Youth unemployment in North Macedonia is high while companies lack skilled workers. Domestic and foreign investment companies in North Macedonia have been signaling that the labor market in the country needs young, motivated, and skilled staff, immediately to be employed and work-efficient. The mismatch between the companies’ labor force needs and the outdated profiles generated by the educational system meant that the system, especially the vocational education and training, had to adapt to the labor market needs while companies had to invest in their future labor force by joining the dual VET system.
It was 2019, when state institutions such as the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES), the Vocational Education and Training Center (VETC), chambers and business associations, supported by the Government of Switzerland, started advancing the VET system in the country towards enabling youth to acquire market-oriented vocational skills and dialoguing with companies for enhancing practical training for students in a company. By 2022, all key stakeholders worked with numerous companies to establish dual VET classes, strengthen practical training of students in companies, support partnerships between private and public actors on policy and implementation level and many more, all supported by the social dialog and public outreach campaign titled “Learn Smart, Work Professionally“.
Briefly described, “Lean Smart, Work Professionally“ has several components, one being the social dialog where municipalities and local VET schools meet with the local private sector companies to discuss the need of new dual classes to be opened in VET schools, while other components refer to promotion of VET to youth, as a promising education and career path. From 2019 till 2022, the social dialog and campaign was implemented under the leadership of the Ministry of Education and Science, the Vocational Education and Training Center and the Economic Chamber of North Macedonia, with the support of the Government of Switzerland through the project Education for Employment in North Macedonia – E4E@мк. By 2022, the overall advancement of the VET system, backed by the social dialog and campaign, resulted in:
- Involvement of over 500 companies in dual education.
- Involvement of 61 secondary vocational schools in dual education.
- Establishment of over 250 dual classes in secondary vocational schools.
- Enrollment of over 4800 students in dual classes at state level.
- Inclusion of over 60 professions and 14 sectors in dual education.
“The reforms of the secondary vocational education, supported by “Learn Smart, Work Professionally” being carried out each year, are successful due to the intense dialog between the municipalities, the business sector, the state institutions including the ministry as well as the school staff. As of 2023, the municipalities are taking a step forward and are organizing the process until full synchronization of the system with the labor market, and beyond. The results speak for themselves, already confirmed by the EU Commission Report 2022” said Minister of education Mr. Jeton Shaqiri.
As promotion of VET as well as the dialogue between the private and the public sector needs to be constant and sustainable, the process of “Learn Smart, Work Professionally“ was bound to be transferred from national to local level where the municipalities, as the main drivers of the local economic development, could become the flag bearers of the process itself. Trained through workshops for transfer of the process to local level, the municipalities made the next step and took over the process, which includes:
- Conducting market analysis of the local companies’ workforce needs and their preparedness for practical training of students on local level.
- Organization of the Social Dialog itself, where local companies are invited to indicate future labor market needs.
- Facilitation of meetings between schools and companies for the establishment of partnerships.
- Supporting Open Days for promotion of secondary VET and available dual classes.
Starting in February 2023, more than 24 municipalities carried out local market analyses of the private sector workforce needs and organized social dialog events, inviting local companies to come forward with proposals on potential dual VET classes that might be established for the academic year of 2023/2024. The events organized by the municipalities are expected to yield proposals for new dual classes, based on memorandums for cooperation signed with private sector companies. The social dialog events also enabled discussions about current issues that impede the further advancement of the education system, such as the still-not-adopted laws on secondary education, vocational education and training and adult education, all considered to be of prime importance for the advancement of VET.
“It is quite evident that the labor market requires the educational system to correspond to the job demand. The students recognize vocational education and training as a career opportunity, and companies are becoming more aware of the practical training of students as a solution to the problem of qualified workers. “Learn smart, work professionally” supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation proved to be a successful model for creating better conditions for vocational education and employment for young people. Due to this, the Municipality of Ohrid is taking the initiative and will further implement the process at local level” – said Mayor of Ohrid, Mr. Petsakov.
The transfer of the social dialog and campaign to local i.e., municipal level is considered positive, but the expectations from the entire process are extensive and further advancements will be anticipated, considering that the municipalities are responsible for the local economic development and can directly affect the attractiveness of the vocational education and training among youth. The E4E@мк project, together with the government of Switzerland continue with the systemic support of the vocational education and the private sector, aiming for sustainable and quality dual VET, employability of students, and skilled labor force for the companies to improve their competitiveness, home and abroad.