Training skilled workers and teaching foreign languages in Hungary

My post today deals with two aspects of Hungarian education. One is the training of skilled workers and the other, the still sorry state of foreign language education.

The first topic was inspired by an article I read in Népszabadság, which relates the woes of a German firm that just established a factory that needs skilled welders. Although the company was enticed by government propaganda proclaiming that Hungary has a highly skilled workforce, the company at the moment can’t find workers who can perform the simplest of tasks.

The second topic is the age-old story of Hungarians’ inability to handle at least one foreign language. But this time the criticism comes from an academic, a professor of chemistry, who looks at the problem from a practical point of view. He proposes solutions that are pretty drastic. It is also worth mentioning that the Demokratikus Koalíció’s program contains suggestions for eventually moving to an educational structure built on bilingual instruction.

So, let’s start with training skilled workers. Anyone who knows anything about the zeal of the Orbán government should have guessed that the law regarding this aspect of education couldn’t have remained untouched. Until September 1, 2013 private firms could run their own training programs. But Viktor Orbán is a fan of nationalization: practically everything has to be run by the state. So, claiming that these private training programs became far too expensive due to the increase in the number of hours required for certification, the private companies will no longer get any applicants. After all, the state-run programs “within the walls of schools” will be free. While earlier one could get certification, let’s say, in six months, from here on the skilled workers of the future, including waiters and sales clerks in department stores, will spend two years in school. This sounds wonderful, but let’s see how well these state schools performed in the past.

The disappointed German firm is Europakraft GmbH, whose headquarters are in Metzingen, Germany. Not long ago the firm decided to open a new branch in Nagytarcsa. In addition to engineers, they are also in need of a skilled blue collar labor force. Europakraft is looking for qualified welders, pipe fitters, and disk roller specialists. And they can find mighty few. The manager of the Hungarian branch of the company, Stefan Körmendi, is terribly disappointed. The firm came to Hungary because they believed the Hungarian politicians, who said that a highly trained workforce exists in Hungary. “By now I know that not a word of that is true,” said Körmendi to the journalist of Népszabadság.

In the last few months they have been actively looking for welders and CNC-cutters. There were many applicants, but when they had to show their skills, most of them were unable to perform even basic tasks. Keep in mind that these people had a piece of paper that attested to their competence in these particular skills. The firm tested 600 people, out of whom 60% couldn’t weld at all. Fifteen percent of them were able to weld but could do so only with one particular method. A mere one out of ten was actually qualified to perform the kind of work Europakraft demands.

The building is there. Now what they need is skilled workers

The building is there. Now what they need is skilled workers.

The management was stunned. How is it possible that 90% of certified welders can’t weld? It turned out that some of them never welded at all because “the money ran out at school and they couldn’t afford buying the gas cylinders.” The management also found out that most of the experienced teachers left not just the school but the country and found good-paying jobs abroad. Moreover, those few who passed Europakraft’s test are actually half way out of the country already. While the firm pays 300,000 ft/month (which is 20-30% higher than the Hungarian average), abroad they can make more than double that. The firm now, at its own expense, has begun a month-long training program for those few, about 15% of all the applicants, who more or less passed the test. The firm cannot charge anything because it is not certified as a training center. If the firm were to receive a good size order today, they would not be able to fill it because they don’t have enough men who could immediately begin work in the Hungarian factory.

Zoltán Homonnay, the chemistry professor, talks about the same thing that the Germans encountered among welders. He complains about the authorities who, instead of demanding the best from students, simply want to lower standards. University students are required to know at least one foreign language before they can receive their diplomas. Thousands of students have finished all their coursework and written their senior essay but still don’t have a college degree because they couldn’t pass the language exam.

At first there was talk about lowering the standards: devise a new test that students could pass without much work. The easiest way out. That idea was eventually dropped. The new idea is to offer financial incentives to encourage those people who didn’t pass the language exam to work harder the next time around. If a college degree was not incentive enough, why does the government think that throwing a wad of cash at them will transform them into assiduous students of English or German? Hommonay calls this kind of interference “pampering.” Hungary is not globally competitive at the moment. In order to catch up, Hungarians need something extra: hard work, extra knowledge, whatever, but not coddling.

Instead of giving money to the laggards, the government should force people to learn a language by, for example, putting an end to the dubbing of films and television series. Homonnay would even get rid of subtitles after a few years. He would forbid the translation of software. He would introduce English-language instruction in certain subjects at the universities. If that can be done in German, Turkish, Czech, and Portuguese universities, why can’t it be done in Hungary?

