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.



  1. Subtitling rather than dubbing — yes; that is a minimal change but one that would resonate widely.

  2. If those people being trained for free by the Germans knew a foreign language, they would move to the country where that language is spoken shortly after finishing that training. Well, maybe not all of them, but I’m sure most of them would, at least for a few years. Keeping Hungarians from learning a foreign language helps to keep them in the country. Of course, some of them may move anyway, since they can still find a much better paid job, and they will have some good, useful training. That’s the real lesson here: Young, hard-working, honest Hungarians with marketable skills are likely to move abroad to work, even if only for a few years. The dishonest ones stay and make lots money doing something corrupt or criminal.

  3. Eva I was in Tulsa this winter and there was a huge shortage of skilled welders there too. According to the American Welding Society, the average welder in the United States today is 54 years old. That means that a large majority of trained welders will be retiring over the next decade. Yet young people are not flocking to welding schools. Compared to other industrial jobs, welding is fairly dangerous. Risks associated with welding include asphyxiation due to dangerous inhalants, skin and eye damage due to ultraviolet light, electrical or chemical fires, and long-term negative effects from fumes. The leading cause of health problems in welders relates to carcinogenic or toxic chemicals. These chemicals might be in a sealant or coating over the metal surfaces to be welded. Extreme heat releases molecules into the air, where they are easily inhaled.

    Being a skilled welder is not a sexy job and it does not pay that well for the difficulty and danger of the job. The median hourly wages for welders is $17.61 in the USA. In Tulsa that wage would barely meet the standard for what is called a living wage, which in Tulsa is $17.31 an hour for an adult with one child based on working 2,080 hours a year. The estimate for a living wage does not reflect a middle class standard of living. It is not surprising that the German company is having difficulty finding welders in Hungary, it’s not just the lousy educational system it’s also a pretty tough job that is more and more often being done by robotics.

  4. I cannot understand why people don’t react to the total unfairness of the language exam system. The education system expects you to learn at least one foreign language and tests your language skills, but doesn’t help you attain them. In practice, to learn a foreign language, unless your school is an elite one, something exceptional, you have to attend extracurricular language courses. Already back in the 1980s, many Hungarians I knew sent their kids to private English classes after school. OK, in those times you could always put the blame on the compulsory Russian, but now there is no excuse for not providing proper language teaching at schools. The language exam problem is only a natural consequence of what happens (or what doesn’t happen) at schools.

    BTW, not even the language exams at the university seem to measure relevant language skills, if what I hear from my acquaintances is true.

  5. As for subtitling: I hate dubbing and firmly believe that in the Nordic countries the subtitling has worked wonders. (Not just for language skills but simply for literacy: even intellectually lazy TV watchers must learn to read in order to enjoy their sitcoms, action movies and soap operas.) But: In Austria and Germany everything is dubbed, and yet people know English way better than in Hungary. The inavoidable truth: the problem is with the school system, and it’s a really big problem.

  6. The link you provide to the Népszabadság article is actually Comrade Gyurcsány’s rambling entitled “Európai Egyesült Államokat!” and has no mention of Europakraft GmbH. Looks and sounds like somebody didn’t do their due diligence. Europakraft GmbH included.

  7. Sentrooppa-Santra: The subtitling and schooling is significant important to understand other languages. But I would not under-estimate the required trading with other countries and the significance the politicians and employers are putting in this.

    Btw a non-scientific piece about languages in the EU. Please note the position of the UK regarding the second language

    Click to access ebs_386_en.pdf

    As the welders, carpenters and other skilled laborers there is lack of in all countries in the EU. It is mainly due to the fact that the EU (read: countries in the EU) rather import from China as it is cheaper. However, to maintain it is not possible as there are no skilled repair persons.

  8. Kálmi: This HVG article is great. It also shows that how easy it was to hire Népszabadság to print and spread the message to the lefties that they do not have to worry, Fidesz will be nice, Orban will change and make gestures towards the left. Right, the stupid lefties ate this. Orban will never change. It also means (though we already knew that) that whatever Népszabadság prints should be taken with a heavy dose of source criticism especially when the topic is the government/Fidesz.

    Also, Fidesz apparently wants to make the Left “interested” in the present system, which is indeed a new system and not just a regime or government. The fideszniks plan to help Mesterházy (provided he survives the coming elections), the ideal adversary of Fidesz, to build out its own party network and media (to continue to exist as a punching bag).

