College Graduates Are not Facing the Unemployment

This point of view belongs to the Chairman of the Association of Slovene Higher Vocational Colleges Alojz Razpet. In his interview to our portal, Mr. Razpet also speaks about the current state and prospects of vocational education in Slovenia, the most popular professions and the reasons for which students choose studying in colleges.

How long have you been working within the system of education?

I can say for sure that I go to school for almost all my life. I obtained a good technical education as an electronics engineer, but the profession of a teacher attracted me and I decided to dedicate my life to it.

I first tried my hand as a teacher of vocational and theoretical subjects at the Lyceum of Electrical Engineering, and in 1995, I became the head of the PHARE European project, as part of which we started preparing new curricula for colleges and lyceums. In 1996, I became the headmaster of the Higher Vocational College in the Celje Educational Centre. Thus, I have been working as the headmaster and a teacher of the College for 20 years.

How has the system of vocational education changed over the past years?

We developed the first four vocational study programs for colleges as part of the PHARE project. The content of these programs combined professional theoretical development and work practice. These programs are based on the modern day instructional theories that recommend learning theory and practice in parallel. Thus, the theoretical knowledge and scientific methods are used for management and organization of business processes.

The interaction of theory and practice is based on the modern concept of education, which connects the knowledge, skills and professional orientation to solve practical problems. In Slovenia, the vocational education or the multi-level education already existed prior to the opening of vocational schools and colleges. However, educational institutions implemented the relevant programs as part of the university programs.

Since 1995, these schools as a structural part of universities were partially closed and partially started working within the first stage of the Bologna process. Thus, an opportunity to develop new programs of vocational education and to open new colleges appeared. We became part of the European system of higher education in the form of a short cycle higher education (SCHE), i.e. a two-year vocational education. In the 1996/97 academic year, we started implementing programs of professional education in 4–5 public and one private vocational schools and colleges.

In 2007, we began adapting the programs according to the ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation) System. The upgraded programs provided students with an expanded selection in the form of modular, optional and free elective courses. The college programs also allow possession of an open curriculum for the rapid adaptation of a study program to the needs of economy.

Will the college programs include the manufacturing practices in the future?

Earlier there was a highly developed tradition of manufacturing practices in Slovenia, and many young people chose vocational education. The companies had their own workshops where experienced staff handed experience to the young, who were later recruited to the staff. Today, young people and their parents do not choose vocational education, but would be happy to complete a four-year secondary school and then obtain a higher education. In our society, there is a strongly rooted belief that if you enter a university you will not have to work hard. The Government policy also supported the educational institutions (grammar school) of general education and higher education. As a result, we find ourselves today in a situation, in which there are no candidates and train specialists for certain professions, despite the fact that the economy, and especially the service sector, is in dire need of them.

At the college level, the manufacturing practice cannot be carried out in a form, in which it exists at the level of vocational education. We are close to the dual system according to the way of education, which means that a candidate cannot graduate from college if he or she has no place for practical training in a company. This stage takes 40% of the entire program (800 hours). Practical training takes place under the supervision of college, with the help of the company’s executives, and shall be completed with a seminar/project work or final thesis.

What are the best professions to be trained for within the college education, and which one are better to be mastered at the faculties?

Technologies and processes become more complex, so the experts who are engaged in their design and management are required to demonstrate an increasing amount of knowledge and skills. Once service men or workers with general secondary education performed these tasks, and today you should have a secondary vocational or higher education. Vocational education provides general and specific skills at the level of middle management staff: heads of small groups, technologists, production managers, sales managers, programmers and operators.

Today a specialist with technical education is most likely to get the job. There is also a high demand for economists, accountants, secretaries with higher education.

Social sciences and medicine are taught within the system of higher education. In the industries that require analytical knowledge and special skills established by law, the professionals with specialized higher education are recruited as well.

What study programs are most popular among college students?

Taking into account the number of enrolled students and current competition, I would name the study programs in the following order: hospitality industry and tourism, economics, mechanical engineering, mechatronics, computer science, nutrition and dietetics, wellness.

Graduates of what study programs are of highest demand among employers?

In view of the demand for work force and the unemployment rates, these are the mechanical engineers and specialists in mechatronics and computer science.

How long does it generally take college graduates to find a job?

