H.E. Axel Dittmann, German Ambassador To Serbia:

Better Education For A More Resilient Society

Dual education can be a major contributor to sustainable economic growth. The key prerequisite for it to work well is a functioning legal framework, which gives companies the security they need to work in Serbia and invest in their workers. Germany will continue to support Serbia in its economic and legal reform efforts and on its path towards the EU

Serbia has excellent workers and well-qualified university graduates, but lacks well-trained, mid-level specialists who are essential for sustainable economic development. German support is targeted at closing this gap, says H.E. Axel Dittmann, German Ambassador in Serbia.

Germany has been supporting the introduction of a VET system in Serbia for several years now. What is the current state of this cooperation?

– German-Serbian development cooperation activities began back in 2000. Having supported Serbia since that time with funds totalling more than 1.6 billion euros, Germany is today the largest bilateral donor in the country.

In 2015, Federal Minister Müller and Prime Minister Vučić launched the “German-Serbian Initiative for Sustainable Growth and Development”. Our long-term goal is to improve both framework conditions for economic growth and employment opportunities in Serbia. Promoting vocational education and training thus became one of the central elements of Germany’s development cooperation with Serbia. To this end, we are working with partners from the Government of Serbia, the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia (CCIS), the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (AHK) as well as German and Serbian companies.

Supported by the German Government and implemented by GIZ and our Serbian partners, the pilot phase has been successfully completed. Currently, another 774 students are involved in the training phase, 16 schools across Serbia are participating in the programme and 28 companies are actively supporting these schools. Nine partnerships between Serbian and German vocational schools have been initiated. Now we are talking about the roll-out. We hope that this initiative will be broadly anchored – both in schools and, above all, in as many Serbian and international companies as possible.

Serbia intends to gradually introduce dual education to the Serbian education system, starting from 2017. Into which areas do you intend to channel Germany’s support in connection with these efforts?

– Analyses have shown that Serbia has excellent workers and very well-qualified university graduates. What Serbia is lacking, however, are well-trained mid-level specialists who allow for the production of higher value-added products. These workers are essential for sustainable economic development.

German support is targeted at closing this gap. In 2013, GIZ, together with the Serbian Ministry of Education, began to identify job profiles for which additional training and modernisation through the dual education system can make a real difference: locksmiths and welders, industrial mechanics and electricians. In 2016, the modernisation of an additional three profiles with good employment prospects was initiated: electro fitters for networks and installations, car mechanics and fashion tailors.

Having identified the professional profiles, the focus of German support is shifting towards connecting potential employers with vocational schools. In addition to Serbian companies, there are more than 350 German businesses active in Serbia, many of which are very interested in supporting vocational education and training for these mid-level workers.

Many mayors, local businesspeople and school principals are dedicated to making the Serbian education sector more efficient and responsive to labour market needs – thus giving young people better prospects for their future

Based on Germany’s experience, what are the preconditions for a well-functioning VET system?

– Dual education can be a major contributor to sustainable economic growth. For it to work well, there are a number of prerequisites: the key one is a functioning legal framework, which gives companies the security they need to operate in Serbia in the long term and invest in their workers. Thus, reforms in the area of the rule of law – strengthening the independence and efficiency of the judiciary, strengthening independent institutions and combatting corruption – are crucial. These reforms are not only needed for foreign companies to invest in a sustainable manner; they are also a central element in the modernisation of Serbian society. Germany will continue to support Serbia in its economic and legal reform efforts, and on its path towards the EU.

Although it has proved successful in providing an educated workforce, the VET system is quite expensive. Based on Germany’s experience in exporting VET knowhow worldwide, how can emerging economies establish a well-functioning dual education system?

– The cost of VET is relatively low when one takes into account the benefits received. According to the results of a new representative survey by the German Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) on the costs and benefits of in-company vocational education and training, businesses’ expenditures for VET have increased in recent years. But this investment pays off, especially when the apprentices are offered a permanent contract after their apprenticeship, because it generates savings on recruitment costs, reduces dependence on the labour market and avoids the potential costs of lost business due to labour shortages.

More than 80 per cent of businesses that engage in VET confirm that they do so in order to qualify future employees with a view to offering them long-term employment. Thus, businesses benefit by teaching their apprentices company-specific skills and knowledge, in addition to the curriculum defined by the training regulation. The training they would need to provide for externally recruited workers is no longer necessary. In fact, the majority of businesses surveyed say they are “very satisfied” with the cost-benefit ratio of providing vocational education and training.

We believe that a VET system helps to build a sustainable economic environment and would, thus, be especially suitable for emerging economies.

German companies are experienced in VET, and can offer a substantial number of trainee positions for young people and additional knowhow for their Serbian partners

How can the introduction of a VET system create new jobs and help in the employment of young people in Serbia?

– I see two reasons why introducing VET can improve the employment situation for young people. VET directly benefits students, who, in parallel to their schooling, also receive paid training and a potential long-term job. But VET also has an indirect positive effect: it provides companies with a better-trained workforce, thereby strengthening their capacity to offer complex products. This can improve the overall economic situation and thus help create more and better-paid jobs.

What is the role of the VET system in terms of promoting investment in Serbia?

– With a well-functioning VET system, the existing gap on the Serbian labour market regarding well-trained, mid-level workers can be closed. It will, thus, improve opportunities for companies and contribute to stimulating additional high-quality investments.

How can German companies help in this process?

– German companies are experienced in VET. They can offer a substantial number of trainee positions for young people and additional knowhow for their Serbian partners. The German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce plays an important role in this process, by inviting subject-matter experts and supporting companies that take part in VET.

Based on your visits to several Serbian municipalities that have introduced a dual education system, what would you say are the major reactions on the ground?

– I have spoken with many mayors, local businesspeople and school principals. It has been great to see the enthusiasm of all these decision-makers, who are dedicated to making the Serbian education sector more efficient and responsive to labour market needs – thus giving young people better prospects for their future.