On the multidimensional benefits of corporate social responsibility on a local scale, that is on the actions undertaken by WIŚNIOWSKI that shape the local labour market and prepare the youth from Sądecka Land for their future work – an interview with Tadeusz Wiśniowski, Vice President of the Management Board at WIŚNIOWSKI, one of the initiator of the “Practitioner” Basic Vocational School.

What are the reasons why you decided to set up the basic vocational school?

The educational reform of 1999 put vocational training in the shade and emphasised access of the youth to higher education. As a consequence, many vocational schools had to be closed down because few young people chose this form of education. Moreover, after foreign labour markets were opened to the Poles many professionals decided to go abroad. There was a lack of qualified blue collar workers in the labour market without whom no production company can exist. Also Stanisław Mróz, for many years actively working in the vocational schooling, noticed the problem. We’ve decided to join the two fields of our knowledge, that is education and business, in order to rebuild the position of vocational school in our region. Our assumption was that a good vocational school should train qualified employees who will become the pillar of companies operating in a given area. Moreover, setting up of the school is a reflection of the deeper need of WIŚNIOWSKI to be included in solving socially important issues, such as: unemployment, poverty, unequal job opportunities or difficult access to education in villages and in small towns, which concerns both Poland and our region.

What were the beginnings of the “Practitioner” Basic Vocational School? What was the level of interest in what the school offers by students?

In the 2009/2010 school year we set up the first branch of the school, the unit in Wielogłowy. We assumed that the students from local towns and villages would be interested in its location and instead of commuting to schools in Nowy Sącz they would choose our school. We thought that especially enticing would be the possibility of an internship in our enterprise and, after graduating, also the chance to work for the company. We’ve set up the school convinced that we educate students mostly to hire them afterwards as qualified people in our enterprise but also to support local youth in getting practical qualifications. The first class was quite numerous (about 60 people), which we saw as a great success – we have managed to convince many people that it’s worth attending a vocational school. It was especially important because at the time these kinds of schools weren’t very respected. Fortunately, we’ve managed to change that opinion, but the process was not an easy one; today all our students believe that vocational school is cool.

How important for you was the fact that the school premises are located in Sądecka Land?

Very important. Since its beginnings the school educated students mostly in professions which are also present at WIŚNIOWSKI. Locating the school in the vicinity of the company’s registered office is very helpful in the organizational sense. It allows a fast and easy contact between internship supervisors and school teachers, as well as enables us to commence close substantive cooperation. Additionally, the close location of the school next to the company gives students flexible time of learning; for instance, they can easily catch up their absences in internship on days when they attend educational classes at school. By creating the school in Sądecka Land we also wanted to support the local community and contribute to a decrease in unemployment in the region. Our company is one of the biggest local employers – it employs 1330 people and still needs new people with particular qualifications who are difficult to find in the labour market. This is why we’ve decided to take matters in our own hands and set up a vocational school to give the local youth a chance to acquire the qualifications desirable for employers.

How many and what kind of courses does the school offer and how long does it take to graduate?

Currently we educate students in 18 professions (vehicle body worker, carpenter, confectioner, electro mechanic, vehicle electro mechanic, hairdresser, cook, coating technician, sanitary system and equipment fitter, wall and finishing works fitter for the construction industry, bricklayer-plasterer, machine tool operator, baker, seller, woodworker, locksmith and sausage maker). For seven of them the vocational training takes place at WIŚNIOWSKI. The school program lasts three years. Two days a week the students participate in lessons at school while the three others are allocated for vocational training at the employers premises. We concentrate on the practical aspect of teaching so that after graduation the students possess the knowledge and experience necessary to become valuable employees and are able to find employment in any company straight away.

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We expand our education base, we open new faculties, improve the educational process, as well as training instructors of vocational training. We are aware that only constant growth will allow us to be an educational unit which is attractive for the students.

Did the idea to combine education with vocational training at WIŚNIOWSKI prove successful?

It was a jackpot. As a result, we have an opportunity to educate employees who fully meet our HR requirements. We employ the best ones who, in turn, also motivate students to learn and work hard. Some of the students in their third year are independent workers. Every year about 40% of the graduates find permanent employment in our company right after they finish school. The students know that we only employ the best, and those who are really committed receive a job offer if not straight away then at the later time, when there is a demand for such employees in the company. We don’t forget about our graduates; we follow their careers so that we know how are they doing in the labour market. We know that our students are well-received by employers and frequently hired by other entrepreneurs from Sądecka Land. This stems from the fact that our students, by graduating from the “Practitioner” school, apart from their trained profession and the title of journeyman, they also possess a number of other additional qualifications, which are now in high demand in the labour market, for instance: welder’s qualifications, forklift truck driver’s qualifications, or those necessary to operate lift platforms or cranes. Therefore, our graduates have no problems in finding a job in any production company.

Apart from vocational training, what other forms of cooperation are there between the school and WIŚNIOWSKI?

The company and the school cooperate together on many levels. A good example involves the additional courses for students organized by the school and the company: welding with the use of MAG 135 method, II WJO forklift truck operator, IIS crane floor operator, IS mobile lift platforms operator and SEP E1 qualification courses. The welding course is absolutely free of charge for all students; in case of other training courses the students only pay for exams because the training costs are covered by the company.
We enable students who participate in the vocational training in the company to take part in a school contest entitled “Show us what you can do”, during which students create their own miniature models of doors, gates or fences which are then assessed by experts.
Moreover, we jointly take part in the “Internship for Locksmiths in Germany” project which is financed under the European Erasmus project. Its aim is to send 10 locksmiths to Frankfurt (Oder) in Germany for a three-week internship at the local vocational training centre. The school, together with the company, conducts the recruitment of the internship participants. The “Practitioner” provides rooms to conduct German lessons, classes with a work coach, as well as those on the culture and history of Germany, and WIŚNIOWSKI equips students with the work clothes required by the training centre in Germany and sends an employee who speaks German as the students’ guide and interpreter.

Do you, as a school, also engage in wider actions to promote vocational education in the region?

Yes, absolutely. Setting up the “Practitioner” school was aimed not only at supporting WIŚNIOWSKI and providing qualified staff but also at supporting the entire region where we operate. As all employees of the company are recruited from among local residents, we wish to provide more extensive support for the local community to thrive. This is why, among other things, our school together with WIŚNIOWSKI organizes meetings with students in the third year of gymnasiums in the form of work coaching workshops. During those classes we show students attempting to choose their professional career what faculties are worth considering so that later they do not have to worry about finding a job. We do not want only to promote vocational schools because, as one of the largest companies in the region, we have very diversified needs in terms of staff. Qualified workers are one thing, but we also need, for instance, engineers fluent in foreign languages, IT specialists or traders. We are set making a good investment in the education of the local youth so they can find employment in our region. Furthermore, we jointly organize meetings for the parents and the students of our school aimed at indicating the best opportunities and directions for the development of the youth.

So far two branches of the school have been opened: in Wielogłowy and in nearby Chełmiec. What are your plans concerning the development of the schools?

For the time being we are not planning to open new branches. We focus on perfecting what we’ve managed to achieve. We are expanding our educational base, we open new faculties, improve the educational process, as well as training instructors of vocational training. We are aware that only constant growth will allow us to be an educational unit which is attractive for the students and we remember the idea that became the seed of the school – we wish to keep our finger on the pulse, always responding to employers’ needs and create curricula in line with labour market needs. As a company, we care to build the notion that our presence in Sądecka Land is valuable for our local community.

Interviewer: Beata Pałac