Most of the students work during their studies, some students go to work immediately after obtaining practical education, because they believe that the study does not meet their needs, or are simply attracted by the opportunity to earn money with their labour. The statistics of transitions from school to work is somewhat blurred, as in Slovenia, employment through student services is highly popular, and the aim of students is to keep their status as long as possible and, thus, extend the study. Therefore, the desire of students and the needs of the economy do not always coincide.

Do the college graduates enjoy any benefits from their employers?

If to compare the statistical data on the unemployed, it is clear that there are practically no college graduates with technical education among them. Employers are much more willing to hire a college graduate, because they usually get acquainted with this person within the course of practical education. A student in the learning process must demonstrate the ability to solve practical problems in the preparation of project work and final thesis.

How do colleges organize the practice?

The programs of all colleges devote 40% of learning time or 800 hours to practical education in companies. This means that each year a student has 400 hours of practical education in a special program. At the same time, student deepens its theoretical knowledge earlier acquired in a secondary school. After two years of receiving practical education, students take an academic difference in the amount of 26 credit points (above 120 CT). A student shall independently choose a company, and the educational institution shall enter into an agreement on arrangement and completion of internship with the student and the company. Each college has a facilitator, who controls the practical education of students and monitors the study process at their workplaces.

After the completion of practice, students must prepare a report on their work and defend a seminar/project work. Thus, each course of practical education involves testing and evaluation. Curator in the company must put a mark for the skills that students mastered. In the second year of practical education, students should work on their thesis.

As for the part-time students with work experience, we can acknowledge a course of practical education for them, but despite this, they will have to pass the exam.

Is there a possibility for college students to undergo practical training abroad? How many students take part in exchange programs?

Due to Erasmus exchange programs, students can obtain practical education in foreign companies. For those students who choose to participate in an exchange program, college recognizes the pre-agreed level of academic standards. Most schools have an Erasmus certificate. In addition, within the framework of the Association of Professional Schools, we have established a consortium for the Erasmus exchange programs. Thus, students and employees can apply for participation in the Erasmus exchange programs in school or in the consortium. Some colleges annually involve a few dozens of students in exchange programs.

How many foreign students come to practice in colleges?

Most colleges already have a certain experience with foreign students who came to study in Slovenia. That is, foreign students can get a practical education in Slovenian companies. Colleges help foreign students find a suitable company and housing. Since the exchange takes place under the auspices of their hometown college, we do not keep records of the number of foreign students.

How would you describe an average college student? What are his or her professional plans? What is the purpose of studying in a college?

Our students are those children who, after completing secondary school education, decided to expand their knowledge and learn how to apply it in practice. In addition, a student is someone who knows how to work in a team.

Most often, candidates opt for college because:

  1. Studying at college lasts only for 2 years, so that students can quickly master the chosen profession.
  2. Studying in college means mastering qualified professional skills and abilities demanded by the labour market.
  3. Current training programs are not inferior to foreign analogues.
  4. Training programs involve selection of training areas for modular and optional subjects.
  5. In colleges and lyceums, teachers with practical experience teach students.
  6. The quality of education is estimated by the field-oriented national agency NAKVIS.

Please, name a few colleges that are active in the international market of educational services?

We understand the importance and the need for the globalization of education leading to an increase in its quality. Currently, 40 colleges have Erasmus documents for foreign exchange programs, and another 3 are in the process of getting them, which shows the great interest in international cooperation.

It’s hard to identify the most active colleges, but there are a number of private educational institutions, which enjoy high reputation abroad (Academia, B&B izobraževanjeinusposabljanje, DOBA, GZS – Centre for Business Education, Institute and Academy of Multimedia, Memory Educational Centre), and state institutions that have developed an international projects network (Biotechnology Centre Naklo, Educational Centre for Biotechnology in Ljubljana, GrmNovoMesto Lyceum, Educational Centre Pyramid in Maribor, Woodworking College in Maribor, College of Horticulture and Visual Arts in Celje, Educational Centre in Celje, Educational Centre in Kranj, Education Centre in Nova Gorica, Educational Centre in Novo Mesto, Technical Educational Centre in Maribor, Transportation Professional Lyceum in Maribor, College of Hospitality and Tourism in Bled, and College of Hospitality and Tourism in Maribor).

What projects for the development of higher education are planned for the coming years?

This question is better to redirect to the specialists of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. It will probably be necessary to adapt the current educational programs and to prepare new courses for modern professions, taking into account the onset of a new industrial revolution, which in Europe was named the Industry 4.0.

We thank Mr. Razpet for the interview and we remind our readers that any questions about the education programs can be set via the feedback form on our website.