en English

4 March 2015, Austria Trend Hotel Ljubljana, Dunajska cesta 154, Ljubljana

Does the problem lie in the shortage of workplaces or in inappropriate knowledge and competences of young people?

CHALLENGE: Which job profiles are the most endangered? Which skills are most sought after? What are skills of the 21st century? Is our educational system ready? Which steps do we need to take?

Are additional skills of key importance for employment of young people? How should the school system be reorganized in order to help frame successful young adults? How can we better promote education for the occupations that are most needed on the market? What do the companies need?

The conference was held to search for solutions/answers and was attended by the following: representatives from the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Institute Jožef štefan, CMEPIUS, Faculty of Economics in Ljubljana, Employment Service of Slovenia, AmCham Finance and Labor Committees, representatives of unemployed youth as well as those young people who got a job immediately after finishing their education, representatives from the HR departments of major Slovene and foreign companies and young people who are about to finish their studies.

Let us start with facts presented by the company Adecco. Observing globally, unemployment among young people is a big problem, as many as 75 millions of young people worldwide are looking for a job. Unemployment in Slovenia has reached 23%. Adecco presents the trends for the future, which are the following: employers will look for personnel amongst those already employed, the employment via staff agencies will increase, the most sought-after jobs will still be technical and the competition among young to apply for jobs will be grave.

Sandi Meke from the Employment Service of Slovenia exposed the following issues on the topic of project called Jamstvo za mlade (Youth Guarantee): “Last year in January the Government approved an implementation plan of youth guarantee, the purpose of which is to improve the position of young people. The measures were covered by several ministries, various departments. The problem appeared when it became clear that the given promise was misinterpreted. Young people were meant to get employment within 4 months, be included in the educational system or similar. The unemployment of young people has consequentially fallen to a degree, yet the fact remains that unemployment rates are very high.”

“When young people come to the Employment service we sometimes get the impression that we are putting down a fire that had been started long ago. Education is still in the first place of desired competences, knowledge follows in the second, experience in the third place; the last on the list is the knowledge of foreign languages. Education is still priority number one, employers mainly seek to employ candidates with an appropriate education. Hence it is important to start thinking what one wants to do already during the time of schooling and by all means not only when he or she arrives at the employment service/agency; however, we have some programs, which already strive to achieve such mentality”, Meke concluded.

The first set of questions: Is knowledge that people gain during the process of public education sufficient for getting a job? Is this knowledge close enough to the requirements of a company?

Sandi Meke was the one to respond to this question as well: “We have asked ourselves if this is even necessary, if we can demand from the system to offer us that. A combination is needed. Young people must be enabled to develop their potentials and follow their interests but this still does not mean that the country does that unrestrictedly. The country can limit that. Because of that, it is good if knowledge can be adjusted according to the needs of employers.”

Knowledge gained through public education is of good quality, but not practical enough. Because of that, more actual skills and projects are needed. Already the professor should have practical skills; it is difficult for a young researcher to be a professor right away. Above all, it is crucial to encourage young people to explore their potentials. Examples are: open day of the economy, practical training; young people must see in person what they want. It is difficult for me to believe that 90% of young are merely social scientists. Also mentality in the sense: “although I cannot perform duties required by faculty, I am not stupid and I will not go to a technical school,” is still very much present. It is harmful if such mindset is present with us. Information is crucial, everyone needs information to figure out what he or she wants and only then switches direction.”

Maja Makovec Brenčič, the vice-rector of the University of Ljubljana, responded: “Young people always bring changes and that is absolutely the way it should be. I can confirm that the most important message still is that one should gain appropriate skills from the area of his or her education. However, that refers to skills that are general in one’s area and are conceptual. A student has to learn the basics first, that is the foundation. Because of that, the University of Ljubljana has been working on promoting extracurricular activities, proactive approach, pervasiveness and especially gaining of a whole set of skills, from linguistic knowledge, communication skills, design thinking and solving problems. Examples, which produce good results, are for example incorporation into the so-called concept “Po kreativni poti” (PKP). Within this context, the university performed 108 practical projects last year. All the students gained practical experience; some even got a chance for employment. Of course, in order for all this to progress, we need consistent work of career centers and other platforms for transformation of knowledge. Personal responsibility towards career path is of key importance. We have also suggested placing types of work that prepare students for actual work in credit foundation. The essence is in placing practical skills together with actual knowledge. This mentality is still not as present as it should be, but if a student has good education and is proactive, he or she will still be placed into workspace soon enough. We, however, are still incorporating employers to help us develop programs. Currently the majority of students are not exceptionally motivated and we are working on improving the numbers. Only with help of encouragements, such as today’s, we can all move forward towards efficiency of public education for the needs of the market.”

