The Principal of the College at the Educational Centre in Celje, Alojz Razpet: “Last Year I Had a Teacher Graduate with Us. Today She Works as a Mechanical Engineer”

The College of Vocational Education at the Educational Centre in Celje prepares civil engineers, mechanical engineers, mechatronic engineers and engineers in car servicing as part of two-year study programmes. Thanks to relations with the sector of economy, its graduates have never had any problems with employment. Today representatives of various companies, not only local, but also foreign ones, recruit staff directly from the college.

We bring to your attention an interview with the President of the Association of Vocational Education Colleges and the Principal of the College at the Educational Centre in Celje, Alojz Razpet.

– You daily deal with the economy sector, which experiences a shortage of professional staff…

– When the Head of Celjske mesnine wanted to meet with me, I immediately asked myself – why, we are not training butchers…” Later he explained that butchers make up only about 10% of the staff and all the other personnel are needed to support various technological processes and programme equipment. The sector of economy we daily interact with, today primarily needs technical personnel.

– But there is a lack of professionals in this field…

– Exactly. The problem is not that companies are not able to introduce the most modern technologies into the technological process, build factories and supply equipment, not at all – the main issue is lack of professional staff. We constantly receive such information; we feel this issue to be the key problem.

– How do these needs affect college activities?

– Our college offers study programmes that more than 20 years ago established strong ties with the economic sector and possess information about its staffing needs. We have implemented college education in such a way that 40% of any programme is work placement. Students receive knowledge in the process of working, and when the employer participates in this process, the result of education is different, because the employer is involved in its achievement. Employers know best what is required, what exactly our graduates will do for them. Therefore, they guide students in the course of practical education. However, we are talking not only about practical education, but also about working on projects, as well as writing term papers and theses. Current higher education seeks to move away from the practice of writing theses. However, in such our programmes as Construction, Machine Engineering, Mechatronics and Management of Car Servicing, theses target solving real problems. Students do not receive their topics at the college, but develop them together with companies. We try not produce a scientific research work but make sure that the resulting work has an applicable character. When the company faces a certain problematic issue, it can be offered as a thesis topic that allows students to find a solution. As a result, we get a specific product that a student can show, elements of processes, proposals for optimisation, innovation and thus join the knowledge of lectured science and practice.

– Probably, having an established scheme of practical education in the framework of a study programme, problems can hardly arise. Was it harder during the crisis to find work placement for students in the sector of economy?

– No, it wasn’t. Even during the recession, when the demand for personnel decreased, we did not experience this problem. Perhaps this problem occurred in the field of construction, which was most affected by the crisis, and construction companies declined. Companies that foresaw the current shortage of personnel, even in times of the crisis, cared about the personnel reserve. None of our students has ever been left without a practical education, although we advise them to look for a work placement on their own. Thus, students begin building their careers, and, when they come to the company, they personally ask for permission to do an internship according to their profession. A student brings the document to the college stating that he or she will pass a work placement, and then the company, the college, and the student conclude a tripartite agreement.

– Are we talking mainly about small enterprises?

– No, we are talking about all companies. Cinkarna Celje annually organises work placement for students of such study programmes as Construction, Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics. We also work with Gorenje, where we constantly send 7–8 students, as well as with small and medium size enterprises. Large enterprises have a better personnel structure, they practice mentoring, education, while smaller ones need a bit more of our assistance with organising and conducting the work placement. As a result, our students receive high marks. It also happens that at the end of a 10-week practical education, employers want to keep students in their team. They sign contracts with them, and when students have time, they continue to practice in the enterprise. Especially now, when the demand for personnel is high, it happens frequently.

– Is there a similar situation at other vocational education colleges?

– In total, our association includes 47 colleges that offer 33 study programmes. There are several programmes in social sciences, but there is not much difference in the demand for graduates with a degree in social sciences and graduates of technical programmes. For a while, employers were confident that they would not need business secretaries but today they recruit this staff also. In addition, some of our students work and study at the same time (part time students). We can register their work experience as an internship. Of course, we cannot approve a work experience as a shop assistant for a student studying for a mechanical engineer… In spite of everything, students during their studies must obtain industry related practical knowledge either at an enterprise, with which they are employed or at another company during their vacations.

– Which professions are currently in the greatest demand?

– Young people are most interested in mechanical engineering and computer science, that is, programming and mechatronics. Both students and employers are interested in these three areas.

– Do foreigners turn to you in search of students?

Of course. For example, last autumn, we conducted meetings with the representatives of Volvo Trucks from Sweden and their representative offices in Slovenia; Human Resources Director in the South-Eastern Europe Region, Volvo CEO in Slovenia… They found out that we have the Management of Auto Servicing programme, and they wanted to know more about our college. By the way, they were a little disappointed that we have only 14 students enrolled in this programme. They would be happy to invite all of them, at once. All our students at that time were already full-time employed. But – that makes sense, doesn’t it? Just these days, a graduate of our Mechatronics study programme, who completed the training ahead of schedule, goes to Germany.

– Your programmes practically guarantee successful employment. Has the interest of the youth increased; are your study programmes full?

– No, there are not. Firstly, because our education system is oversized. Today, at the higher education level, there are 18 thousand vacancies available, 10 thousand of those are at the level of secondary vocational education, and the current academic population totals only 17 thousand students. However, the trend is beginning to change. Young people are actively entering four-year secondary vocational education programmes, but not yet in colleges. At the secondary school level, in Celje, we already have to set a limit on enrolment in all technical study programmes.

– By the way, even graduates of Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes come to your college…

– Yes, that is correct; we have students who already have higher education. Last year I just had a graduate of the Mechanical Engineering programme with two degrees in philosophy, a teacher of geography and the Italian language. Now she works as a mechanical engineer! Today, specialists in the field of mechanical engineering are engaged in computer technologies in production, and such vacancies are highly rated. Girls are still reluctant to take on such work, but in fact, the management of computerized machinery is quite a suitable profession for them. In our college, there are only 1–2 persons, and in Macedonia – more than half of the total number of students, since young men go abroad. Our teacher was in Macedonia under an exchange programme. In this country, women not only study mechatronics, but also teach it!