Companies vie for workers

German firms in Slovakia use various ways to fill vacant positions.

Exports of machinery and transport equipment, including cars, make up two thirds of Slovakia's June Exports.Exports of machinery and transport equipment, including cars, make up two thirds of Slovakia's June Exports. (Source: TASR)

What was once described as Slovakia’s big advantage has gradually turned into a serious issue for foreign investors to overcome.

“The overall problem is the lack of qualified labour, which both our countries have to deal with,” German Ambassador to Slovakia Joachim Bleicker told The Slovak Spectator.

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At the turn of the millennium, Slovakia benefited from its qualified and cheap labour force, particularly in technically-oriented sectors. This attracted many foreign investors, particularly from the automotive industry, who established their plants here. The situation, however, has changed over the years and now the companies are competing for qualified workers, a recent survey carried out by the German-Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SNOPK) suggests.

This problem has also been confirmed by the German companies established in Slovakia addressed by The Slovak Spectator.

Though it is hard to find people qualified for certain positions, they have several ways of tackling the problem. Apart from qualifying the existing or potential workforce, the companies can also utilise automation, digitalisation and modernisation of production, Bleicker opines.

Fiercer competition

“The lack of skilled labour in Slovakia results in competition for the best job applicants,” Guido Glania, managing director of SNOPK, told The Slovak Spectator.

One of the biggest employers in Slovakia, the German carmaker Volkswagen, plans to hire 1,000 new staffers by the end of this year. The company admits it is becoming more difficult to find new people, regardless of their qualification.

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“Our priority is to hire people from Slovakia,” the carmaker’s spokesperson Lucia Kovarovič Makayová told The Slovak Spectator. If there are not enough people in the country, they are ready to search for workers abroad.

The Michalovce-based BHS Drives and Pumps also confirms the lack of employees working on the development of electronics and drives. The situation is problematic also due to the situation in eastern Slovakia, where the younger generation often seeks jobs in the west, says Ján Schumera, company’s general manager.

“However, we are still looking for new people across Slovakia, by addressing them either at job fairs, universities, or events organised by labour offices,” he told The Slovak Spectator.

In addition, the company employs temporary employees hired by the agency, who could later be offered to become regular employees.

Companies offer benefits

German companies in Slovakia enhance their attractiveness and invest in employer branding. They make working conditions, like flexible working times, wage surcharges, corporate transportation services, and catering benefits, more attractive. They support trainings and the continuing education of employees, while also developing corporate pension plans, said Glania.

“This helps them to gain popularity,” he added. “The companies thus send a signal that they care about their employees and their local environments.”

Boge Elastmettal Slovakia in Trnava, which employs more than 800 people, wants to stay an attractive employer in the city and its surrounding. It offers its employees a package featuring fair and performance-related pay, as well as various other services. Apart from the 13th and 14th monthly salary, they also receive a performance-related bonus, said Jürgen Bölt, managing director of Boge Elastmettal Slovakia.

Other services include the provision of a free-of-charge shuttle bus for employees from home to work and back again, preventive medical-check-ups, as well as various subsidies. In addition, employees gain contributions granted toward retirement pensions.

“Even when it comes to taking a leave, we take care of our staff by, for example, providing holiday apartments at a reduced price,” Bölt told The Slovak Spectator.

Volkswagen Slovakia attracts its employees by offering them the highest average salaries in the sector. The employees also receive a starting bonus, 13th and 14th salary, and a bonus for economic performance. Moreover, employees are offered a wide social programme, Kovarovič Makayová said.

The carmaker also supports commuting. Those travelling less than 150 kilometres can use the contractual transport with a subsidy at 70 percent. If the employees live more than 150 kilometres away, they are offered subsidised accommodation.

“More than 9,000 employees currently use this benefit,” Kovarovič Makayová added.

German automotive supplier Brose, which has plants in Lozorno and Prievidza, launched an HR marketing campaign at the end of 2016, targeting particularly experienced specialists, engineers, and indirect employees, according to its authorised representative, Axel Mallener.

Training one’s own staffers

Slovakia used to benefit from dual education in the past as well. This system, however, gradually deteriorated. Vocational schools now often fail to meet the requirements of employers and since they were not modernised, their equipment is far below the standards amongst companies, Glania said, as reported by the TASR newswire.

To change the current state, Slovakia announced its return to dual education, based on the examples set by Germany and Austria.

Several German companies have welcomed the possibility to train their own future staffers. BHS Drives and Pumps, for example, started in 2009, when the dual education system was only being discussed.

“This turned out to be a very far-sighted step as we have trained workers at our disposal at the end of their studies,” Schumera confirmed.

All of the pupils have a guaranteed job after graduating, with the possibility of further career growth. They now have 47 pupils in the dual education programme, two of whom are preparing for work in other firms.

When it comes to preparing future employees, also Brose is cooperating with the local schools. As of September 2017, its plant in Prievidza is training more than 30 pupils in mechatronics and industrial mechanics.

“This cooperation offers young people the opportunity to learn with the latest technologies and receive remuneration from the first year of their studies,” Mallener told The Slovak Spectator. “Well-trained and committed employees have international development perspectives in our family business.”

Moreover, the company cooperates with the universities to get in touch with the young talents for both its plants in Bratislava and Prievidza, he added.

Volkswagen Slovakia is another company preparing qualified experts able to operate automation technologies, robots and other state-of-the-art technologies. Its Dual Academy educates pupils in altogether five specialisations. In total 170 pupils are currently preparing for Volkswagen in the first and second grade. Moreover, there are another 100 people who are re-qualified.

In addition, the carmaker has recently joined forces with the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava, opening a pilot project of dual bachelor studies in automotive industry.

“Its aim is to educate our own experts for the future,” Kovarovič Makayová said.

Though Boge Elastmetall Slovakia is not yet fully involved in the dual education system, it is cooperating closely with schools and universities.

“Several students have already written their master thesis at our company,” Bölt said, adding they also support universities with sponsorships.

Automation is also a way

An increasing number of companies also consider the use of robots in certain positions. In most professions, there is a visible shift to higher qualifications, not only because of the lack of staffers, but also due to the will to achieve higher labour productivity and better quality, Glania opines.

“The operation of robots is geographically much more flexible than the use of low-skilled workers,” he added.

Also the companies addressed by The Slovak Spectator confirm that they do consider the concepts of Industry 4.0 and respective automation and production optimisation. They agree that automation will help them reduce costs, stabilise certain processes and make the production more effective.

“Automation does not mean for us a decrease in the number of employees, it means the ease of work and better use of human resources,” Schumera said.

Also Bölt does not expect automation will fundamentally change the labour market situation in the west of Slovakia.

The use of robots will change the structure of jobs, however. It will result in the creation of new occupations and higher demands on qualified labour force, Kovarovič Makayová stressed.

“While in the past we were looking for welders, today we need mechanicians who can operate the robots used for various welding techniques,” she added.

The use of Industry 4.0 and respective technologies is thus becoming an everyday reality in companies.

“A modernised education system and enhanced cooperation between companies, universities and the state are very much needed to keep Slovakia an attractive place for doing business,” said Glania.

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