Business Focus

I am a freelance contributor to The SLOVAK SPECTATOR – journal about Slovakia in English. For the BUSINESS FOCUS section  I cover mostly topics related to business, economy and finances but also technologies and HR. I included short excerpts from the most interesting pieces, the rest is available under this link.

Freighters face infrastructure challenges

Logistics and transport companies must cope with a lack of human resources and poor infrastructure, mainly in the central and eastern parts of Slovakia.

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Logistics and transport companies must react to the market and increase the quality of services, while keeping prices affordable for their clients. They too are affected by the overall economic situation and the activities of its main trading partners in Europe.

The recent development in this sector in Slovakia has been positive, although companies must cope with a lack of human resources and poor infrastructure, mainly in the central and eastern parts of Slovakia.

The automotive industry represents a potential for an increase in logistics services. It is also an opportunity for foreign companies to increase their operation in Slovakia.

Read the summary of the survey 

PhD for personal development

PhD graduates are valued on the job market for their expertise and soft skills.

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Graduates from PhD programmes in Slovakia do not have problems finding placement in the job market. Knowledge and soft-skills increase their value at home as well as abroad. Experts view PhD study as an opportunity for personal and professional development. Most graduates are highly sought after by companies, mainly in technological fields.

“In general, PhD graduates do not have problems finding placement on the job market,” said spokesperson of the Education Ministry Eva Koprena.

Apart from working in their field of study, PhD graduates are employed in the private sector, valued mainly for their soft-skills.

“Naturally, a PhD graduate increases his or her professional capability and value on the job market,” said Silvia Kotulovičová, scholarship administrator at the Slovak Academic Information Agency (SAIA).

Read the whole article

Revamped audit law to bring more transparent ledgers

The new law puts pressure on costs and conditions across the auditing market.

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A law on statutory audit passed in November 2015 should improve the system and increase transparency. On the other hand, it puts pressure on costs and conditions across the auditing market. The result should be disclosure of credible financial information of companies.

“It will contribute to better protection of shareholders, investors, creditors and other stakeholders,” Alexandra Gogová, spokesperson of the Finance Ministry, told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the law facilitates access to the Slovak audit market for auditors from other member countries and that reciprocally it applies to Slovak auditors.

Rotation will limit the contraction of the same audit companies in big companies to several years. Rotation can, however, hinder a deeper understanding of the business subject as the audit process usually takes several years,” Gogová pointed out.

Read the whole article

Study in Chinese in Banská Bystrica

Bilingual programme in Slovak and Chinese should release the potential of the most widely spoken language.

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With almost one billion speakers, knowledge of Mandarin Chinese can offer a competitive advantage. Gymnázium Mikuláša Kováča in Banská Bystrica is the first school in central Europe to offer a bilingual programme in this exotic language.

“It is common place that families in West Europe hire Chinese babysitters to teach their children the language,” said Alena Paulová, the headmistress of gymnázium Mikuláša Kováča. “At our school, it is possible to study it academically.”

About 900 million people use Mandarin Chinese as their first language, which makes it the most spoken language in the world.

Read the whole article

Climate change affects Slovakia

Hotter summer days are but one consequence of global warming.

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Tropical summer days with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius were not commonplace in Slovakia in the past. It is one of the consequences of the global climate change, caused mainly by human activity, say experts, as they also push for more efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

“In the last 130 years the average annual temperature in Slovakia increased by approximately 1.7 C,” said Alexander Ač, a climatologist, adding that extreme temperature changes are typical for the whole planet.

Continue reading

EU laws to adjust to digital content

New rules meant to bring equal access, no matter the country.

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The European Union is preparing new rules for the digital market to provide more protection for customers and increase cross-border trade, with the aim of improving conditions for all web users throughout the trading bloc.

The European Commission prepared two proposals meant to protect consumers and also lay down rules on the sales of digital content in 2015. In Slovakia, the civil code does not cover liability for digital content or services.

“In such cases general contractual rules on supply of digital content apply,” Justice Ministry spokesman Peter Bubla told The Slovak Spectator.

The law, which is on the agenda for the Slovak EU presidency, should bring greater customer satisfaction, an increase in revenue and also boost digital trade. The EC has also prepared a new definition for digital content that will take into consideration the rapid development of technology.

Continue reading

People in Egypt might like Slovak short stories

A participant of the summer Slovak language school talks about his interest in Slovak literature, in the country itself, and the challenges of translating.

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“If you are learning a language and have never visited the country, you have not learnt anything,” says Ayman Saad, a university teacher and lecturer from Egypt, who translates Slovak literature into Arabic.