    Guys, the fideszniks are smart, they are planning for years and many steps ahead, and the lefties are just bunch of dumb idiots, who will be purchased for a dime.

    This Orban-system is not going anywhere for a long time, of which system the EU-supported construction companies and agricultural oligarchs are a very important part, after that there will be no people living who even remembers what if was life before the Orban-system, ie. the Orban-system will be the default.

  9. campaign spending on the April election –

    Total = Billboards+ flyers & brochures + postal letters + other

    millions of forints


    3933= 2030+194+642+1067 (official state support 703= 597+106)

    Fidesz also received free government commercials on television and radio.

    Fidesz spending on billboards is calculated at usual rates, Simicska
    could have given a deep discount to his party.

    United Opposition:

    1588= 519+172+248+649 (official state support 703= 597+106)


    1247= 664+151+108+324 (official state support 703= 597+106)


    728= 317+86+61+264 (official state support 703= 597+106)

    Small parties combined: 317 (official state support 3433= 3433+0*)

    *the support for individual candidates must be given back to the state.


  10. As a matter of fact, there’s also a serious shortage of welders in both Germany and France at the moment. Rózsa Hoffmann’s ideas on language education may not have been so stupid. 🙂

    I’ll second Istvan’s comment. This is hard work, and it takes a few years of more hard work and more learning before it can actually pay well. In Europe as well as the US and Canada, young people (or unemployed older ones) may consider blue-collar jobs for a while; however very few envision to pursue a career in industry…

    PS: that said, giving the State a monopoly on professional training is a terrible idea. Things change too fast in the business world.

  11. @ tappanch I was in Budapest two weeks ago. Most billboards of the electoral campaign were still in place and I could see that Fidesz had had a small banner stuck with “Köszönjük” on theirs which I could understand, the cost remaining minimal; however Fidesz had also advertising columns throughout Budapest (elsewhere too I presume)

    and I could not help thinking which party in my home country would spend so much money AFTER the elections (that is, if Fidesz actually paid for anything…)

  12. Tappach: Your forget the road constructions and other major project which are carried out this year and last year. The costs of reducing utility charges, the extra “chain gangs”, etc, etc, etc.

    The total expenditure is much higher.

  13. @theestampe. They aren’t small banners, they’re full sized billboards. Around the whole road circling Balaton, there are billboards every kilometre or so, with Orban’s face and a message saying ‘Köszönjük”.

  14. “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.”

    Including, so it seems, Ágnes Kunhalmi – MSZP’s “expert” on education (albeit a couple of months ago, at 31, she reportedly took a language exam at last – whether she passed or not, I don’t know).

  15. I do find it mind boggling that DK, having totally failed to win over the Hungarian electorate, is now campaigning for a United States of Europe in which presumably Hungary will be ruled by bureaucrats in a remote land. Perhaps they are sincere (and a case can be made that this is the way forward although not by me) but it pretty much guarantees the DK’s electoral extinction.

    I fully agree that subtitles would be a great leap forward. When the media law was being framed, at one point, this was actually one of the proposals and I’m curious what became of it.

  16. In Hungary more people disagree with sanctions against Russia, than support those. Only Hungary out of 12 countries researched.

    Since Jobbik is fervently Russian friendly (in comments if you criticize Russia, you will get 15 different comments defending Russia and denouncing the West) and Fidesz strongly so, and the left does not say a thing (well, it does not even exist), this is realistic.

  17. I think that most of you misunderstood my point about the story on welding.My post was not really about the “shortage” of welders but rather about the quality of the training. In the case of Europakraft, there were 600 people who had a piece of paper attesting that they have been trained as welders. Yet, some of them never welded. Others did, but not well enough to get a job. That is the problem. On paper there was no shortage. In a way, Hungarian politicians didn’t lie. As far as statistics go, things look good. Unfortunately, those pieces of paper meant nothing.

  18. FYI:

    Europakraft has no production facilities of its own, but is more a headhunting company, now looking for people in Hungary and Romania mainly for technical jobs.

    I just had an encounter with a similar company which is looking for cooks, waiters/waitresses and hairdressers – thee also are in short supply in Germany.

    Seems nobody wants to do hard work in Germany any more …

  19. Eva if you are talking about the lack of quality of any job training that is something totally different.

    From personal experience regarding the so-called Merlegkepes (certified accountants) (Please note I am not talking about Konyvesgalo/Auditors/CPA) that certification is crap. Most of these persons cannot do a decent journal entry, do not understand the difference between debtors and creditors, cash and cash flow.

