Students to get more experience with new law

AFTER nearly two years of discussion, parliament has adopted a new law on vocational training which should meet the requirements of employers for more professional staffers. 

(Source: TASR)

It will carry out the theoretical part of the education process at schools, while practical training will be entrusted to companies. Despite support from employers’ associations, there still remain some weak points that, they hope, may be removed after further negotiations.

“Vocational education in Slovakia has a long and quality tradition which was interrupted to a certain extent in past years, so we have not built it on a green field,” Education Minister Juraj Draxler said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. He referred to the fact that there was dual education in the past, but it gradually faded after the fall of communism.

An important part of the new law, approved by 80 MPs on March 12, is the implementation of the dual education scheme into vocational training, including the mechanism of verification of employers’ abilities to offer practical training, Education Ministry spokeswoman Beáta Dupaľová Ksenzsighová told The Slovak Spectator.

In practice, employers who decide to join the project will enter into learning contracts with secondary school students, who will undergo practical training at the company. The system is beneficial for students in that they will be entitled to receive remuneration for their work, while the companies will be motivated by tax relief. The government has allocated €26 million for this purpose up to 2018. The level of the granted tax relief will be the same for all participating firms.

Employers who want to join the system but lack the required equipment and premises will be able to arrange for part of the practical training to be carried out on the premises of a different employer, the law stipulates. More powers within the certification process for employers will be assumed by the State Institute of Vocational Education (SIOV).

The time spent in the company may be from 60 to 80 percent of the total number of lessons.

After being signed by the president, the new law will become effective as of April 1, and become part of school curricula as of September 1.

“We consider the adoption of the law positively, as a success of employers to legitimise their efforts for the transformation of vocational education and implementation of the dual education system in Slovakia,” Roman Conorto of the Federation of Employers’ Associations (AZZZ) told The Slovak Spectator.

Foreign chambers in Slovakia also welcomed the law, though they say it is not ideal.

“The law is, however, a step in the right direction since it increases the share of practical training in education, is focused on demand and improves the cooperation between schools and companies,” Ján Kokorák from the German-Slovak Chamber of Industry and Commerce (SNOPK) told The Slovak Spectator.

Martina Krišková, project manager of the commerce department at the Austrian Embassy to Slovakia, called the law a “compromise and an inevitable solution”.

Further discussion expected

The new law is based on the experiences of countries which already use the dual education scheme, especially Germany, Austria and Switzerland, said Július Hron, deputy chair of the Slovak Automotive Industry Association (ZAP) and coordinator for employers at the government’s council for vocational education.

The Education Ministry is now preparing the regulation, which should be issued in April. In June it will publish the model curricula and syllabi for the professions in which the dual education scheme will be implemented, and will also update the state vocational education programmes, Dupaľová Ksenzsighová said.

Employers’ representatives and foreign chambers of commerce, however, point to some weak points of the new legislation, citing especially the lack of motivation for firms to join in. Though the law contains several motivational factors, like ways to decrease company tax bases, it may not be enough for small companies, Krišková said.

Kokorák added that some companies would welcome a higher share of practical training in education.

Moreover, Club 500, which unites companies with more than 500 employees, criticised moving the competences and responsibilities of the state to 12 private organisations which will check whether employers are competent to offer practical training to students.

The law will bring more administrative burden to all participants in the system, including businesses, schools and students, said Tibor Gregor, executive director of Club 500, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

The professional organisations are an important part of the new system, Dupaľová Ksenzsighová responded. Since they are responsible for the education programmes, they get new competences, including the verification of the professional abilities of employers in the dual education system, she explained.

In response to these concerns, she added that a new provision to the law will allow the Education Ministry to check the abilities of employers in case the professional organisations refuse their application to enter the scheme.

Another problematic area to which AZZZ already pointed to during the negotiations on the new law is the financial motivation of companies. Conorto says that the remaining problematic area in the law will be solved during further negotiations.

“Currently the employers are continuing discussions with the Finance Ministry over financing the vocational education,” Conorto added.

The ideal solution, according to the AZZZ, would be the direct payment per student. The Finance Ministry currently proposes the possibility to decrease the tax base based on the number of hours the students spend in the plant. For 200 hours it is €1,600 a year per student, while for 400 hours it is €3,200 a year per student, he explained.

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