The Demokratikus Koalíció’s program goes even farther than that. Its politicians advocate the gradual introduction of bilingual education from first grade on, not only in Hungary but in all European schools. DK, to the horror of the right, wants to have a United States of Europe, and the promotion of English and other languages fits in well with a more centralized United States of Europe.

The current Hungarian administration does not encourage bilingual education. In fact, one of the first moves of Rózsa Hoffmann was to reduce the number of subjects taught in a foreign language in bilingual schools. And who can forget the idea of promoting French and German at the expense of English?

Unfortunately, I fear there will be no change for the better in the next few years, either in producing more skilled–really skilled–workers or in having all final-year college students be truly bilingual. Meanwhile, Hungary is losing ground on all fronts, even among the countries of the region. The prospects seem quite bleak.

 

Advertisements

83 comments

  1. Répássy: “My personal view is that the system change (rendszerváltozás) was as big a shock to most Hungarians as the German defeat in WWI /hyperinflation (Great Depression) to Germans. Orban is no Hitler, but the Hungarians needed a similar kind of adoration and sort of cult and a new system,”

    Because such comments are made relatively frequently, I start to believe that this is apparently how it looks like for some. Question to Repassy then would be: are you of an age that you have own memories of the 1980s? If not, do you know people who could remember what exactly they expected in the 1980s, whether they supported the changes in the 1980s, what they believed these changes mean? Including for their own participation in the political process (such as voting, but perhaps even as a member of some party)? We know all that OV at that time wanted “democracy” and the Russians out. Do you think he was “shocked” afterwards to the point that he started to dislike democracy and asked the Russians back?

    I am also quite convinced that the assessment of the necessary changes, including in the political elite, was grossly underestimated by MSzMP and apparently many more people, but even with that, it would not have been necessary that the main dividing line is now between groups of which none is really dedicated to “democracy”, and instead understand politics nearly exclusively as a game for power to be exercised in the interest of some. That was not inevitable, and it is neither unchangeable now. It is irrelevant whether the “left” is done forever or not, because what should matter much more for you or for Hungary is some common idea of what the country should look like. How should Hungary look like in a decade, and what would have to change for that. And how could that country be attractive for nearly all its citizens, not only for those “left” or “right”. This question of who is going to perish soon, and who has “eternally won then” (the country in the meantime being in ruins), has to be removed from its top position in people’s minds.

  2. We are looking for skilled labor here in the US also, and we have difficulty finding well trained folks. It is difficult to train people even if they have degrees in political science, African studies, public affairs, history, etc.

    Some of the causes are the same in Hungary also.

    But lets not leave out that the German company is a bodyshop, trying to hire skilled labor in Hungary at half price of the current German wages. Maybe skilled laborers in Hungary are not that stupid as to sign up for a bodyshop at half price, when they know how much they can get in Germany. For that reason they got a bunch of questionable skilled applicants.

    The “so called” language exam levels in Hungary were always a joke, more so in the previous times than currently. I had occasions to meet highest level language certificate holders who could not conduct even a basci conversations in English.

    The deterioration of the quality of “skilled labor” started under Kadar and has not stopped under the subsquent hacks in charge of Hungary.

    I see absolutly no reason to hang these problems in Orban’s neck. I am sure there are problems for which he is responsible, but these type of blogs only dilute the discussions of real problems.

  3. @Kovach Just to test you English skills … Would you mind translating the “Lemez-hengerítő szakember” into proper English? Thanks.”

    Kovacs wrote: Roll former operator.

    TRANSLATION FAIL!

    Here’s the Google Image Search results for “lemezhengerítő gép”:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=lemezhengerítő+gép&safe=off&client=firefox-a&hs=ufa&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=sb&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=RgZgU_XGHoTdtAa3wYGgAg&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAQ&biw=1280&bih=586

    Now the same for “roll forming machine”:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=roll+forming+machine&safe=off&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=sb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=GAhgU77HNcfOtQb-mYCIDQ&sqi=2&ved=0CEQQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=586

    You can clearly see that they are NOT the same thing.

    Now Google Image for “roll bending machine”:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=plate+roll+machine&safe=off&client=firefox-a&hs=BVv&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=sb&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=sAhgU6-9N8rEtQb0rYDwCw&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAg&biw=1280&bih=586#channel=sb&q=roll+bending+machine&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&safe=off&tbm=isch

    This is clearly the same as the Hungarian “lemezhengerítő gép”. (But apparently it can also be called a “plate rolling machine” or “plate bending machine”.)

    As for the person doing the job (“szakember”), it appears to be called a “bending machine operator: http://youtu.be/xIbIrew-ADA

    lemezhengerítő szakember = bending machine operator

  4. @Kovach “I see absolutly no reason to hang these problems in Orban’s neck”

    Yeah, yeah … but cutting the budget of the higher education by 50% in real value may have something to do with. Don’t you think?