Ayman was one of the participants of the Studia Academica Slovaca (SAS Summer) School at the Comenius University in Bratislava, offering courses in Slovak language for foreigners. Apart from study, he took the opportunity to get familiar with Slovak culture and people.

Continue reading 

Slovakia seeks to curb usage of plastic bags

Local scientists have developed a bio-degradable material for plastic bags.

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Slovaks are extensive users of plastic bags when an average Slovak uses 466 of them a year, compared with only four used by Danes. While charging for plastic bags is apparently reducing usage of this pollutant that is harming the environment, also pressure from the European Union is mounting. The Environment Ministry is planning an amendment to the Waste Act, which should decrease the use of plastic bags for shopping. Retailers would not be allowed to give bags for free, and they would have to keep track of all bags.

“The main goal is to lower the use of light plastic bags for shopping, which will result in a decrease of waste from packaging,” Petra Stano Maťašovská, spokesperson of the ministry, told The Slovak Spectator.

The new legislation will also define terms such as plastic, plastic bag, light plastic bag, very light plastic bag and oxo-degradable plastic bags. Light plastic bags with thickness below 0.05 mm represent majority of all the plastic bags used in Europe. They are less reusable and often end up in the nature, polluting water sources.

Read the  full article here.

Oldest Slovak language summer school starts

Since beginning in 1965, the courses have produced 6,000 graduates. This year, there are 157 enrolled from 33 countries.

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Most foreigners tend to say Slovak is a difficult language to learn. Yet many still want to try – including those currently taking part in the longest running Slovak language summer school.

Studia Academica Slovaca (SAS) summer school is taking place for the 52th time this year, which makes it the oldest academic event that offers courses in Slovak language and culture to foreigners. The current edition started July 31. The summer school, taking place under the auspices of the Comenius University in Bratislava, teaches Slovak language but also opens Slovak culture and customs for the foreigners.

“The course helps me a lot,” said Ayman Saad, a translator from Egypt who takes part in the ongoing edition of the school. “We learn a lot about the language and culture and we get into the atmosphere of the language.”

Read the whole article 

The third way of coffee in Bratislava

Enjoying a cup while reading in a bookshop, listening to a debate or on the go; directly from the street, Bratislava offers multiple ways to have a coffee.

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source (sme)

While in the past, people in Slovakia were used to the so-called Turkish coffee, now there are many types of the beverage, which have transformed coffee drinking into a culinary and also cultural experience.

“We saw a gap on the market and as the Third Wave was catching up abroad, we wanted to bring it to Bratislava,” Ján Budaj, the owner of Gorilla Urban Space, told The Slovak Spectator.

The third way of coffee culture refers to a movement that approaches coffee with culinary appreciation like wine, not just as a mere commodity. It focuses on quality, starting from production to processing. The concept originated in the US in the early 2000s and recently arrived to Slovakia.

Reacting to the spreading international chains, coffee enthusiasts seek ways how to offer some extra value, apart from a quality cup of brew. Foxford bookshop offers direct access to books and regular debates with authors. Goriffee Kaffeehaus in the centre of Bratislava is connected with a library.

“We approach a coffee house as an institution,” said Martin Bajaník, the founder of Foxford.

Read the whole article.

Street food is finding its way in Bratislava

Street food can be a solution for the people who want to enjoy a quality meal on the go.

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Food culture of Bratislava has long been marked by globalisation. Apart from kebab, Chinese bistros or traditional lángoš – scones fried in hot oil, people in Bratislava can enjoy more healthy street food.

“What we call street food was originally offered during celebrations, open markets and fairs,” says historian Vladimír Tomčík and author of a book about history of Bratislava cuisine. “It is used mainly be the young generation, students and people in time and financial stress.”

In some countries, street food has become part of the culture, many people prefer to grab their dinner on the way to the bar or theatre. Food prepared on the street had a social and economic function, as it was affordable even for the poorer groups of people.

Read full article.

Rule of law still only on paper

Government open to the initiative but says additional checks and balances are needed.

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Prime Minister Robert Fico’s previous government pledged to implement the so-called Rule of Law Initiative promoted by various chambers of commerce and its principles also made it into the programme statement of the current four-party government. But the objectives have remained only on paper and political analysts warn that weak rule of law continues to harm Slovak society.

“Poor application of the rule of law can have far-reaching consequences,” political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. “These are an increased level of corruption and a drop in people’s trust in public institutions. Lack of transparency can affect the political preferences of people and in the end this can help extremists because they would be able to point out corruption.”

The principle of government by the rule of law should be one of the first steps in the fight against corruption and towards a more transparent business environment, Mesežnikov stressed, as it can also impact the country’s economic and social situation. He reproached the previous Smer government for poor application of the principles of equality.