    From what I understand, under the “old” system, people study and needed to have a number of years experience before certification. Nowadays anybody who is coming from school / college passing the exams receive this certification without any experience and/or language skills.

    So we implemented some accounting tests and of the 100 people taking the test only 5 passed it. It was not a difficult test and any of the people working at that time for me finished this test within 5 minutes and passed it without problems. They could not believe that people were failing this test, and some were taking an hour doing this test. Test was one A4 four exercises. One debtors exercise, one creditor exercise, a balance sheet and a tax question.

    From 1995 one of the employment taxes was the so-called training fund contribution (1.5% of the gross salary minus education costs and/or donations (in money or equipment) to schools). This contribution was for re-training people and the training was taken very serious and had high success rate. Does it still exists?

  20. Ron: “Eva if you are talking about the lack of quality of any job training that is something totally different.”

    Yes, of course, this is what I found interesting in the article. It just happened to be about welders, but it seems to be a general problem.And that is a very serious situation. This way, it is sure that Hungarians will not be able to compete in a global economy. Or any economy. It doesn’t even have to be global in the modern sense.

  21. On tests generally and their results:

    Many years ago when I was searching for my first job in IT I had to take a test that the boss had brought with him from IBM, the so called Programmer Aptitude test, really nothing but a specialised IQ test with more questions re logic and calculation.

    I got the job only (I was told later) because of my very good results (for a mathematician however something like 95% was normal) – even though I had long hair and a beard …

    Later I administered that test to students from my university who wanted to work in that consultancy during the summer and I was flabbergasted how bad many performed!

    And these were all people who had the German “Abitur” which is the entry for university studies – I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw what some people had written. And the whole thing was not higher mathematics, just stuff from school. My favourite example:

    Someone gets a raise of 25% and now earns 2000 a month. How much did he earn before the raise – multiple choice (you don’t have to calculate too much): 1500, 1600, 1800 or 2500?

    Many students couldn’t solve this!

    This is probably no reassurance for you re Hungary’s problems but it shows some general problems – and that was before the computer age: 1969, 45 years ago …

  22. As I was reading the comments this morning, I was wondering if I misunderstood something about the Blog entry until I came across with Eva’s comment.
    My understand was that the article was about the empty promises of Orban / Fidesz. The we solve everything attitude, and the lies. It is just an other example on the programs and promises Fidesz cannot deliver on as the people that Fidesz puts in place are not qualified to the job. Fidesz nationalized private retirement saving to “save” the money from the “scrupulous” brokers, then lost all the money. Fidesz promised millions of new jobs, so started a forced program that pays less than minimum wage. Fidesz promised better education and makes short cuts that put the HUngarian diplomas questionable across the world. Fidesz opened new projects, but in reality the projects were not ready and were closed the next day. At this case Fidesz promised a better system to train blue collar workers, then based on those promises attracted companies to Hungary, but Fidesz cannot deliver.
    It is not even a bait and switch. It is misleading advertising, and if the company would have to leave Hungary, I wish they would go after Orban. Not the government, not Hungary, but Orban, the man full of empty promises.

  23. @tappanch

    “The venue of the “Sukoro” trial is back in Szolnok! Despite….

    1. EU Court ruling [if I remember well],
    2. Hungarian Constitutional Court ruling,
    3. modified “Basic Law” to pacify European legality”

    The Rule of Law….Felcsutian Style!

    (But all is well: the summer fruits and vegetables are here-)

  24. Not even native English speakers can understand everything in the movies without subtitles.
    Subtitles are a must, it is not a requirement nor a sane expectation from a foreign speaker to “understand” ghetto English or any other slang speech. That requires decades of life experience in that cultural background. Not even I, an university qualified translator and interpreter, can understand everything in the movies and my knowledge is way above the average.

  25. Johnny boy: Yes, that’s why nobody is advocating movies without subtitles as you can probably tell if you actually read the posts above.

  26. @tappanch

    Fidesz owns the judiciary and the prosecution. Fideszniks have been planning this since 1990, they have long-term plans and are very goal-oriented and consistent. What is is that the left has been planning all along? (Answer: nothing. Leftists never had any plans.)

    The left-wing never understood law and how the judiciary works. The lefties were not lawyers, they just did not get it. They cannot think like a lawyer. Which is pretty bad when your adversary is a huge cabal of lawyers.

