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Training for life

The new higher education bill is introducing changes in the system that will help the country meet labor market demands.

On Facebook, the digital notice board of Generation Y, a new announcement is making college-age kids’ hair stand on end. It is a document from Kormányportál, the government's information site, revealing the number of available spots in higher education in 2012. In general, such information barely makes it to the front pages of newspapers, let alone Facebook. But the drastic cutback in the number of state-subsidized places has earned the notice a great deal of attention.

It is one month until the deadline of university admissions: high schools students are already busy preparing. However, due to changes in the education law, much fewer will study for free. From 2012, the state will finance only 34,000 undergraduates, down from 54,000 a year. Of this number, 15,500 students will receive partial support (50% of tuition fees). The greatest shock, however, is not this, but the number of state-supported spots in the fields of economy and law, the two perennial favorites. In the former, a mere 250 students will be able to study free of charge in the entire country: only 5% of the total places available in 2011. Tough times are coming for would-be lawyers as well: they will have to compete for 300 free spots. Painful? Definitely. Needed? Instantly.

MOME

The Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest is a textbook example of what success a university can achieve if it adjusts to labor market needs. Many of its students perform excelently in competitions and tenders and are acclaimed at both national and international levels.

For many years, the university trained highly skilled metal, glass, ceramics artists and vehicle engineers who all had jobs at the country’s famous factories in Zsolna, Ajka or Budapest. The decline started in the 1980s, with factory shutdowns and Hungary’s light industry going bust, leaving these artists nowhere to go. The institution, then called Iparművészeti, weathered this transition and managed to take a lead. In the past ten years, it has restructured its entire education system. Departments are no longer, as used to be the case, separated by the type of material they work with, as used to be the case: with computer-aided design methods, this has lost its significance. Industrial design students are measured in real contests: their plans often end up as prototypes at the factories of firms like Daimler-Benz, Electrolux or Wamsler S.E., a maker of high-end stoves, cookers and fireplaces. A so-called EcoLab and R&D center have been set up to forge ties with industry players. Here students deal with current problems like designing affordable but stylish accommodation for homeless people. Though they cooperate with numerous companies, including the biggest ones, the leaders of MOME constantly seek to expand these relations. An incubator center to train undergraduates to acquire skills to market themselves and their goods is also in the offing.

The Hungarian education system is far from meeting the actual demands set by the economy and the labor market, says the government’s structural reform plan. Markets do not disagree. The country trains thousands of economists or media professionals, only to widen the gap.

Few students apply to science or technology faculties, resulting in a constant shortage in these fields, believes Renáta Budai-Szabó, head of division of Engineering Resources at Kelly Services.

The cutbacks are the first step in a higher education policy that aims to train the professionals that the market needs. The government wants to see fewer managers and more engineers – in line with market demands.

Foiled career plans

It is not only schools that are to blame for this disconnect. Students choose professions without much consideration. Once they set their minds on becoming, say, a PR officer, no guidance counselor, or their automated online equivalent, can talk kids out of it. (The results of such online career programs should be taken with a pinch of salt, as they run with a fairly large margin of error. If their recommendations were always taken seriously, this reporter would now be working as a heavy machinery engineer.)

As Mónika Andrási, director of the Career Office at Corvinus University puts it: “If kids want to be lawyers, they so want to be lawyers. If they want to be economists, they so want to be economists.” Besides, she adds, universities are not meant to follow the swift changes of the labor market 100%, which is far from being the case anyway. Instead, they should provide a solid basis that can be supplemented with special skills courses and practical knowledge. Andrási doesn’t deny that even Corvinus, one of the most coveted institutions of the country, could do better.

When it comes to the syllabus, institutions are often criticized for handing down outdated information, Andrási finds this exaggerated. “No professor could remain in the pulpit had they not followed or introduced novelties in class.” Not only peer assessment, but attendance and lecturing at conferences put pressure on teachers, as well as students. Today students are rather critical: they don’t mind confronting their lecturers if they find the material is no longer applicable. PowerPoint presentations have long given way to YouTube videos and online news channels.

Unfortunately, this is often not enough. Companies demand specialized professionals. “Training is supposed to be in tune with requirements. Universities should either train more mechatronics and embedded engineers or retrain general engineers in two years,” Budai-Szabó claims.

Remodeling

The construction sector ha stalled and there is little hope for it to resume anytime soon.  Orders are scarce and studios are shutting down making the prospects of architecture students bad. Or not. The Technical University of Budapest seem to have grasped what these times need: it has shifted its focus from building to restoration and reconstruction. “We have been trained from the very beginning to adjust to the new needs,” Luca Tordai and Tran Van Giand, graduates of the Architecture Faculty told the BBJ.