    Good point on the body shop. All the skilled labor already took off. But let’s not blame Orban for this too. Right?

    You are right about the language exams (really). But let’s not forget that the actual ability to speak doesn’t depend on the exam. It depends on the quality of the education … and that, dang, … why am I blaming Orban again? (He is the PM)

  5. “Plus, the judiciary is full of social conservatives who just hate communists, sorry, it is nothing personal, but they just can’t stand the reds, you have to understand them. ”

    Rubbish.
    You obviously haven’t met many Hungarian judges It’s full of mainly professional people with a pride in their job but who are being threatened by a corrupt and criminal mafia,

    And don’t give that mafia the label of “lawyers”; they aren’t, they are corrupt and criminal, power-hungry thugs, who at this moment are fortunate enough to control that law-making process.

  6. Kovacs wrote: “That also reflects on the English competency of Hungarians.”

    Indeed, Mr. Kovacs! How astute of you to note this. To wit:

    Kovacs wrote: “But lets not leave out that the German company is a bodyshop”
    ???
    “Bodyshop” is not an English word, so this sentence makes absolutely no sense (I literally do not understand what you mean by this statement. Care to explain?)

    Kovacs wrote: “hang these problems in Orban’s neck”
    Again, nonsensical phrasing. I think you mean “blame Orbán for this”, but the phrase you used does not mean that (it doesn’t mean anything)

    You know, you can’t just make up words and phrases anytime you want. And then criticize other Hungarians for their poor English!

  7. Actually, I partially take that last comment back: “body shop” is used in North America as a type of garage for car repairs. But did Kovacs mean to say that this is what the German company is? If so, I’m still confused by what he meant.

    Also, it should be “leave out the fact that”, not “leave out that” from that sentence. (“the fact” is missing from the original)

  8. @buddy: “Kovacs wrote: “hang these problems in Orban’s neck”
    Again, nonsensical phrasing. I think you mean “blame Orbán for this”, but the phrase you used does not mean that (it doesn’t mean anything)”

    I guess he was trying to translate the Hungarian phrase “nyakaba varrni”

  9. London Calling!

    Kovach you’re an idiot (2).

    And ‘an university’.

    Obviously not a typo either!

    Tch! Tch! Kovach.

    Your keenness to ‘diss’ Eva sometimes (always!) gets the better of you.

    The last sentence may be idiomatically difficult for you to understand – but you’re on your own!

    Which university did you study at? Degree?

    People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    Regards

    Charlie

  10. Charlie, please calm down – everybody knows what kind of *** Kovacs is.

    This Eurokraft company has an interesting concept, they started as a “Body leasing” or “body shopping” company in Metzingen (the famous outlet town, not far from where we live – my wife likes to go shopping there at Boss, Esprit, S Oliver, Adidas, Puma, Nike – you name them) for specialists in metal working like welding special steel.

    They claim that they have 6000 specialists working for them!

    And now they found out that there’s a market for small series production/welding and so they founded that production facility in Hungary …

    You can find lots of interesting pictures here (sorry, the text is in German):
    http://www.europakraft.de/fileadmin/templates/images/unternehmensbroschuere.pdf

  11. Mutt: “@JohnnyBoy “Ghetto English” ?? Racist f*!”

    Tell me, how is ghetto related to race?

  12. To help you a bit, Johnny:

    Who lived in the Warsaw ghetto ?

    Who lived/lives in the ghetto in Chicago – or other US cities?

    Funnily enough I just read a discussion on an American/German forum where they called those US gated communities “ghettos for the rich” …

  13. buddy writes:

    This is clearly the same as the Hungarian “lemezhengerítő gép”. (But apparently it can also be called a “plate rolling machine” or “plate bending machine”.)

    As for the person doing the job (“szakember”), it appears to be called a “bending machine operator: http://youtu.be/xIbIrew-ADA

    lemezhengerítő szakember = bending machine operator.

    I am sorry to ruin your survey. We have both machines in our shop and we have operators for them. I do know what they are and what they are called.

  14. Buddy writes: “April 29, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Quote

    “Actually, I partially take that last comment back: “body shop” is used in North America as a type of garage for car repairs. But did Kovacs mean to say that this is what the German company is? If so, I’m still confused by what he meant.

    Also, it should be “leave out the fact that”, not “leave out that” from that sentence. (“the fact” is missing from the original)”

    Actually in the US a company that hires people and than hires them out to another company is called endearingly a “body shop”

  15. Dr Balogh writes: “The fact is that Kovach’s English prose is full of wrong usage. He is the last to criticize others.”

