Industrial companies in Lithuania are increasingly facing a shortage of the right specialists. This problem is likely to get worse in the future, as school graduates are still not turning to engineering studies. Businesses are tackling the situation by looking for potential employees among higher education students, while universities are proposing to improve the profiling system in schools.
“Both Lithuania and foreign investors need workers who can create higher added value in industry: highly qualified electronics and mechanical engineering, technology and management staff. Manufacturing companies are in short supply of such workers, as students have recently become more oriented towards other specialities. To avoid a talent vacuum in the future, we need to get young people interested in industry and manufacturing, to show that today it uses the most modern technologies, offers competitive salaries, and has good career prospects,” says Giedrius Valuckas, a member of the Board of Directors of the Kėdainiai Free Economic Zone (FEZ) and developer.
According to the data of the Association of Lithuanian Higher Education Institutions for General Admissions, this year 12% of university entrants chose engineering, manufacturing and construction (11% in 2020), while 18.4% of college entrants chose engineering, manufacturing and construction (17.7% in 2020).
This year, 1 178 people were admitted to engineering and technology fields of study at universities (1 043 in 2020) and 1 413 people at colleges (1 230 in 2020).
According to G. Valuckas, this number of new specialists does not correspond to the real growth of companies and their expansion plans, so businesses are no longer waiting for change, but are instead “growing” the necessary employees in cooperation with higher and vocational education institutions. The Kėdainiai Free Economic Zone (FEZ) has taken this step by signing an agreement with Kaunas University of Technology (KTU). A cooperation agreement is also to be signed soon with the Kėdainiai Vocational Training Centre.
“The Kėdainiai FEZ is chosen by investors whose activities reflect the latest trends in industry and manufacturing, both in terms of the green course and the digitisation or automation of processes, and
who are looking for people who are able to work with future technologies. Our aim is to transfer this need to KTU, which we see as one of the strongest centres for training such professionals. We need to start educating the professionals of the future today, so we will work together to shape a direction that will allow us to meet the need for them,” he explains.
The Kėdainiai FEZ is home to four companies. Another investor has recently been announced – the world’s leading bicycle company Pon.Bike is planning to build an electric bicycle factory in Kėdainiai and expects to employ around 300 people in the first three years.
PhD. Andrius Vilkauskas, Dean of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Design at KTU, is convinced that cooperation with business is necessary and beneficial not only for companies looking for employees, but also for higher education institutions themselves and their students.
“Students expect to get a promising job after their studies, so cooperation with business helps us to see the real needs of the business community and to ensure that our alumni get the best possible jobs in the future. The University is also interested in training in-demand professionals, and the state benefits from having as many well-paid jobs as possible. Another aspect of cooperation is working together on research and innovation. It is great that manufacturing companies are setting up in Lithuania, but developing higher added value should not only be about manufacturing products, but also about developing them,” says PhD. A. Vilkauskas.
The representative of KTU is convinced that it is not enough to promote engineering specialties necessary for industry only in higher education institutions, it is also necessary to turn to secondary schools, involving students in early vocational training, increasing their understanding of what natural sciences are and why they are needed, how industry works, and why it is worth linking one’s future with this field.
“It is said that young people are reluctant to take up engineering, but I think the point lies elsewhere – graduates may be interested in engineering, but it is too late. Teenagers choose their future career paths when they are in Year 8-9, when many do not yet understand what industry is and what can be done in it. In addition, engineering requires maths, physics and chemistry, and many schools do not have strong teachers in these subjects, so young people who are not familiar with these disciplines simply cannot make a career choice. It is therefore necessary to change the situation and make pupils aware of career options as early as possible, as well as to improve the profiling system in secondary schools at national level,” he said.
The Kėdainiai LEZ was launched in 2014 and covers an area of 130 hectares, of which 13 hectares are leased and about 20 hectares are reserved. It is home to industries such as the Natūralus pluoštas hemp stalk processing plant, the Ikar liquid fertiliser plant, the Ukrainian company Kormotech, which produces cat and dog food, and the AGA oxygen and nitrogen plant of Linde, one of the world’s largest gas production companies.