HR requires creative approach

Slovak companies compete locally but also with foreign firms. With an improving economy, the labour market is reviving, posing new challenges for employers.

(Source: SME)

The lack of qualified labour force on one hand, and the growing requirements on the part of potential employees on the other create unique challenges. The Slovak Spectator spoke about these and other issues that HR experts currently face with Luboš Sirota, president of board and general director of McROY Group; Miroslav Garaj, country manager at Grafton Recruitment Slovakia; Pavol Strapáč, country finance manager at Adecco; Martin Krekáč, chairman and owner Jenewein Group and senior partner of Amrop; Igor Šulík, managing partner of Amrop; and Mario Fondati, partner of Amrop.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What are the new trends on the labour market over the past year? Have there been any significant changes?

Luboš Sirota (LS): Although there’s been no sudden change on the market, the ongoing economic growth and the subsequent increasing demand for employees resulted in the offer of qualified labour force being exhausted. Companies thus face challenges they had faced before the outburst of the economic crisis in 2008: despite a high unemployment rate they have problems to fill all the vacancies with appropriate people. The requirements for candidates have decreased (often the willingness to work is enough), while many companies try to search for workers abroad (mainly Romania and Bulgaria, but also the number of Czechs and Moravians working in Slovakia has increased).

Miroslav Garaj (MG): The year 2015 was turbulent due to the global situation and trends, the IT sector expanded and the demand for production workers increased. Due to new investments and new emerging projects, the labour market automatically responded to the current trends and needs of employers, not only in the capital, but also in other regions of Slovakia. In the Trenčín Region, we registered a higher interest in specialists for technical positions with focus on quality, engineering, project management, production, logistics and lean management. In the Bratislava region the demand was mainly for administrative workers with good language skills. In the production sector, mainly experienced engineers in automotive production were in demand.

Martin Krekáč (MK): After several years of stagnation last year was a year of growth. Optimism has begun to return into the economy, companies started to invest more and that has positively impacted the labour market. Another big change for the common market in the European Union is linked to over a million new potential workers that will eventually enter the labour market, for which neither Slovakia, nor the EU is ready.

Pavol Strapáč (PS): Just like in all spheres of life, also on the labour market new, innovative forms of searching for work as well as searching for people emerge. New technologies are becoming ever more important. In the past people sought work only through the web and specialised websites, nowadays they use also mobile applications like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Employees are not interested only in the salary; they also want to know about the work conditions in general, the benefits, offices, air conditioning, and the location of the factory or the offices.

TSS: Which alternative forms of work are most widely used in Slovakia and how interested are employees in part-time jobs, home-based work, or shared work positions?

LS: Employees, for instance mothers of young children, students, pensioners, show interest in part-time jobs, but the availability of this kind of work is significantly lower than demand and Slovakia in this respect significantly lags behind western European countries. It’s similar with work from home. Home office is becoming one of the most demanded employee benefits (together with additional holidays), but the offer of this type of work still lags, despite its significant increase. As for shared positions, both offer and demand are rather low. The reason is that it is demanding in terms of administration and processes. The most often used alternative form of work remain limited time work agreements (“na dohodu”), which to a large extent take the place of part-time jobs. Also there has been a decrease in the past, due to the stricter legislation and this trend remained also in 2015.

MG: The most frequent alternative is part-time work. Employees often show interest in working from home or shared working position, but the character of most jobs on the market doesn’t allow for that.

Igor Šulík (IŠ): Part-time jobs and home-based work have been on a rise. More and more younger people are interested in jobs that do not limit them about when they work and where they work as long as they can balance work and life. Having a considerable portion of shared service centres (SSCs) in our country, people working there have to be flexible to work at the time when their counterparts are working in any region of the world and if they can do it from home, the companies have a tendency to allow it.

PS: In Slovakia people are still not completely familiar with alternative forms of work, but also in this area trends are positive, people are interested in alternative forms, mainly in working from home or part-time jobs that are interesting mainly for mothers on maternal leave. These forms of employment are used increasingly mainly because there are many opportunities to make money and secure one’s family, not just with one job, but a combination of jobs. These forms of employment then allow people to combine the job they like doing with a job that is necessary for their survival due to the salary.

TSS: Slovakia is facing the paradox that the unemployment rate remains rather high in some regions, but some businesses in the country have problems finding skilled labour for the positions they need to fill. Which sectors are most affected by this problem and what are the solutions you see as plausible?

