burianová, HR director at oil refiner Slovnaft, Kamila Oborilová, the head of the department for education at carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën Slovakia, Dušan Dvořák, of Kia Motors Slovakia and Zuzana Hošalová, public relations specialist at computer anti-virus firm ESET, about their activities in education.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Does your company take part in the educational process? If so, can you tell us how?
František Jakab (FJ):
Cisco has been intensively supporting education in technologies and network solutions since 1999. It offers, at various levels of complexity, a networking academy programme to supplement the existing system of education. The current system of five university workplaces and 64 secondary schools enables more than 400 network specialists annually to be trained at the level of CCNA certification, which should satisfy to a significant extent the existing demand. The results that Slovakia has achieved put it among the most successful countries in the preparation of network specialists. Almost 6,000 secondary school and university students are currently studying within this scheme in Slovakia.

Erika Burianová (EB): Slovnaft cooperates systematically with secondary schools and universities with the aim of securing enough qualified workers for the company for the future. Slovnaft is cooperating via several projects. For example, its experts lecture at two universities. Each year Slovnaft also presents awards to the authors of the three best graduation theses and their faculties. It also holds the Brownfield Slovnaft competition for future architects and civil engineers for revitalisation of unused industrial zones. We also enable students to attend practical training in our company. This cooperation has wider benefits as it helps to address one of the systemic problems of Slovakia’s educational system – young people’s lack of interest in technical studies.
Kamila Oborilová (KO):
PSA Peugeot Citroën Slovakia is involved in the educational process at schools of all levels and supports the education of apprentices and specialists in Slovakia. We have been using the two-year Vivier programme for graduates of technical universities for training up human resources for leading positions. Our company also actively cooperates with STU. Within the Campus of Occupations we cooperated, along with STU, also with three secondary specialised schools in Bratislava and Trnava and created four educational centres for further education. In 2008 the project transformed into the Coordination Centre of Specialised Education and opened for students of partner schools as well as other industrial companies, which can train their employees here. Our company is also a partner in the project of the Education Ministry, the State Vocational Educational Institute and two other carmakers, Kia Motors Slovakia and Volkswagen Slovakia, to create a new study programme, specialised mechanic in automotive production. The pilot school in Trnava Region is the Secondary Specialised Automotive School in Trnava and the programme opened in September. Students can also attend practical training in our company. PSA has also granted 46 cars for educational purposes so far.

Dušan Dvořák (DD): We started to communicate with secondary schools and universities as early as
2005. At that time we participated with the directors of secondary specialised schools in Žilina Region to prepare a study programme, specialised mechanic in automotive production. We help secondary specialised schools and universities to enhance the level of practical education and preparation of students for practical work in several ways. Our company has granted schools about 90 cars, more than 60 engines and other components for educational purposes so far. Students of secondary specialised schools and universities can also attend practical training in our company or apply for scholarships. Since the 2010/2011 school year we have held a competition supporting education of young people via our foundation. The task of students from Žilina and Trenčín Regions is to work out, in cooperation with their teachers, a project on the topics announced in advance.
Zuzana Hošalová (ZH): ESET is trying to join the education process at universities. We are now in intensive contact with the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at STU and hoping that we will proceed to something concrete even before the end of the current semester. In this case we want to give a helping hand during the education of university students in the field to which our company is devoted. We hope that in this way we will raise a higher interest among students in examining malware and that we will simultaneously help them to become better established in the labour market. The form of cooperation has not yet been agreed upon, but from our side this will be a non-profit activity.

Another ESET activity is the ESET Security Days, which are just taking place. This is primarily a workshop and meeting with our partners and distributors, but we have invited a large number of secondary school and university students to participate in one part of this event. During one afternoon we talk with them about computer security. We have already held such events in Žilina, Zvolen and Košice and plan to hold a three-day event in Bratislava in November.

TSS: What is your company’s experience of participating in the educational process?
FJ:
The interest of students in the networking academy programme continues to grow and it has met with a positive response not only amongst students but also employers. The employment rate of graduates from the NetAcad certification programme is 100 percent.
EB: They are very positive. By active participation in the process of education, we help students to connect the theoretical knowledge gained in school with practice. Simultaneously it helps us to get closer to the young generation, their way of thinking, and to respond.

KO: Our experiences are positive. It is the best for a manufacturing company when it itself trains its future workers. In this way students get acquainted with our technologies as well as our corporate culture. Our goal is that graduates, immediately after finishing secondary school, become fully-fledged employees. Experience with such graduates is excellent. The induction period is reduced to a minimum.

ZH: We do not see any big problem in direct communication with students. For example, the high interest of students in attending the ESET Security Days has surprised us. But the official and formal cooperation with universities is not fully resolved from the legal point of view.

TSS: How do you, in general, perceive the interconnection of business and academia in Slovakia?
FJ:
For Cisco, interconnection of practice and academia is of key importance, which in the end significantly influences the business activities of the company itself in the global scope. This is also the core of the networking academy programme. This year it will celebrate its 15th anniversary and it has significantly affected existing models of global educational activities based on the partnership of public and private spheres. This initiative has brought into the Slovak education system a new dimension. Now the world perceives Slovakia in this field as a model country and the best Slovak schools, for example the Technical University in Košice, are regular destinations for foreign visits “examining” how this actually works in Slovakia. We see shortcomings especially in the general perception of education by society and the state. It is not enough only to declare that we realise the importance of education: it is also necessary to take real steps. It is necessary to support good experiences in the system of education and replicate them across the whole system.

EB: We think that there is still a long way ahead of us to achieve an ideal state. But it is positive that schools already realise that if the expectations of strategically important employers from the regions do not meet with what a graduate of their school can offer, their ability to establish themselves in the labour market will be much more difficult.

KO: The interconnection of business and academia in Slovakia is insufficient. The practical preparedness of students as well as the intertwining of theory and practice is at a low level. There is little specialised training at schools and it is often not in line with the field of studies. The aim of our company is to push through more practice and less theory. A positive feature is that the Education Ministry is starting to realise the shortcomings and that there are visible efforts to solve the problem. Nevertheless, we realise that this is a long-distance run.

DD: The number of university-educated people in Slovakia is increasing each year. Alas, this is often to the detriment of the education provided. Secondary specialised, but also grammar schools should educate people in such fields in order that their graduates find proper jobs. The present situation in Slovakia is critical. This is why we are trying to cooperate with technical schools in order that they are able to educate future experts in the fields of machinery engineering and automotive production. Electrotechnics, hybrid technologies, chemistry, machinery engineering – all these are fields on which secondary students may focus if they would like to work in the automotive
industry.

ZH: It is not actually very much our business to comment on the interconnection of business and practice. I would mainly add that we have to learn from several countries, for example Germany, where internships are a common habit. However, in Slovakia there is also a problem with the motivation of students themselves, who sometimes automatically expect that everything will drop directly into their laps and lack a pro-active attitude in some areas.

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