    Obviously, you are not familiar with many American English expressions and word useage.
    Like when a “dean” is a an academic dean…….

  16. AN writes: “@buddy: “Kovacs wrote: “hang these problems in Orban’s neck”
    Again, nonsensical phrasing. I think you mean “blame Orbán for this”, but the phrase you used does not mean that (it doesn’t mean anything)”

    I guess he was trying to translate the Hungarian phrase “nyakaba varrni””

    See: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/british/have-sb-sth-hanging-round-your-neck

    But there is another saying also: “Engage brain before opening mouth” !

  17. Dr Balogh writes: “Yes, An, translation from the Hungarian. Usually doesn’t work.”

    Another demonstration of the knowledge of English usage……See comment to AN.

  18. Dr Balogh writes: “April 29, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Quote

    The fact is that Kovach’s English prose is full of wrong usage. He is the last to criticize others.”

    Thank you for the compliment, but I must object, I am not always the last to criicize!!!

    Maybe it should be “should be”…but again that is English usage.

  19. I hate to tell you but I was an academic dean. At Yale each college has an academic dean who handles the academic affairs of the students attached to a particular college. Moreover, in addition to administrative duties I also taught in the history department. I am getting tired of your personal attacks on my reputation and if you insist on continuing it you will be barred from this blog.

  20. The partial tragedy of Hungary is that Kovach and Johnny type intellectuals have failed their own nation repeatedly.

    They are guided by a suicidal conservatism, and will reject Deak Ferenc like reform movements forever.

    Under Orban, they feel comfortable.

    Their newly gained mission is to carry out attacks on Balogh type excellent reformers, and progressive thinkers.

  21. @Louis Kovach: Sorry, according to the link you provided the Hungarian “nyakaba varrni” and “have sb/sth hanging round your neck” does not have the same meaning. “Nyakaba varrni” assigns blame, while the English expression is talking about nuisance. Not to mention that the English expression that you used is not the same as the one in the link…”hang these problems in Orban’s neck” ??

  22. London Calling!

    Kovach is a idiot (3)!!!

    Hoist by his own petard!

    Sorry Wolfi! – all is calm now!

    Regards

    Charlie

    (See what I did there?)

  23. An writes: “@Louis Kovach: Sorry, according to the link you provided the Hungarian “nyakaba varrni” and “have sb/sth hanging round your neck” does not have the same meaning. “Nyakaba varrni” assigns blame”

    Where did I claim that it was “nyakba varrni”?????

  24. @Louis Kovach: It’s really anybody’s guess what you were trying to say, as the English expression that you used ”hang these problems in Orban’s neck” is not the same as the one you linked “have sb/sth hanging round your neck.”

    I’m not against transplanting Hungarian expressions into English, though… or inventing new ones 🙂

  25. An writes: “I’m not against transplanting Hungarian expressions into English, though… or inventing new ones :-)”

    Sorry, but I was certainly not the first one to use the “hang something in one’s neck expression. It was used in several forms in English before. (Millstone and even the albatross..)

    And I should not have expected this crowd to be aware of the poem:
    Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
    Had I from old and young !
    Instead of the cross, the Albatross
    About my neck was hung.

  26. Dr Balogh writes: “I hate to tell you but I was an academic dean. At Yale each college has an academic dean who handles the academic affairs of the students attached to a particular college. Moreover, in addition to administrative duties I also taught in the history department. I am getting tired of your personal attacks on my reputation and if you insist on continuing it you will be barred from this blog.”

    It is my understanding that you became a “college dean” while you were still a grad student. Some years later the status of “college deans” was improved but not at your tenure as “college dean”

    What “college deans” really are at Yale is well described in the cited document:
    http://www.yale.edu/terc/collectiblesandpublications/specialdocuments/Residential_colleges/residential_colleges1974.pdf

  27. Lousi Kovach May 1, 2014 at 11:12 am Quote
    An writes: “I’m not against transplanting Hungarian expressions into English, though… or inventing new ones :-)”
    Sorry, but I was certainly not the first one to use the “hang something in one’s neck expression. It was used in several forms in English before. (Millstone and even the albatross..)
    And I should not have expected this crowd to be aware of the poem:
    Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
    Had I from old and young !
    Instead of the cross, the Albatross
    About my neck was hung.
    ——-

    I certainly should be the last one to critic anyone for their use of the English language grammatically, stylistically or otherwise, but I take exception of your comment about Coleridge’s poem that likely you came upon after searching the expression.
    “About my neck was hung” [the dead albatross] is not he same as “hang these problems in Orban’s neck” maybe hang on his neck, or hang around his neck, but not in his neck. That would be painful.
    You should “hang your head”.

Comments are closed.