Zsolt Korcz trains to become a skilled mason thanks to the European Social Fund.
Zsolt Korcz loves to work. “I’m a workaholic,” he admits. Whether it's decorating his apartment in vivid colours, looking after his young sons or doing the household chores, he needs to be active. Since he left school at 14, Zsolt has always worked hard. He comes from a large family in Zalaegerszeg, Hungary – one of 12 siblings – and his parents needed the income he and his three brothers could provide. “My father could not earn enough,” he explains.
Zsolt started as a carpenter’s apprentice, and went on to casual jobs in poultry and dairy farming. After his military service in 1994 he moved into the building trade, doing bricklaying and painting. “I have done so many jobs,” he notes. “I did whatever was available.”
In 2003, he and his partner Aniko set up home together, and the following year their first son David was born. That was when he began to worry about his income. “I had no qualifications, so although I was doing masonry, I was not being paid what I was worth, and I had no security,” he explains. As an unskilled labourer, he says he took home half of a skilled worker’s wage.
Back to school
Zsolt was already visiting the local job centre regularly in search of new contracts. It was there he heard about the First Hungarian-Danish Production School Foundation, established in Zalaegerszeg 15 years ago. At first he dismissed the idea of further studies, fearing he had forgotten how to learn, but Aniko persuaded him to take the plunge. In June 2006, he started a one-year, full-time course designed to help young unemployed and socially disadvantaged people to obtain a professional qualification, plus social and educational skills. Thirty-six participants received training in masonry, cooking, or as locksmiths, through a project co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund. Targets for women and Roma ensured that 30% of the students were from Roma backgrounds. Thirty-five of them completed the course, and 31 got jobs at the end.
To his surprise, Zsolt found he enjoyed every moment. “I loved it, I never missed a day, and my work was very good. I was often better and faster than my colleagues because I had the experience. Learning social skills was also really useful. The teachers paid attention to me personally, and if I had any questions they answered them. They never said no.” He passed his five final tests, covering health and safety as well as technical ability, with flying colours.
The Danish model
The pioneering school was set up in 1993 with backing from the Danish Ministry of Education. “We get no state funding, but rely on local partners and European support,” explains Project Manager Máté Molnár. Over the years it has helped some 1,500 young people to obtain qualifications in trades that are in demand. “There are more and more young people without a proper education, and we help them to acquire the skills they need in society in general.”
Throughout the course, Zsolt was employed by the school and received the minimum wage. “It would have been impossible otherwise,” he admits. “At first I thought I would have to work more to pay for it – but I could never have afforded it out of my own pocket.” The participants helped to rebuild and refurbish the buildings around the former primary school that houses the foundation, to serve as new classrooms.
“Zsolt is a fantastic mason,” says Máté. “His performance is very high. The problem in the construction industry is that work stops in the winter and employers like to lay off staff. He is a victim of that approach, and we would like it to end. It’s a real issue for families without financial resources.” The school offers advice on both job-seeking and obtaining benefits for the families of students.
Zsolt’s partner is still on maternity leave from her cleaning and catering job in a large restaurant, looking after their second son: one-year-old Adam. “It’s not always easy to find nurseries, because there are not enough places,” explains Aniko, who comes from a family of musical Roma and has relations who play in a gypsy orchestra. But as a skilled worker, Zsolt and his family gained the right to move into a bigger council flat when Adam was born. He was able to get an advance on his salary to secure the apartment.
He says he is really happy. “It turned out very well. What I needed was the qualification, because otherwise I could not prove that I could do the job. Now I can show that I am a qualified mason I am working a lot. I take pride in my work – I just love it – and the certificate makes a real difference. I am never bored because we are always going to different places and doing different things. I have always worked – I never stayed at home. I love my profession, and it’s always been my desire to get a qualification, get better jobs, and have a higher salary. I want to be able to look after my family. They come first.”
“We were very happy that Zsolt got this opportunity,” confirms Aniko. “Receiving the letter from the foundation was a kind of miracle – it just shows miracles can happen!”