2021 01 28

Student puzzle: between what is popular and what is necessary for Kaunas

The growing and intensifying demand for IT, electronics, engineering, and technology specialists encourages to search for ways to attract high school graduates to study in these fields and inspire the wish to choose the specialties that can already offer employees some of the most attractive salaries in the market. So far, the data show that Lithuania accepts fewer students into engineering and technology programs than the EU average. And while experts agree that the solution to the problem is multifaceted and determined by various factors, it is being noticed that improving the quality of education in public schools and strengthening career guidance are a few of the most important factors; helping young people discover their talents and providing information – clearly and early on – about what awaits them in the job market.

According to a survey conducted by the Employment Service on labor market changes and challenges, more than a third (34.1 percent) of the surveyed employers in 2020 faced a shortage of workers, with companies in the industrial and construction sectors experiencing the greatest shortages. As much as 42.9 percent of responders identified the insufficient qualifications of job seekers as the main reason for finding suitable employees. On the other hand, higher education institutions that prepare qualified specialists, are experiencing challenges in attracting future engineers, electronics and IT specialists, whose demand in the labor market is growing not only in Kaunas but also in Lithuania and around the world. So, why do young people choose the less promising popular study programs instead of those that get the attention of employers right after the first few years?

There is a lack of people entering engineering and technology university programs

As the Lithuanian Higher Institutions Association for Organizing Joint Admission (LAMA BPO) notes in its review, the trends in both universities and colleges remain stable. The most popular program in universities is the social sciences group and in colleges, a business and public management group. Over 40 percent of students chose social sciences in universities this year (38.5 percent in 2019); and 44.1 percent in colleges (41.7 percent in 2019). Unfortunately, the number of admissions to studies related to information technologies and mathematics has decreased. In 2020 only 12 percent of them remained in universities (in 2019 it was 13.4 percent). Comparing the data of this year’s enrolment in higher education institutions by fields of education (ISCED classification) with the Eurostat data of 28 EU countries in 2018, the number of students enrolling in engineering and technology programs in Lithuania is lower than the EU average.

“It should be noted that this year the number of graduates who have chosen to take state exams has decreased. This was especially felt in the fields of natural sciences, IT, and engineering. The number of students taking physics, chemistry, and information technology exams was less than 10% this year and only two-thirds of those who took the mathematics exam, passed it. If such a decline continues, the study programs such as engineering, informatics, natural sciences – important for the development of the country’s industry and the whole economy – will not be able to ensure the renewal and development of the engineering industry, and the attraction of investments will deteriorate,” Prof. Dr. Pranas Žiliukas, the president of LAMA BPO notes.

According to him, when we talk about the investment climate of a country or city, we inevitably must talk about those who will come to work in the informatics, life sciences, and engineering industries after finishing their studies, so it is necessary to think about how to increase the number of needed and sought-after specialists.

“There are many factors that affect the current situation and many of them correlate with each other. First, we should turn to secondary schools and improve the law on education, strengthen the requirements, tighten the selection for gymnasium classes (it is no coincidence that in Finland only about half of the students enter gymnasium classes). And secondly, we should focus on the vocational information system, which is currently sluggish and barely alive. Vocational guidance must involve not only teachers or higher education institutions but also employers and society,” P. Žiliukas notes.

The next most sought-after specialists after IT are the electronics’ professionals

Andrius Francas, a partner at the employment agency Alliance for Recruitment, agrees with the professor, noting that when considering what university program to enrol in, young people often choose something they are not entirely sure about. They go where it’s easier, without thinking about what they will do with that education later, “One of the biggest mistakes of a young person is to choose studies that are easy. As I say, when the studies are easy, then it can be difficult to work or find a job. Another problem is that there is no vocational guidance in schools, and it can be felt. How can we know what talents the person has? And how can that person who is still searching for their identity, decide what direction to choose in their studies and what career to pick?”

The interviewee points out that there is a lack of people with engineering education not only in Lithuania, but also all over the world. And it is they who are the innovators and the engine of technological progress.

“What is popular is not necessarily promising. For example, architects. As attractive as this specialty might appear to many young people, who dream of designing the next Guggenheim, the reality is that most graduates end up designing someone’s garden sheds. Lithuanians prepare a couple of hundred architects a year, Latvians a couple of dozen, and Estonians only a dozen. What does this show? That we have a huge surplus and a lot of young professionals who are not needed by the market. However, I can tell you what business really needs: the two most coveted specialties for young people in Kaunas should be IT – a leader in solid salaries – and electronics, which is already rising rapidly in salaries, and in the future, its demand will only increase,” the representative of the employment agency notes. According to him, the demand for electronics specialists in Kaunas was created not only by the investments of large companies in the last few years, four electronics giants operating in the city, but also by a whole group of smaller electronics companies – because Kaunas has historically been an electronics cluster.

A career guide for informed decision making in Kaunas

What do certain specialists do in Kaunas and how much do they earn? What higher education institutions in the city provide their education? These are just a few questions important for future career planning, and the new Kaunas IN project www.karjerakaune.lt, which was launched last autumn, helps to answer them. The platform for students, their parents, teachers and young talents helps to get to know the most promising and traditional business sectors in the city also introducing them to the study programs offered in Kaunas higher education institutions and vocational schools that train specialists in these sectors. Attention is paid both to the traditional industries in Kaunas – furniture manufacturing, logistics, construction, food industry – and the new promising sectors that attract large investments: engineering industry, life sciences, business service centers, and information technologies.

Kaunas IN business department information.

Photo by A. Aleksandravičius.

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