Read full article.

Foreigners fill job gaps

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Employers in Slovakia fish for labour force also beyond borders.

The Slovak labour market is becoming overheated with more and more employers reporting difficulty filling their vacancies with qualified labour, due to the shrinking pool of suitable employees. While employers have already started searching abroad for labour, the Labour Ministry refuses for now to ease employment requirements for people from non-EU member countries and would like to see vacancies filled by people registered with job offices or those lured back home.  Read the full article

Slovakia has medal hopes for Rio 2016

1246671_1200xTrack and field prospects looking up, but most potential Olympic medalists already in their 30s and are not matched by new talents.

Less than three months before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and 42 Slovak athletes have thus far secured their place – in London 46 Slovak athletes competed, which was the lowest number ever.

“We would be glad if we could send at least 51 athletes as it will bring advantages for our organisation team,” said Ľubomír Souček, manager of media communication at the Slovak Olympic Committee (SOV).

Traditionally, the strongest medal potential ahead of Rio is laid on white-water slalom, sprint canoeing and shooting. Continue to the full article…

Big mobile operators launch new brands

1139105_1200xSeveral brand resellers make the mobile market in Slovakia multi-faceted.

THOUGH it may appear there are seven or more mobile operators on the Slovak market, a closer look shows that many are so-called branded resellers which target clientele beyond their traditional target groups.

Apart from established mobile operators there are also services offered under brand names like Juro, FunFón or Tesco Mobile. Compared to established operators, their offer of calls and other services is narrower, but the prices are usually lower.

“Mobile phone operators can address customers that have not identified with the corporate culture of the big operators,” said Ondrej Macko the editor-in-chief at Touch IT, adding that such services are often provided via pre-paid cards. “They are mostly designed for young people. Usually such an offer is oriented on a low call price while these services most often focus on calls and text messages.”

A brand reseller scheme means Continue to the full article…

Slovak airports busier but still trail EU average

640510_1200xDespite the addition of new routes from Bratislava and Košice Slovakia is still lacking air links with the main hubs in Europe.

LAST year, air traffic in Slovakia experienced a significant 15 percent increase – helped mainly by the low-cost air carriers. However, air travel in Slovakia still lags behind the European average.

“Passenger transport at the Bratislava airport has improved but there is no change in terms of the dominant position of the low-cost carriers (LCC),” Antonín Kazda, head of the Air Transport Department at the University of Žilina told The Slovak Spectator.

The number of the passengers processed at Slovak airports is growing at the fastest rate in Europe. Airport Poprad-Tatry experienced a 250 percent increase in the number of passengers and Košice was also ranked amongst the fastest growing airports in Europe.

Despite the addition of new routes from Bratislava and Košice, including Madrid, Brussels and Dubai, Slovakia is still lacking air links with the main hubs in Europe. Continue to the full article…

Sale of locally sourced foodstuffs sprouts

440383_1200xSome companies understand that focusing on people and environment can be part of their business.

Back in the day, people in Slovakia grew most of their food locally or bought it from local farms. Though globalisation now sees a much wider variety of foods available at cheap prices, they are often lacking in quality and nutritional value. A healthy-sized group of entrepreneurs are looking to turn back the clock.

“Being aware of our environment and contributing to solutions according to our own capacity is natural and rational,“ said Ján Lunter, the CEO of Alfa Bio, a company which sells soy products.

Now Lunter’s company exports to the whole of central Europe, but it is not alone. Continue to the full article…

Digital economy presents new challenges

398468_1200xTHE INTERNET has improved the availability of goods and services from all around the world and people can get almost any item with just a few clicks.

But these changes are also presenting new challenges for shoppers, who can unwittingly end up paying more if they don’t pay attention.

“Despite the effort to find the cheapest option, the goods can increase in price unexpectedly due to the value added tax (VAT), custom duties or the costs of additional service,” said Jozef Dvorský, executive director of the Slovak Association for Online Trade (SAEC).

“Different legislations on VAT put into disadvantage traders from other [EU member ] countries, who have to pay the VAT regardless of the value,” Finance Ministry spokeswoman Alexandra Gogová said, adding that purchases of goods of small values up to €22 from third countries are exempt from payment of VAT in Slovakia. Continue to the full article…

Traditional brands stand test of time

317475_1200xSLOVAKS remain fans of products like Kofola, Horalky or Zlatý Bažant that have been around for decades. Retailers know that customers like them and pass their passion on to younger generations – marketing campaigns are made to match.

“They are strong bands with strong backgrounds,” said Martin Katriak, the deputy CEO at Coop Jednota supermarket chain.

