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‘Everything is Connected to Everything’

When it comes to reforming the education system to provide businesses with the workers of the future, “Everything is connected to everything,” Deputy State Secretary for Vocational Training and Adult Education Gábórné Pölöskei told AmCham’s fourth Business Meets Government Summit on October 1.

Gábórné Pölöskei, center, speaking during the state secretaries’ panel discussion. With her are, from left: moderator Ferenc Pongrácz ; László György; Balázs Rákossy; and Ádám Szigeti. Photo by AmCham/Hajnalka Hurta.

Pölöskei was speaking in the plenary panel discussion, moderated by Ferenc Pongrácz, the leader of AmCham’s Investment Policy Task Force and a former president of the chamber. Other speakers were László György, State Secretary for Economic Development and Regulation; Balázs Rákossy, State Secretary for the Utilization of European Union Funding; and Ádám Szigeti, Deputy State Secretary for Innovation.

Pölöskei told delegates at the Hilton Budapest in the Castle District that education required “a systemic transformation from our [the government’s] side”, but added that education “cannot resist the need for transformation”. Importantly, there is a need to restructure from the current setup that tries to do too much, with vocational education attempting to prepare students for a staggering 750 professions.  

“In Germany at present there are 320 professions, and they want to get that down to 150. Finland has 170 and wants to go down to 80,” Pölöskei said. She set the target for Hungary at 150, saying that would enable higher quality, and a more modern and versatile approach. Several speakers referenced McKinsey research that has many professions, including accounting, disappearing in a couple of decades.

“When Generation Z enters the labor market they will have professions that do not exist today. We have to give them skills and capacities, and not professions. We do not have to focus on future professions because we do not know what they will be,” the deputy state secretary pointed out.

Free up Reserves

On a similar theme, Szigeti said automation would free up labor reserves. “That is also why I do not envisage such a grim picture,” he said, in reference to a statistic that shows the working population falling by two million between now and 2060. The key issue will be making sure the workforce has skills that can be transferred as jobs change.

“We cannot really deal with the quantity issue with anything less than quality,” he said. Currently, some 1.4% of Hungarian GDP is being spent on research and development. The goal by 2020 is to have raised that to 1.8% he said, “but ideally it should be 3%”.  

Rákossy made the point that, rather than teaching students two or more foreign languages, perhaps the system should concentrate on doing just one language, but to a very high level. “I apologize to French and German investors, but if someone does not speak English, they will not be able to make business,” Rákossy said. “It is very important everyone speaks English at a good level.”

On the issue of the brain drain, György said the government has been pursuing a number of policies aimed at simultaneously improving salaries in Hungary and also encouraging those who had left to country to return.  

“We also see it is possible to attract people home from abroad; we see now a balance between those leaving and those returning.” But government cannot create the jobs, he said, only create the ecosystem that encourages businesses to make hires. “BlackRock, for example, has been able to create 500 high value jobs and has been able to attract many Hungarians back.”

Real World Challenges

In terms of research, he said the system needs to change so that, rather than university professors deciding what problems should be investigated by the students, businesses should give the universities real world challenges for their students to look into. Again, it requires partnership. “We can only make our universities more potent if we can rely on your input,” he told the business representatives present.

Pongrácz ended by asking the speakers for one measure of what success would mean for them. For György it was “how we create an ecosystem and a business environment” that enables more higher value jobs to be created. Pölöskei said it was hard to pick just one from “such a system with so many problems” but opted to see the number of children leaving education with no qualifications at zero. For Rákossy it was to “Maintain a stable macroeconomic environment with a growth rate of 4% that allows you [businesses] to invest more in Hungary.” Szigeti wants an increase “in the number of researchers: I would like it to reach 56,000”.

Earlier, AmCham President Farkas Bársony had noted in his opening remarks that it is “clear that we need to talk in depth about moving Hungary up the global value chain, as it is now obvious that we no longer have infinite quantity of labor force, so we need to focus on quality.”

He added: “The ‘Business Meets Government Summit’ is a key milestone each year when, based on your input collected throughout the year and in the summit itself the formulation of the ‘AmCham Recommendations For More Competitive Hungary’ starts. As in the past, we count on you, your ideas, your input to make our fourth recommendation pack a valuable contribution to the competitiveness of Hungary.”