    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.

    I guess it is too late for the left now. They will soon be demolished, and they will not even understand what hit them.

    This is evolution, the left either evolves or perishes. I guess we are witnessing the latter.

    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, given that about 8 million people were losers of the system change and perhaps 2 million benefited. Orban delivered both. We have a new system now (as this is a new system, not just an Orban-regime) and he has a cult-like following, just like in the 1930’s, when seemingly normal professors adored Hitler as a godlike figure, they adore Orban now.

    The left’s fundamentally materialist/rationalist world view just does not work when there is such a fundamental loss (loss in wealth, community, identity etc.) experienced by so many people. But since the economy will not improve and the left is per definition cannot not be rationalist/materialist, it will not able to provide an attractive political proposition to most.

  27. Dr Balogh writes: “Europakraft is looking for qualified welders, pipe fitters, and disk roller specialists. And they can find mighty few. ”

    I called up the local employment agency for disk roller availability. They never heard of that profession. No wonder that there is a shortage of them in Hungary.

    That also reflects on the English competency of Hungarians.

  28. Fidesz / Orban makes the police physically force holocaust survivor protesters away from the building of the monument that commemorates the guilty Hungarian nazis! THis is a day after the March of the Living where Fidesz stated that Hungary should not dwell on the past. I guess it is free to celebrate the Hungarian nazis, their sympathizers and the Arrow Cross from now.

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

  30. 70 years later, they are forcing out old Jews out of publics spaces. Orban and Fidesz talks BS while they pretend to sympathize with the Jewish community. Under the instruction of the Orban Government, the police is taking old (and not so old) Jewish protesters away from a monument that glorifies the nazi Hungarians’ “suffering”!

    Look at the following picture. Does this woman lookalike she requires forcible removal?

  31. These are the people Orban / Fidesz has to “protect” Hungary from with the police force!

  32. Mutt writes: “April 29, 2014 at 11:32 am


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

    Roll former operator.

  33. Some1 writes: “70 years later, they are forcing out old Jews out of publics spaces”

    What is your basis (obviously wrong!) for assuming that all of the demonstartors were Jews?

  34. @Louis Kovach

    “What is your basis (obviously wrong!) for assuming that all of the demonstartors were Jews?”

    Why Louis, how imperceptive of you: don’t you see that their heads are circumcised?

  35. Petrovics writes: “Why Louis, how imperceptive of you: don’t you see that their heads are circumcised?”

    Now I know what you use for thinking. 😉

  36. A report on Russia: the economy is worse and people are poorer.
    Yet, because of the Ukraine, Putin has 80% support.
    Sound familiar?

    Those KGB/FSB pavlovians sure know what they’re doing!

  37. @Louis Kovach

    “Roll former operator”

    Here we go. A dumb steel worker is criticizing a Phd Historian female for not knowing roll forming. Manners, Kovach, manners …

  38. Mutt writes: “Here we go. A dumb steel worker is criticizing a Phd Historian female for not knowing roll forming. Manners, Kovach, manners …”

    A proper PhD historian does not write about things that she does not know about. Only political hacks use that methodology.

  39. @Kovach “A proper PhD historian does not write about things that she does not know about. ”

    Like roll forming? Are you high again? The article is about the abysmal state of the Hungarian education not steel engineering.

  40. Lousi Kovach:
    “April 29, 2014 at 2:05 pm Quote
    Some1 writes: “70 years later, they are forcing out old Jews out of publics spaces”
    What is your basis (obviously wrong!) for assuming that all of the demonstartors were Jews?”

    Where did I say all of the people who were forced out were Jewish? Are you saying that they were not forcing out the Jews because they were not all Jews? Your logic fails me.

    Maybe what Kovach wants to say is that Not only that old Jews were forced out after 70 years but their supporters too. Well, it still sound bad isn’t it?

  41. Louis Kovach:
    “April 29, 2014 at 2:56 pm Quote
    Mutt writes: “Here we go. A dumb steel worker is criticizing a Phd Historian female for not knowing roll forming. Manners, Kovach, manners …”
    A proper PhD historian does not write about things that she does not know about. Only political hacks use that methodology.”

    It is not Eva who has a problem. Eva simply reported on how Orban lied to foreign investors!
    It is the German form who had problems, so maybe you should tell them off. Tell them in the name of Orban that they have no idea what they are talking about.

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