Consumer preferences are influenced by family customs, brand loyalty and strong media campaigns.

Slovak products accounted for 62.4 percent of the food sales during the first half of 2015, said Peter Hajnala, the marketing director at the Ministry of Agriculture. “This still does not reflect the capacities and abilities of the Slovak producers.” Continue to the full story…

Whistleblower law is weak in practice

311455_1200xEmployees reporting corruption eligible for protection but inspectorates can’t keep up.

AS THE White Crow (Biela Vrana) prizes for whistleblowers were handed out on November 17, civil society groups note that a law designed to protect such people from retribution by employers is for the most part ineffective.

“The current situation indicates a failure with implementation of the law in the state administration,” said Pavel Nechala, a lawyer at Transparency International Slovensko (TIS).

Having insiders report wrongdoing is the most effective means for revealing illegal practices. However, in the private sector, just 40 percent of such incidents are ever disclosed, according to TIS. Continue to the full story…

Online learning is for the disciplined

183732_1200xlMPROVED education directly contributes to improved economic output and online learning brings new options into formal education for companies as adults look to coordinate learning with daily working duties.

Still, these new opportunities and flexible methods remain largely dependent on discipline and self-commitment.

“Online study is designed for students that cannot participate in full-time courses,” said Branislav Zlocha, the director of marketing and development at the School of Management at the City University of Seattle.

Apart from paid courses, the online space offers plenty of Open Educational Resources that make knowledge available to everyone. At some schools, they are utilised by teachers alongside traditional curriculum. Continue to the full story…

Liberalisation of rail market continues

139670_1200xFree travel boosts ZSSK prospects amid increased competition.

PRIVATE firms began running Slovak passenger rail transport just a few years ago when the Czech firm RegioJet took over one of the country’s southern routes and the Transport Ministry is now planning to put another rail line in private hands. However, the poor condition of infrastructure and a government policy granting free travel to half the population is hindering further competition.

“We consider the competition positive, mainly for the travellers either in terms of the offer of connections, convenience of travelling or price politics,” Martin Kóňa, the spokesman of the Transport Ministry, told The Slovak Spectator. “Better services and thereby higher satisfaction of the travellers can attract much more people to the buses and trains, get them out of cars and partially relieve the crammed roads. However, the success in the competition depends on each particular provider.” Continue to the full story…

American football catching on in Slovakia

56952_1200xPopularity of American football is outgrowing soccer in terms of game attendance but it still needs support to become a staple sport in Slovakia.

SATURDAY, July 4th was a big day for football in Slovakia but not for fans of soccer, which has a deep tradition in the country. The American football team Bratislava Monarchs triumphed in the final of the Hungarian American Football league (HFL). The Monarchs defeated the Budapest Wolves 55 to 33 and earned one of the most prestigious trophies in Europe.

“We absolutely deserved the title, it is our second international trophy after the triumph in the central European league,” the managing director of the Monarchs Ľudovít Galka told The Slovak Spectator. He has been involved with the Monarchs either as a player or as a coach since their start in 1995, and currently serves as the managing director. Continue to the full story…

Slovakia’s ‘invisible minority’ counters migration fears

41509_1200xImmigration has been at the centre of Slovakia’s public discourse in recent weeks, and though it may seem so, the issue is hardly a new one. Vietnamese people, for instance, have lived in Slovakia since the 1970s and today the community totals some 20,000.

Many arrived as a part of student exchange programmes under communism. They settled down in Slovakia and created a bridge for their families to join them in the 1990s and seek employment in the family businesses.

“The situation changed after 1989, when the state regulated migration turned free, and was controlled by the people themselves,’’ says Miroslava Hlinčíková from the Institute of Ethnology at Slovak Academy of Sciences, who conducted a far-reaching research about the experiences of the Vietnamese minority in Slovakia between May – August 2009.

Vietnamese in Slovakia are active mainly in the private sector as owners of small and medium sized businesses. This shift began post-1989, when many Vietnamese lost their jobs in factories and starting their own business to get a work permit, Hlinčíková explained. Continue to the full story…

What makes a language teacher good

10223_1200xOne need not be American or British to teach English well.

ENGLISH learners often tend to believe that having a teacher with English as his or her mother tongue increases their chances to learn the language faster and easier. However, non-native English teachers bring other kinds of classroom benefits that are sometimes overlooked.

“Parents have their own vision,” said Adra Niculaita, an English language teacher from the International House of Bucharest during her lecture at the ELT Forum in Bratislava in early June . “But they aren’t teachers. It is a matter of mentality introduced by the new way of marketing.” Continue to the full story…

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