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Availability of a skilled workforce is critical in the decision of investors to open and/or expand existing business

To remain competitive in the regional and global context, graduates in Slovakia need more practical skills, better analytical skills and soft skills...

The significant labor shortage and deficiencies in the Slovak educational system were and still are frequently mentioned as major concerns of investors operating in Slovakia. Several years ago, AmCham Slovakia established a Committee on Business - Academic Cooperation to bridge the gap between “the business world” and academic institutions. AmCham has been consistently trying to deepen the cooperation between the business and academic environments.

Many high schools and universities in Slovakia offer courses and programs that don’t correspond with the demands of the labor market. As a result, many businesses not only struggle to find suitable graduates but after the recruitment and hiring process, these new employees need to be further trained and developed to become effective. This means that employers need to invest a lot of time and effort in training new people to compensate for their skill and knowledge gap. Thus, there is a substantial gap between the time when employees join the company and when they become effective and productive.

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František Jakab, Chair of the AmCham Committee on Business-Academic Cooperation, brings the discussion even further and outlines: “I think that if graduates want to be successful in both life and work, it’s critical that they cooperate and communicate with others, take initiative and have an entrepreneurial spirit. A school can provide them with knowledge and skills from the given scientific field so graduates gain expertise and competence. However, schools aren’t always prepared for the development of the previously mentioned skills, which are very important and have the biggest influence on the overall quality of a graduate´s life.”

To remain competitive in the regional and global context, graduates in Slovakia need more practical skills, better analytical skills and soft skills, proficiency in foreign languages which is the inevitable precondition for a successful career in any company and most of all, they need relevant work experience during their studies.

Even though AmCham is trying to increase quality of education with active and constructive dialogue with the Ministry of Education and other relevant stakeholders in education, science and research, we are afraid that we haven’t seen many significant measures taken by the government in the education sector so far.

Peter Rusiňák, Policy Officer and AmCham BSCF Coordinator, underlines that “Slovakia is indeed a modern and successful country. It is no longer perceived by foreign investors as a low-cost assembly line or a cheap venue for call centers, but rather as a destination with high-added value. Many business representatives claim that Slovakia is the number one destination in terms of productivity and quality. But, given the rapidly changing business environment, Slovakia must be ready and flexible to adapt to new professions which will dominate the market in let´s say 5 or 10 years from now. The future will bring new challenges in innovation, a better prepared and highly-motivated labor force, robotization and automated processes. For this reason, Slovakia should be directing its economic growth toward the sectors with the highest-added value and make changes to its education system accordingly. We believe that in the long-run, the education system should not just prepare a manually skilled labor force, but rather focus on interdisciplinary skills of the 21st century – adaptability, flexibility, team collaboration, the ability to think critically and language proficiency.”

The business future will definitely unveil the power of artificial intelligence and automation where STEM skills will be even more critical than today. Given the creative potential children naturally possess, we believe the education system at the primary level should stipulate their technical as well as soft skills respectively.

Even though AmCham is trying to increase quality of education with active and constructive dialogue with the Ministry of Education and other relevant stakeholders in education, science and research, we are afraid that we haven’t seen many significant measures taken by the government in the education sector so far. The businesses would like to see a specific mid and long-term vision and strategy for Slovak education. There are several changes the business community expects, among them making Slovak education an apolitical priority lasting longer than one 4-year election cycle. There is also a huge increase in interest from the public regarding education. Many different NGOs, businesses, universities and schools want to have systems and transparent processes in place, which are mutually reinforcing.

Graduates need more practical and analytical skills

Many employers find that the Slovak education system is not sufficiently linked to practice: teachers often lack practical experience and knowledge of the latest developments in their field and the curriculum is not tailor-made to match the requirements of the labor market. Even if subjects are well chosen, the teaching style and techniques are frequently not up to the sufficient standard, the teaching materials are not up-to-date, or schools don’t have state-of-the-art technology. AmCham Slovakia, together with its members, has been running several accredited university courses and specifically designed programs for teachers linking businesses with academia. We believe in the digital era the role of teachers and their teaching methodology will increasingly be dependent on their ability to “adapt to the new environment”.

