April 18, 2013

Saying Yes to Work Readiness

Macedonia’s youth hold the keys to its future in the global marketplace

Svetlana Pejkovska knows that finding a good job at a new high-tech products manufacturing plant was more than good luck. She credits her success to participation in a workforce readiness program offered in Bitola, a city in southwest Macedonia.

“In our country, where there is a large workforce and fewer and fewer job vacancies,” she says, “one needs to possess more than a university degree.”

Pejkovska got the training she needed through the Youth Employability Skills (YES) Network, a five-year project managed by EDC. Now in its third year, the YES Network targets students who are in their final year of vocational education and training schools, as well as unemployed youth and other out-of-school youth ages 15 to 24.

After gaining independence in 1991, Macedonia is now striving to become a strong player in the global community and economy.

“Macedonia has made great progress in moving from a state-owned economy, with a lot of state-owned enterprises, to a more capitalist economy with private business ownership, but with that come stresses on the labor force,” says EDC’s Erik Butler. “An important focus for Macedonia is to modernize its economy, and youth are a big part of that.”

So far, the program has assisted 2,400 young job seekers and aims to graduate 6,000 program participants by 2015. Butler says that while construction and manufacturing—particularly textiles and clothing—are among Macedonia’s biggest industries, the “nuts and bolts” of those operations are changing. “The Macedonia apparel industry is making a comeback by application of technology,” he says. “So while the jobs aren’t necessarily in IT, job seekers need to know technology skills to work in traditional industries.”

Learning on the job

The YES Network’s Work Readiness Skills curriculum has been officially adopted by Macedonia’s Bureau for Technical and Vocational Education.

“We teach youth the skills required to find a job,” says EDC’s Gjorgji Kusevski. “These include job searching, interviewing, and presentation skills. Once they get jobs, they need to know how to work on teams, accept supervision, communicate effectively, manage money, and understand the health and safety requirements of the workplace.” Graduates receive a government-recognized certificate of work readiness.

The YES Network forges connections among community leaders, educators, and employment trainers. It has launched in six Macedonia municipalities and will soon add a seventh in Skopje, the country’s largest city. In addition, the program runs career centers at secondary schools and employment agencies, offering career exploration and preparation counseling to youth, along with status updates on the local labor market.

“We’re also working with institutional partners in these municipalities to connect young people with actual work experience,” says Butler. “That may be as interns, apprentices, part-time employees, or even as visitors and job-shadowers. We’re helping make the connections between the vocational education they’re getting in the classroom with employers in those fields.”

Pejkovska sums it up well. “The youth today need to pay much more attention to setting career goals and strategies, but also to making a personal development plan,” she says. “The YES Network project provided me with exactly that. They give us the opportunity to develop professionally and to become capable in this dynamic labor market.”