Master students from the Faculty of electrical engineering have also shared their experience. “At least 80% of students at our department have a job waiting for them even prior defending their thesis. So unemployment is not a big problem in our field of education, however, I must highlight that we are not active only in the field of studies, key factor are extracurricular activities. All present here, work (Institute Jožef štefan, laboratories, and private companies). It does not matter if you passed three exams with a 10/A+, it matters what projects you participated in, how developed your programming skills are, etc.” highlighted Sebastijan Mrak.

The second part of the conversation was connected to the questions: which additional skills are gaining importance when an employer decides on recruitment and what is the prevailing opinion on promoting desired programs.

Marko Pavlovič, AmCham Young Leaders Club shared his thoughts: “Based on the consult we believe that employers seek candidates who have education as well as practical experience. Of great importance are especially flexibility and free-time activities. A student must be provocative in his or her free time. Which additional skills are in the forefront? Especially specific skills from the field of IT and foreign languages.”

On promoting desired programs Pavlovič added: “We support their promotion because it is always better to have more information and this consequently shows the supply and demand for specific programs on the market. Primarily the candidate must think about his or her abilities so this promotion should function more as a guideline. We have learned from previous experience that at the end there were no jobs available for some programs that were highly promoted. The requirements can change, so it is necessary that the students find what they really want, even if that means that they take a gap year to travel the world and then return with a clear vision. Flexibility is also important; perhaps one finds a job in another field.”

Primož Zupan from Halcom added: “When we speak of skills, we speak of employer’s expectations towards the students that that they will have additional experience etc. The problem occurred, when many faculties started recording mandatory attendance after the implementation of the Bologna Process of education, which limits students greatly when it comes to extracurricular projects. We suggest that all obligations are systematically sorted and are considered as a part of credit points. If students alone display such interest and if faculties limit them due to mandatory attendance, this presents a big problem. At the time of lessons students could be, let’s say, working on a project involving new technology and trying out entirely new approaches. Still, a great praise goes to the rectorate for their extensive efforts in this direction, which enabled us to cooperate with them a lot as a company.

Vice-rector Makovec Brenčič responded: “We are aware of the problems because we receive several information from the students. Some professors do not wish to employ new developments in their courses, things are changing but this is a lengthy process and things cannot change overnight. Some time is needed but things are changing. Especially when it comes to the optional modules, where extracurricular activities can now bring students credit points. If one’s CV includes additional competences, this is an advantage. We are, of course, limited when it comes to resources, which we can attribute to mobility, internationality; still we have some. 3500 students have the opportunity to go on a student exchange. Practical experience from abroad strengthen students most. If students are loud and outspoken, we can create progress together.

Rok Zagruševcem from SiMobil added: “Often we say that young people should participate in additional activities. We all have hobbies and all that is very important for the employer. For example, if one has been training swimming for 20 years that means that he or she is diligent, reliable and goal-oriented. Such skills mean a lot. The same goes with team sports; they show that one is a team person.”

Andreja Janc Koderman presented her view on recognizing potential in children already in primary school. She said:” It is crucial to recognize potentials that children have already in early years. This is a duty of parents, not children. To recognize which fields have more potential for a child, to see his or her interests, this is a job for parents. As a mother of two sons, I can say that they are as different as night and day; one is an individualist who likes sitting behind computers, the other one is his opposite and has a possibility of a career in politics. Personality is completely shaped only at the age of 18 and then it is easier to lead children in the right direction. However, it is a shame that their potentials are recognized only when it is too late.”

The third set of questions was the following. Are educational institutions sufficiently connecting with the economy? Cooperation of establishments, which prepare the national curricula with the employers and with the economy.

