Switzerland has supported VET reforms in many countries for more than 60 years and today plays an important role in setting a path for successful vocational education in Serbia too. We spoke with Ms. Ursula Läubli, Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office to Serbia, about the expertise and donor support that Switzerland is offering to Serbia.
According to data provided by the Serbian Ministry of Education, Switzerland is the biggest donor when it comes to VET education in Serbia, although it has the smallest number of investor companies in Serbia, compared to many other countries. What is your country’s interest in investing in this particular area of educational reform?
Rising youth unemployment is a trend in many parts of the world. This boosts the status of vocational training and reconfirms Switzerland’s long-standing experience and the reason why it is a priority for the Swiss Government. Dual education has a very good reputation in Switzerland, with two-thirds of young women and men in Switzerland choosing a VET pathway. With this background and our expertise, we are ideally positioned to promote youth employment in Serbia. We are glad to support the ongoing reform process to create a Serbian VET system. We are doing this on the basis of a shared interest and consider such a system crucial to socially inclusive growth and prosperous local development.
We often see just one part of that reform, and that is the introduction of particular educational profiles in schools. According to Swiss experience, how is the VET system composed and which institutions does it involve?
Indeed, the curriculum is only one of many elements of our VET system in which all stakeholders, from both the education and employment sectors, constantly interact for its functioning: professional organisations are in charge of the training content, while the national Government provides strategic guidance. Implementation and supervision are carried out at the decentralised level (cantons). This ideally prepares young people for the labour market and benefits both the private and public sectors. Furthermore, the possibilities for further education inbuilt in the system enhance social mobility.
The momentum for the introduction of VET education in Serbia with donor support is very favourable. Switzerland will remain further committed to VET in Serbia, with around 10 million euros earmarked for the next four years
In which of these aspects of the VET system does the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) support Serbia?
There are many well educated young people all over Serbia, but they face difficulties in finding a suitable job. Here we step in to better match supply and demand in terms of the workforce with the profiles and competencies required by the market.
Our Project “From Education to Employment – E2E” will improve youth employability in five major municipalities in Southern and Southeast Serbia, thus complementing our private sector development projects already involved in VET.
We have brought together several furniture factories from Southern and Southwest Serbia that now cooperate to offer practical work training for young women and men. A curriculum was developed together with the technical schools. With our support, similar processes take place in the tourism and food processing industries, while the introduction of IT curriculum is underway. The government has taken on these successful bottom-up experiences; they contribute to evidence-based recommendations for the ongoing reform and its future implementation.
How is Swiss knowledge transferred?
VET is one of the key pillars of our economy and a priority topic for the SDC. We have supported VET reforms in many countries for more than 60 years already and can count on great expertise. Renowned Swiss public-private institutions also lend their expertise for other countries.
Such an institution is involved in our E2E project in Serbia and supports capacity building for the set-up of an innovative “broker model”, in which designated local actors, like youth offices, act as brokers for matching supply and demand for work. This is done together with the private sector and local institutions like the National Employment Service. Companies also had their capacity improved when it comes to identifying and searching for the skills and the workforce they require.
Our Project “From Education to Employment – E2E” will improve youth employability in five major municipalities in Southern and Southeast Serbia, thus complementing our private sector development projects already involved in VET
In all of our interventions we foster interactions between private and public stakeholders from all sectors, which is one of the Swiss success factors.
We have to bear in mind, however, that in the short term VET cannot resolve the problem of high unemployment or create new jobs on its own. A functioning VET system is only one element of the solution. Therefore, we have complementary projects in our portfolio to enhance the competitiveness of the Serbian Economy and improve the business environment.
To what extent are career advisory services important as a precondition for the right choice of education for children?
They are undoubtedly important. I can speak of my own experience by stating that it is a standard topic in our secondary school education. Pupils are exposed to different professions and education opportunities and learn how to apply for a job in a very practical way. They are encouraged to seek advice from the public career advisory services. To bridge the difficult period from education to employment, targeted support measures, especially for youth with special needs and even greater obstacles, play a crucial role.
How is your cooperation with the Serbian government?
We can say that our cooperation is based on a shared interest. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić and our Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann have met on several occasions; recently a Swiss expert was here on the invitation of the government to provide advice on reform. Coordination platforms are being set up with all involved actors in VET and we hope they will play their envisaged role. I would say the momentum is favourable for further improving donor coordination, together also with the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. Switzerland will remain further committed to VET in Serbia, with around 10 million euros earmarked for the next four years.
What were the responses of businesses? How are you engaging them in reform?
They are already engaged in reform and have proven leadership in providing the government with their experience and involvement in curriculum development. The businesses with which we work are very keen about the reform, as it brings them tangible benefits and is an investment in their future. From the feedback we have received, they could have already improved their performance. Having skilled labour turns out to be a long-term benefit, while young workers also bring new ideas.
What is the role of HR departments when it comes to shaping the needs of companies?
HR and the management play an important role in shaping the organisational culture for VET. This can work all the better in an atmosphere where values such as trust, respect, self-initiative and entrepreneurship are taken seriously – finally, it is all about human beings. A “master” in advising young workers must be properly prepared for such a task, his or her attitude and behaviour are crucial to the success and motivation of a young worker.