Cisco Networking Academy Contributes to a Nation's Push for Economic Development in Slovakia
February 6, 2008
By Jason Deign, News@Cisco
When German telecommunications giants T-Systems and T-Mobile opened up bases in Slovakia they did not have to look far for engineering talent.
Recruits sought by the companies came directly from Slovakia's vibrant Cisco Networking Academy®, which is helping to provide much-needed graduates for a major economic transformation in the nation.
With gross domestic product (GDP) growth soaring to 8.3 percent, Slovakia is one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe, attracting foreign investors and establishing itself as a major automotive manufacturing center.
And as the country is slated to switch to the euro in 2009, keeping the economy on track is of paramount importance. Policy makers see a skilled workforce as a vital pillar for growth, along with a benign tax environment to encourage investors.
This could explain why the Networking Academy itself has been encouraged to grow and flourish as in few other countries in Europe.
Before the Networking Academy was introduced in the region in 1999, there was no systematic networking skills education based on industrial certification to speak of in Slovakia.
By 2001, however, both Slovakia's Ministry of Education and the country's largest retail bank, Slovenská sporitel'ña, had come on board as allies, signing a memoranda of understanding with Cisco.
"The Ministry saw the Networking Academy as setting an example for public-private partnership in education and helping to build an information society in the country," says Marcel Rebroš, Cisco general manager in Slovakia.
Slovenská sporitel'ña, meanwhile, was keen to get behind such an ambitious and high-profile corporate social responsibility initiative and wished to launch its own educational content around the essentials of banking and financing, taking advantage of the Networking Academy structure.
The bank's pilot learning course will focus on the process of introducing the euro currency.
Meanwhile, Slovenská sporitel'ña's involvement has proved important in helping to ensure that Cisco Networking Academy training in Slovakia is of the highest standard, since its sponsorship covers the acquisition of lab equipment.
This means Slovakia's academies do not have to worry about funding for vital lab technologies. They have prospered as a result. In relation to the overall size of the population, Slovakia now has one of the highest proportions of Cisco Networking Academy students in the world.
The graduate output from the country's 55 Networking Academies could probably meet Slovakia's already dwindling skills gap within a few years, were it not for the fact that the availability of high-quality skilled IT technicians is attracting employers from abroad.
"Companies such as SOITRON, T-Systems, AT&T and T-Mobile are expected to recruit around 1000 Cisco Networking Academy graduates in the next 12 months," says area Academy manager František Jakab, who was awarded the country's 'IT Person of the Year' in 2006 for his role in setting up academies.
Slovakia has been a member of the European Union since 2004 and entering into the euro is a part of this process of integration. The euro-zone entry means Slovakia is becoming even more stable from a business perspective, so investors are looking at the country with different eyes.
Several large automotive manufacturers have operations in Slovakia and there are a number of support centers set up by companies such as IBM, AT&T, T-Systems or Ness Technologies," Rebroš says. "All these companies need IT experts.
"Slovakia's GDP growth is coming from exports which in turn come from foreign investors. They need to be connected, and for that they need networking specialists."
This foreign appetite for Slovakian networking expertise has even changed patterns of migration out of the country.
Jakab explains: "After we first joined the European Union we had networking specialists moving out of the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere in the common market.
"But as foreign investment increases the salaries here are going up, so there has been a change in the last three years. There used to be a brain drain but now people travel and study abroad before returning to the opportunities they have at home."
And the signs are that these opportunities will continue to increase. Although big investors can count on skilled technicians and sound infrastructure, the country as a whole is only just beginning to reap the benefits of a networked society.
The World Economic Forum puts Slovakia's Networked Readiness Index at 41, between Barbados and Latvia, and on the ground the country is not exactly buzzing with Internet cafes and wireless hotspots. But there is little doubt it soon could be.
"Slovakia is in a transformation that started a couple of years ago," Rebroš explains. "The economy should move up the value chain, with more local added value created by local suppliers.
"This means more connected businesses and a growing demand for networking and information technology skills."
Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.
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