Most importantly, we are aware of the critical role teachers play in the entire education system and for that reason we launched the Train the Trainer program 8 years ago to support lecturers across the country and help them get their foot in the door of Slovak businesses. Since 2011, the program has been equipping teachers with innovative trainings, topics and skills, which according to AmCham members, the majority of graduates lack when entering the labor market. Since 2015, the program has been delivered by the Business Service Center Forum (BSCF) experts and its goal is to bring the new trends in soft skills such as presentation skills, verbal & non-verbal communication and team collaboration into the educational process as these are some of the key success factors for graduates on the labour market.

Inevitable language proficiency and soft skills

Every fall semester, AmCham, in cooperation with the Center for North American Studies (CNAS) at the University of Economics in Bratislava, organizes and delivers two accredited courses in English, which are led by member representatives.

While knowledge and application of skills such as Project Management, Teamwork, Critical Thinking, Analytical Mindset, Communication, Conflict Management and Presentation Skills is necessary for current graduates to be successful at any modern workplace, these skills are either not included in university curriculums or not taught at the required standard. On top of that, language education provided at high schools and universities does not correspond to the foreign language requirements of the labour market. While fluent knowledge of the English language has been a precondition for employment in many areas, the requirement to fluently speak a second or third foreign language is very common nowadays.

Every fall semester, AmCham, in cooperation with the Center for North American Studies (CNAS) at the University of Economics in Bratislava, organizes and delivers two accredited courses in English, which are led by member representatives. American Business Culture and Ethics offers the possibility to combine the study of the business environment in North America with case studies taught through the business perspective. HR in American Practice helps participants develop critical thinking of the possible challenges for professionals in the human resources field. Since 2016, AmCham´s Business Service Center Forum covers its first fully-accredited university course Skills for Success – from University to Workplace. The course is currently delivered at 4 Slovak universities and aims to provide students with the effective communication skillset critical for most graduates when entering the labor market. The course is delivered by the soft skills trainers from the shared services centers (SSC) and business process outsourcing (BPO) companies.

AmCham’s Mentor Network Program also provides young, talented university students with the opportunity to be mentored by the most prominent representatives of the business sector in Slovakia. Thanks to the active contact with their mentor, many of the graduates managed to start their own business, get an internship or a job position in the company of their mentor. More information about the program, which has been held annually since 2008 in Bratislava and 2012 in Košice, can be found on www.mentornetworkprogram.sk.

Graduates with relevant work experience

Short-term work experience (e.g. four weeks) is beneficial for neither the student nor the company. On one hand, it is not sufficient for students to gain real work experience. On the other hand, companies are not motivated to offer short-term internships because they are not worth the effort necessary to hire part-timers or interns. AmCham welcomes the reinforced introduction of the “dual system of education” and proposes to bring even more flexibility with its extension to universities while introducing professional accredited internships and part-time jobs for students in given programs at all universities.

We believe that the education system in Slovakia should prepare quality graduates in line with the expected social development and thus provide support for the strategic direction of the Slovak Republic towards a knowledge-based economy. On 12 June, 2018 we invite all AmCham members, business representatives and education field experts (teachers, directors, education managers) to take part in the Education 2.0: Envision the Progress conference.

According to the 2017 OECD Education at a Glance outcomes, expenditure on education is still low in Slovakia and largely comes from public sources while teachers´ salaries remain low both internationally and relative to other high skill jobs. At the same time, implementation of measures to address weaknesses in the Slovak education system has been delayed.

Peter Rusiňák notes that “With the conference, we´d closely focus on the quality of outcomes of the Slovak formal education system within the European and global context. At the event, we aim to ignite a long-term structural discussion on the quality of the Slovak education system and how it relates to the current and future requirements of the labor market. The main contextual topics will include expenditures on education, vocation education and training (VET) eco-system, assurance and mechanisms of quality at all levels of formal and informal education, European and Slovak qualifications and lifelong education.”

AmCham Slovakia is a truly international chamber of commerce representing over 330 companies (over 40 % are Slovak companies) from 27 countries with operations in this country and lessens the gap between businesses and education institutions with the overall goal of improving the quality of graduates´ skills and competencies.

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