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Qualified workforce is one of the main prerequisites for strengthening competitiveness of the Serbian economy, as there is no strong vocational education without strong ties with the business sector – as noted today at a national conference presenting the Regional Challenge Fund.

On February 01, the Regional Challenge Fund announced a call for Expression of Interest to support investments in dual or cooperative education projects in the amount of EUR150,000 to EUR600,000 per project, with the total fund of EUR18.8 million for the six Western Balkan economies, and the funds were provided owing to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and delegated to KfW German Development Bank.

The project is executed by the Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum as the main implementation partner. The objective of the Fund is to improve quality and relevance of vocational education and training for the labour market through financing investments in equipment and infrastructure of selected projects of dual or cooperative education and training, executed within partnership between educational organisations and businesses.

According to Mirjana Kovačević, Head of the Education Sector in the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, the project such as the Regional Challenge Fund may assist in making the learning process functional, productive and useful for building a pool of skills relevant for the labour market in the region, because it aims at improving vocational secondary school, university and adult education in the direction of wider application of the dual or cooperative education model, increasing employability in the Western Balkans and facilitating the regional economic development.

“Qualified and competent personnel is necessary for developing entrepreneurial spirit and strengthening local and foreign investments, as a prerequisite for growth and development of the economies and higher employment, and that can achieved only if the systems of vocational education and training are based on quality and market needs. One of the project activities – training centre development within consortia of schools and companies – will have multiple benefits for both formal and informal education” – noted Kovačević, adding that the Regional Challenge Fund provides contribution to developing human resources in accordance with needs of the business sector, thus creating conditions for reducing a gap between the labour market supply and demand. She concluded that all this combined leads to strengthening of the economic stability and competitiveness of the western Balkan economies.

Christian Schilling, First Secretary and Head of Development Cooperation at the Embassy of the Federal republic of Germany to Serbia, agreed that vocational education and qualified workforce are necessary for economic growth, noting that key areas of cooperation between Serbia and Germany include improvement of conditions for technical and vocational training and development of the dual and cooperative education system.

“We believe that creating a fruitful environment for highly qualified young people is crucial for Serbia’s sustainable economic development and is one of central challenges on its path to the EU. Therefore, Germany is proud to finance the Regional Challenge Fund, which represents a very important project in this key area” – underlined Schilling. He added that the Serbian economy is experiencing growth, but that it is necessary to additionally influence lowering of the unemployment rate among young people. ‘We want to encourage German companies to invest in Serbia and young people here, as well as to help schools and educational institutions obtain necessary equipment enabling them to provide adequate education. Thus we create a fruitful environment for companies’ – he noted.

Miloš Blagojević, Assistant Minister for Secondary and Adult Education in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia, reiterates that Serbia established a legal and institutional framework regulating the area of dual education, noting that ‘there is common interest in improving everything we have done so far and enabling young people to enter the labour market immediately after secondary school graduation with joint forces through the Regional Challenge Fund project.

“The Regional Challenge Fund focuses on demand for specific qualifications in the private sector. It comes at the right time, since it is a great opportunity for both companies and vocational education and training institutions to develop good business models” – said Rüdiger Hartmann, Head of the Belgrade office of KfW German Development Bank, who confirmed that it is necessary to educate human resources that institutions and companies require, ; so that young people can join the labour market as soon as they graduate.

One of the conference participants, Ivan Stojanović from GIZ Serbia, highlighted that the Regional Challenge Fund project establishes exceptional prerequisites for developing cooperation between companies and schools and educational institutions.

“In dual education, specific curriculum units cannot be presented in a company but in a school and therefore schools have to meet requirements in the form of technical equipment in school workshops, that students can gain basic knowledge before starting to work for a company”.

The conference participants also discussed the digitalisation process, as it has gained momentum due to the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the solution under the new circumstances was found in recording relevant classes, where professors from secondary vocational schools and instructors from companies, who helped lessons be adequately presented, took part.

Key information related to the call for expressions of interest was presented to the public by Frieder Wöhrmann, Team Leader of the Regional Challenge Fund.

“A condition for applying is establishment of a consortium, and amounts range from EUR150,000 to EUR600,000 per project. Cooperative training lead to acquiring nationally recognised qualifications, and the project enables training of a minimum of 15 students in the first year and additional 15 in the second year of implementation”, said Wöhrmann.

The event was moderated by Jelena Manić Radoičić, Regional Coordinator of the Fund, who invited all potential applicants to visit the website of the project for more information about the application process and contact the Fund if they have any questions.

She also announced the next info session for Thursday, February 25, at 2 pm, online via the Zoom platform. Interested parties can register here.

The call for expressions of interest was announced on www.rcf-wb6.org and is open from February 01 until April 30, 2021.

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