LS: Slovakia’s labour market stops functioning at an unemployment rate around 9 percent. It’s approximately double the rate that is common in more advanced economies. The reason is the poor structure of Slovakia’s unemployed (for example about 100,000 of them have completed primary education only), in combination with low mobility of the work force. Companies in the most industrially advanced regions of Slovakia – Bratislava, Trnava, Trenčín, Žilina, Košice – are the most affected by this situation. It’s mainly industrial companies in the area of automotive and machine industry. IT companies too have problems with people in the long run, but there the main reason is the inappropriate structure of the Slovak university education, which produces too many graduates in sectors like social work or pedagogy, while technicians are missing.

MG: It is most visible in the production sector, mainly at qualified positions where certain knowledge or skills are required. One of the problems is that generally secondary schools and universities do not prepare their graduates for real work life, but are limited to theory. Another problem is the big unwillingness of Slovaks to travel for work. A well-functioning system of connections between schools and companies, and a bigger support for commuting for work on the part of employers and the state could help.

Mario Fondati (MF): There are many people among the unemployed who lack almost any working skills and are therefore almost unemployable. Based on the structure of industry, companies lack qualified labour in many production areas. SSCs are also operating on a highly competitive market for qualified labour. Many companies therefore have to hire people who need a lot of additional training, or try to attract people from abroad. And we should not forget that there is still a lack of IT specialists.

PS: This paradox exists in Slovakia perhaps even more than in other countries of our region, due to archaic methods of schooling, untargeted education in sectors that have no application in Slovakia. On the other hand, as a country where the automotive and machine industries are expanding, we are unable to secure education and a sufficient number of engineers. This problem is also seen in IT, where we are also unable to fill the gap, while in humanities we’ve got too many people who cannot find a job. The solution would not just be declared, but really close cooperation between the real market and schools. Something has started last year but that’s too little.

TSS: What are the expectations of job applicants and how have they changed during the years of crisis?

LS: Expectations are gradually growing. While during the crisis they have dropped significantly, at the moment they’re back to pre-crisis level. The pressure on raising salaries increases, as does unwillingness to work overtime. Benefits like flexible working time, additional holidays and home office are required. Work-life balance gets ever more important mainly for young people. Generation Y that starts dominating the market doesn’t want to live to work, but work to be able to live well. These are the people whose parents often did not have time for them when they were children, and they don’t want to treat their kids equally. That is why working time is often more important for them than money.

MG: Expectations change based on age and sector. Younger candidates expect the company to invest time and money into them and push them forward in their career, but they show less loyalty towards the company. People with 10 and more years of experience rather seek a more stable environment and expect that they will have a chance to pass their experiences on. Compared with the crisis time, people put more focus on remuneration. They realise the economy is in good shape and therefore they demand higher pay for their work.

IŠ: People active on the labour market are slowly becoming more flexible. Although still not completely common, they are becoming more open to relocate for a good job. They have continuously become aware that the benefit system has shrunk and is not so important for them to make a decision to join a company. It is a common notion that people are willing to work more for even less for the time being.

PS: Young people have incredible requirements and compared with the past they are only slightly willing to sacrifice something for their requirements that are often financially overdone. As a result, you have a self-confident person (which is a positive change compared with the past when people had low self-confidence) sitting in front of you at the job interview, but their self-confidence is often not justified because their skills are disproportionally lower. This is a big change compared to the past when we would meet people willing to work for a few euros long and intensively with the aim to work their way up. Today it’s vice versa, expectations are high but the offer, that is the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the work, is low.

TSS: What are the main challenges HR managers are facing nowadays?

LS: It’s the lack of labour force in combination with talent competition. Companies face not just a lack of workers as such, but the value of those really talented, engaged, and creative people increases too. HR issues need to be approached creatively. Additionally, local companies must compete for people not just among each other, but also with competitors from abroad.

MG: The growth of the Slovak economy brings new types of positions in great numbers to our labour market, therefore the biggest problem and challenge is to find good-quality people. It is a great challenge to keep one’s employees as long as possible and be competitive with new attractive employers who are arriving to the market.

MF: HR departments are still confronted with the same task – to achieve more results with limited resources. Additionally, often they have to solve the acute lack of experts for some positions, like in industry and IT, since the offer of university graduates is small and does not keep up with demand. At the same time, HR managers in many areas become strategic partners of top management, and are thus required to understand not only human resources but also the nature of the business and its needs.

PS: Today the position of an HR manager is perceived in a much more complex manner than in the past. An HR manager is expected to be an equal partner for a CEO and CFO. Effective and good-quality selection of people and a sensibly set up internal processes in personnel management very intensively influence the whole company. Therefore HR managers are invited to influence key decisions. The triangle CEO-CFO-HR is becoming key in the life of many companies. 

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