Primož Zupan, the co-chair of the AmCham Labor Committee: “We have focused on the entire sphere of the educational process and the answer is NO. First, let me praise the career centers and the University for all their efforts in this area. At the University of Maribor, a colleague tried hard to get in touch with any of the professors with a specific project, but she was unsuccessful because her project would additionally burden the professors. There are people with high motivation as well as less-motivated people all around us. So where are the possibilities for improvement? We suggest that professors alone have mentors from practical fields. In this way we could, for example, go to a specific workplace in a company and get relevant information. I would additionally suggest that professors have an indicator to measure their performance, for example the number of foreign lecturers they have incorporated in their program. Additionally, we think that the focus should be on solving specific problems and on practical examples.”

After that the representatives of Slovene human resources development and scholarship fund explained why the unemployment can be so high even if young people are relatively well educated. “In the year 2013 we carried out the first step that indirectly links students with their mentors at the faculty and with the economy. It is a pilot program, where groups of students have the ability to cooperate with mentors at the faculties on projects related to actual companies, which ensure diligent mentors for groups. (Public tender: Po kreativni poti do praktičnega znanja). This measure, that we have carried out through a public tender turned out to be more than welcome. In six months, we managed to enable such activity in collaboration with the economy. In the framework of the University of Ljubljana 108 projects were carried out and on the level of whole country 206. Most interesting is that we have achieved some unexpected results. The participating students equipped themselves with soft skills and job-specific skills. Also employers responded to that as to a new way of employing young personnel. It was estimated that about 10% of those students started working for those companies or are currently in process of negotiating for a job there. On the other hand, this is a good measure where institutions of higher education can cooperate with the economy. This measure is very welcome and will be carried out also in the future. The actual effects will show only in a year or two. We still have not undertaken the topic of co-financing company scholarships. Companies can in this way include students in their activities and grant them a scholarship. Students carry out a sort of practical training and additionally get employment at the company for at least a year.

“Regarding studying abroad we can add that there is great interest in the interdisciplinary programs abroad. A combination of physics and philosophy is one rather exotic example. International employers show interest in hiring students who spent some time abroad before their studies there are finished, which is a good sign, although it is the students’ responsibility to return back to Slovenia.”

“When it comes to competences, soft skills and competences such as self-initiative, pervasiveness and self-promotion are still in the first place. Students have to convince potential employers that studying abroad brings added value, new ideas and perspectives that they bring back home. We are confronting the case of brain drain.”

The fourth set of questions referred to comparison of studying in Slovenia and abroad. Additional education – can it bring about faster employability of young people?

Co-chair at the AmCham Labor Committee Biljana Čamber Pavli highlighted: “We tried to figure out what are the main differences between studying abroad and studying at home. The difference lies in the education itself; we cannot say that our system is bad it is simply different. We believe that abroad more time and effort is devoted to practical training. Some advantages of studying abroad are also the ability to perceive different cultures and gaining skills of living alone. We achieve social skills that are hard to get in the sheltered environment of own home. The negative consequence is the so-called “brain drain”, many of those, who went abroad once, never returned home.”

Alenka Flander, manager of CMEPIUS noted the following on the topic of whether competences from abroad help get employment at home: “For us the purpose is to encourage international networking and training. With our analysis in the international environment that we carried out on employers and two equal analyses carried out in Finland and Chile, we came to similar conclusions. The key skills are responsibility, adjustability, reliability, cooperation, teamwork. All this shows that young people, who go abroad, gain useful skills because they are left to themselves in a multicultural new environment and it is up to them to figure out the situation. What I would also like to stress is that in my opinion a converter between students and employers that would translate the understanding of skills from abroad is missing. In my opinion, employers do not know all the elements that are gained through international mobility so it is important to teach young people how to present those elements so that they will become added value which should be desired by employers. What we are noticing is that when abroad many discover that the situation at home is not that bad. Going abroad is not always the best option. Positive aspects of home can be seen because they are observed from a different perspective.”

According to Čamber Pavli brain drain is often expressed as interest of those supporting the notion and is not really carried out to such an extent. “We should not fear brain drain, we should strive towards those people wanting to return home. Many people have the desire to return to own environment because the quality of life is high here, however, if there is no chance for survival, the only logical thing to do is to leave the country. Hence it is important that some people return to Slovenia and contribute to its development.”

See event’s photo gallery and LIKE our FB page