Her co-worker, Judit Martonosi-Nagy, head of division of Kelly Financial Resources, is of the same opinion. “Economists are a dime a dozen but the ones the market really needs – accounting, financial or tax experts – are rare.” Budai-Szabó admits that finding workable answers is not easy, as market changes take place too fast for the three-five year training period to keep pace.

Practical skills

So what if HR departments are after special skills whose teaching would be impossible in this fast-changing environment? No problem. Companies unsatisfied with the knowledge of fresh graduates have a number of options to get involved. The most popular are traineeships and on-board training. These usually hone existing skills such as the use of a program or teach new ones like changes in social security.

Dénes Simonyi, a master’s student at Corvinus University, and a project manager of the Pillangó Project at the NG department of Magyar Telekom, landed his current post through a mix of both. He started as a trainee at Budapest Bank, doing typical trainee tasks: completing reports, collecting and copying data. Though Back Office Support, his job title then, was not the stuff of his dreams, he picked up some good data sheet knowledge. “We did learn Excel in school but not in the depth required,” he noted. At his second position at Magyar Telekom, a job with far more responsibility, he continues to broaden his skill set. “At university, we are taught a mindset. The practical skills, we would pick up on the job.”

Often firms don’t wait until traineeships start. They delegate their representatives to schools to pass on the most up-to-date knowledge. Bankers lecture on the particulars of the Basel III framework, while law associates discuss tax reforms. Such experts are always welcome to supplement academic content.

TŐZSDEISKOLA

Practice-oriented training is not always about filling the gaps in unemployment. Tőzsdeiskola is a center that teaches people to handle their money, so they have an income, not so that they become traders. Yet the overall aim of the school is to teach people they are supposed to handle their own life just like their finances. University students covet these skills too but the course has not been integrated into any university syllabus. It is not accredited either. Why? “This market is changing rapidly. By the time the accreditation process ends, much of the material would become outdated,” András Horváth, stock exchange expert, and director of Tőzsdeiskola, explained. Still, he is often invited to hold an introductory course on stock exchange by numerous higher education institutions.

Corporations wishing to have a bigger say in the content of a syllabus go further. German carmaker Audi set up its own internal-combustion engine department within the Széchényi István University in Győr years ago. When it comes to talent supply, the carmaker plays it safe: adding two more departments – the materials science and technology department, and the vehicle production department –, it will establish the Audi Hungaria vehicle engineering department group. This strategic partnership between city, university and industry is a win-win for all the parties involved. Students – who are also required to learn to speak German fluently – get to use state-of-the-art engineering practices. The university gets support, while Audi gets its provision of tailor-made talent, fresh off the assembly line.

The luxury of having a big-time industry partner such as Audi is only given to a few higher education institutions. The rest need to work hard to stay afloat. Forging a relationship with the private sector is essential now that the state is withdrawing funds from higher education.

Multifunctional careers

But things are about to change. If everything goes according to the government’s plans, soon market players will be involved in the preparatory/planning phase as well. A panel of investors, corporate representatives, sociologists, experts and politicians will decide how many architects, teachers or physicians can start college next year. Numbers will be calculated considering national trends and labor market changes beyond Hungary.

László Dux, Deputy State Secretary for Higher Education at the Ministry of National Resources cites medical tourism as an example. “Medical wellness is on the rise. An increasing number of foreigners are coming to Hungary for treatment. So when counting the number of dentists, we will leave a margin for the sake of non-Hungarian patients.”

Back to Facebook: students fume over the new numbers, mainly the economy-oriented, but others as well. Fans of sciences got lucky this time: in 2012, 12,000 state-funded students can embark on science and technology studies. But their future is bleak too. What if, in two years’ time, the market will need nurses more? Or financial specialists? Or teachers?

Combining skills and degrees is probably the safest bet; being prepared to change jobs after five years, becoming multifunctional. In what field, it doesn't really matter: a good professional will perform well on all fronts.

Memo: We'll need more nurses in 2030

The world’s labor force will increase by more than a fifth by 2030, or by more than a million people, a study by Oxford Economics and Hays says. All of that growth will occur in developing countries. The workforce in most developed countries will plateau, decline and age.

For growth and industrialization to continue, emerging economies will invest heavily in infrastructure. This translates into a significant demand for skilled labor in the construction and engineering sectors.

The developed half of the world will need to maintain its working ability, thus will increasingly need healthcare workers.

Another trend that will definitely shape the labor market in the future is climate change. The number of green or climate-related jobs will likely surge.

The fourth major segment that will see a demand for work force is the financial sector. Since growing output is one obvious solution to recession, the work of such professionals will be greatly needed, the research says.

Source: The Hays/Oxford Economics Global Report 2011-2030