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Competitive Education, Better Career Choices

At its fourth annual conference on education, AmCham Hungary officially launched a Career Orientation Program aimed at helping high school students make a timely and informed decision on their future.

Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, chats with delegates at the conference.

Jointly organized with the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA) and the professional support of the Ministry of Human Capacities, AmCham’s Fourth Competitive Education Conference on November 12 took the theme of career orientation.

“Today, one of the biggest challenges for business entities is to find a skilled workforce that meets their requirements both in terms of quality and quantity,” chief executive officer of AmCham Hungary, Írisz Lippai-Nagy said.

“We have 360 members of various industries. In the past year, we could hardly discuss a topic without ending up talking about the labor market and education issues two minutes into the conversation.”

Róbert Ésik, president of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), agreed. “A substantial part of my work is to talk with foreign companies looking at Hungary as a potential investment location,” he said.

“Four years ago, only half of these conversations touched upon the availability of workforce with adequate expertise and quantity; today, all do.”

Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, and a former Fidesz government minister, told the conference: “The changes on the labor market, including the appearance and the disappearance of jobs and skills, pose a challenge to the education system because we need to define today what the labor market will demand in the future.”

He said Europe can either chose to prepare students for certain professions or improve the skills that allow them to do several jobs.“Europe is looking to take the second option.”

How effective?

When asked how effective the Hungarian education system was compared to other European countries, the commissioner said in competitiveness terms it is quite good. The youth unemployment rate is one of the lowest in Hungary across the continent – the labor market acknowledges expertise and education, he added.

With its all-new Career Orientation Program, AmCham aims to help secondary school students prepare to make a more informed decision regarding their career. The labor market is changing at a such a fast pace that parents and teachers can hardly keep up. The platform allows corporate volunteers to register. These so-called Career Ambassadors will visit schools to hold a career orientation class or participate in career days.

“In addition to giving a snapshot of their job, they focus on the skills and the expertise needed as well as the opportunities offered at a certain workplace.”

Career orientation days were made compulsory two years ago. Schools need to hold at least two days a year, said Zoltán Maruzsa, Deputy State Secretary for Public Education at the Ministry of Human Capacities (EMMI).

“I welcome this initiative as it will enable industry players to get involved and students to have a better overview of the field they represent,” he said.

Beyond career orientation days, students can get acquainted with the workings of some of the fields within the framework of the so-called theme-week: a week-long program in three themes – IT, finance, or sustainability, said Gáborné Pölöskei, Deputy State Secretary for Vocational Training and Adult Education. Companies also organize events to help students get to know better what they can expect should they decide to choose their field.

“As a traditional metal industry firm, we place the most emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)”, said Tamás Horváth, CEO of Arconic. “We aim to reach out to students in various ways. We lecture in schools, we organize factory visits or shadowing, when they can follow an expert from the company. We also try and steer more girls towards our field,” he added.

Dishonest Communication

Many students realize they are not interested in a field after they have started their studies. “This is partly the result of dishonest communication about that field,” said Kristof Sipos, an undergraduate student of Debrecen University, and a Euroskill Mechatronics gold medalist. “It would help if career orientation/ preparation for a decision did not start in the last year of high school,” he said.

Some companies do target students at a younger age. National Instruments starts as early as preschoolers. “We provided many kindergartens with robot toys,” László Ábrahám, managing director of NI Hungary said. At this age, there is no gender barrier – girls play with the same toys as boys, he added.

The company is also involved with schools – it helps 6,000 students per year (in 100 schools) learn digital skills, algorithmic thinking and graphic programming. NI Hungary also cooperates with universities.
“We have provided many universities with a field-programmable gate array (FPGA), an integrated circuit to help teaching,” Ábrahám says.

Technical skills are crucial, but of equal importance are soft skills. “Most companies aim to employ problem solvers, but we believe that having people able to identify problems by asking the right questions is just as important,” said Gábor Salamon of Morgan Stanley during a section where companies showcased some of their career orientation strategies.

“Managing cultural differences is one of the themes that is especially near and dear to us,” said Krisztina Felméry of Tata Consultancy Services. “With nearly 70 nationalities working for us, we think we are a credible source to talk about this topic,” she added.

In launching its career platform, AmCham says it has tried to set realistic goals. “If we get to spark students’ interest in this subject, if we get them to start talking about career choices with their teachers and parents and understand that by not deciding or by postponing this decision they are risking their future, we have accomplished something,” Lippai-Nagy said.

A version of this story first appeared in JOURNAL, the AmCham magazine.

Career Orientation Platform

With the support of TATA Consultancy Services, AmCham has created a platform that allows volunteers from AmCham member companies, the so-called Career Ambassadors, and the representatives of Hungarian secondary school nationwide to organize career orientation visits. Based on the success of the chamber’s Language Ambassador and the Career Ambassador programs, the goal is to continue holding inspiring, interactive and thought-provoking lectures on labor market needs, the modern business environment, the importance of language skills, the opportunities of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and future jobs to students in the 9th-12th grades. To support the volunteers, a short manual has been compiled that includes various exercises, subjects, useful tips and links which can be used to prepare for the career orientation classes. The manual is available to all registered Career Ambassadors via the website. The chamber is looking for dedicated professionals who want to broaden students’ minds by sharing their knowledge and experience. To see more about the program, or to register as a Career Ambassador, visit: www.karrierorientacio.hu