Vocational occupations offer excellent employment and career development opportunities. However, it is evident that an enhancement of the vocational education in this country is required. The Education for Employment in North Macedonia Project (Е4Е@мк) is operating in this sphere and its goal is to ensure that more and more citizens, primarily young people, acquire a decent employment owing to the improved vocational education and training.
Read the interview with Boris Trimcev, a representative of the Education for Employment in North Macedonia Project (Е4Е@мк) and find out more about the project activities.
It is not really on the rare occasion that it is found that the educational system does not correspond to the actual needs on the labor market. Reforms in the vocational education have been one of the most topical issues in the public over the recent period and this is exactly where the Education for Employment in North Macedonia Project (Е4Е@мк) is focusing its efforts. What are the challenges that the project endeavors to overcome and what are the interventions that it uses to that end?
It is a fact that there is a mismatch between the workforce supply and demand on the labor market in this country. Based on the information that reached the Economic Chamber of Macedonia, stating that the companies are struggling with major problems in finding adequate professional staff to fill out their job vacancies, it became obvious that the companies are facing problems both in terms of the quality and the quantity of the workforce.
Having regard to the fact that the productivity of an economy is crucial for its competitiveness, we considered that such productivity will improve if the knowledge and the qualifications of the persons involved are improved through formal and informal vocational education. Furthermore, in view of all the demands arising from the private sector, the project is networking the companies with the workforce supply, i.e., with the persons coming out of the formal and the informal educational system. In order to facilitate the process of filling in the gap between the workforce supply and demand, the project is working by means of several interventions, some in the formal and some in the informal education.
The project structure is quite interesting because it includes three partners – the Swiss Development Organization Helvetas, the civic organization Macedonian Civic Education Center (MCEC) and the Economic Chamber of Macedonia which is a strategic partner in the project. We are drawing upon the international experience obtained from Switzerland, we are working with MCEC which possesses expert knowledge in the sphere of education, while the Chamber’s role is vital in terms of gaining an insight into the actual conditions on the market in order to render all these changes and interventions functional in the practice as well. Intensive cooperation between all parties involved and the private sector is also highly important. The Chamber is capable of uniting the businesses and lobbying for more favorable changes in the legal regulations with the state institutions.
There is little awareness among young people regarding the benefits from completing secondary vocational education, while the existing negative perceptions of secondary vocational education pose an additional challenge. How can we overcome this issue?
There are stereotypes. Nevertheless, with greater involvement on the part of the private sector and the state institutions working in the sphere of secondary vocational education, secondary vocational education could be made more attractive for people to enroll in it. How can we achieve that? Primarily, by targeted information for the parents and the students themselves. Over the past period we started the implementation of an information campaign for promoting vocational education and vocational occupations, which is aimed at reducing the stereotypes in terms of certain jobs which are actually some of the most demanded on the labor market, such as: chef, welder, hairdresser, baker etc. The campaign is supported by the Embassy of Switzerland in North Macedonia, USAID North Macedonia, UNDP, the International Labor Organization, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and the Employment Service Agency of the Republic of North Macedonia.
I think that there should also be greater promotion of the companies so that young people could perceive the actual employment conditions, especially in the value added industries of which, luckily, we have some in our country. The work pursued by them is quite advanced from a technological and technical perspective and therefore the labor-intensive component on the market is becoming smaller and smaller and less effort is required for getting a job in such industries.
The Swiss vocational education and training system is one of the most successful in the world. How can we apply the experience from that system here?
Having regard to the fact that the Macedonian and the Swiss economy are quite different in terms of a vast number of parameters, with the private sector being involved for the purposes of achieving a better quality in the implementation of the secondary vocational education curricula, the system cannot be fully copied.
Yet, the good practices from the Swiss model should be used and adjusted to the Macedonian conditions. A major step forward can be made with the foreign investors coming from countries in which this model of education is already put into practice. Their experiences will be more than welcome in order to be able to make the required changes. We are talking about some brave steps that the country is to make in order to achieve a market oriented vocational education.
One of the project instruments is also what is known as the Opportunity Fund. What is the purpose of the fund and how does it function? Are the companies showing any interest in applying for this sort of support?
The Opportunity Fund is a rather new intervention, which we introduced in consultations with the private sector and several state institutions. In the course of the year we published four calls through which we are defining the activities that we wish to support. The call comprises all the training providers, the secondary vocational schools and the companies that provide trainings. There has been great interest on the part of the private sector. During 2019, we had four calls for which we received over 45 applications.
The purpose of the fund is to help the companies ensure a high-quality workforce adjusted to their needs in a fast manner. It is worth mentioning that the private sector is exerting significant efforts in this partnership and the funds being granted by the project are rather minor as compared to the investments made by the companies themselves.
In the future, we would also like to consider a model in which one training provider or a secondary vocational school cooperates with several companies in order to reduce the expense per trainee. In 2020 we will continue with this measure, but with greater engagement of the Employment Service Agency of the Republic of North Macedonia and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, so as to obtain an in-depth and complete insight into the effectiveness and efficiency of the process.
What results have the interventions via the Opportunity Fund yielded? Are there any success stories?
We have several success stories. I would like to emphasize one company that wanted to assist the local community and, by means of special methods, it sensitized the local population, with a special focus on the marginalized groups and an enhanced component of social inclusion. The communities in question are rural and hardly accessible areas where women usually do not work.
Although at the beginning there was no interest on the part of the local population to participate in the trainings, through our partnership interventions, the company team organized public informative events for the local population. The employees themselves attended and shared their personal experiences gained in the company. This actually provided a description of the work at the company and the population was informed about the conditions in which they could work. Thanks to the strongly motivated managerial team, also the training modules were adapted so as to make them compatible with the specific needs of the population.
It was a long process, but it yielded visible results. In the end, the company managed to generate a great response from the local population – more than 40 women successfully passed the trainings and then got a job at the company. This company employs about 500 persons, of whom more than 40 were employed as a result of the project interventions. This is an example that we would like to replicate also in the other regions in the course of the forthcoming year.