Education for Employment, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Education for Employment, Bosnia and Herzegovina

INTERVIEW: Almir Kovačević, Team Leader of Education for Employment Project in BiH

Education – the most important factor for a functional labour market, but also the economic and social future of this country

In order to increase employability and harmonize the education system with the needs of the labour market, the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in mid-September 2020 launched a project “Education for Employment in BiH” with a total value of 2.6 million euros. The project supports BiH institutions in improving their capacity and structure for the planning and quality of educational process, and its primary goal is to develop human resources in accordance with the needs of the labour market in BiH.

In January 2022, project “Education for Employment in BiH” entered the 15th month of its implementation through four basic project components, namely: Transition from education to work, Quality Assurance of Higher Education, Education Reform and Vocational Training, Teachers’ training reform, and Human resources development in the education sector.

In the interview that follows, we talked in detail with Almir Kovačević, the Team Leader of the Education for Employment in BiH project, about the current activities and results of the project, the work methodology, future plans and goals, but also about the importance of a good education system for the development of a society and its economy.

– We are at the beginning of 2022. We have entered the new calendar year, and at the same time the 15th month of the implementation of the project “Education for Employment in BiH”, which is scheduled to last until mid-March 2023. Can you tell us a bit more about the main achievements of the project team, its partners and beneficiaries in the past months?

After the start of the project, which took place in September 2020, and a period of consolidating the project team and conducting initial analyses, in June 2021, the Project Steering Committee (PSC) that represents the main governing body of the project was established. A month later, in July 2021, the project working groups (WGs), which represent the main instrument for the achievement of our activities and goals, were formed and started working. Working groups operate in all four basic components of the project and carry out the most important tasks in its implementation. So, in the first year of the project, i.e. in these first 15 months, we formed the Steering Committee and all the working groups that are now active. Also, within the project components, we conducted all the necessary analysis, prepared operational work plans and started creating development instruments, which will benefit both the ministries of education and the educational institutions themselves, such as universities, secondary schools and primary schools.

– Can you tell us more about the instruments you are developing and their significance?

In order to start active work and partnership cooperation on the project, it was necessary to first conduct detailed needs analyses when it comes to the education system and labour market needs, and then get to know our direct beneficiaries and their capacities in detail. On the basis of these needs analyses, we’ve started with development of the various instruments that will be used in further work processes, namely: planning of the educational process, implementation of the educational process, and strengthening human resources and capacities in the ministries of education. To be clearer, some of the specific instruments we want to develop within the project are, for example, career counselling centres themselves, curricula for strengthening digital and entrepreneurial competencies at all levels of education, labour market needs analysis, mapped study programs in defined economic sectors, and the development of occupational standards and qualifications in the five economic sectors that will serve for the development of study programs in the future. When it comes to selected economic sectors, these are the most developed and promising industries in BiH, namely: information technology, tourism, wood industry, metal industry, agriculture and food processing.

– When we talk about the project itself, can we hear a little more about its basic goals and why it was important to launch it in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

The Education for Employment in BiH project seeks to act institutionally when it comes to the education system in this country. However, at the same time, we want to be the instigators of changes in society itself in terms of creating a functional relationship between education and the labour market. We also aim to increase the visibility of education as one of the main factors in satisfying the labour market, as well as the economic and social future of this country.

Previous research shows that in BiH it takes at least six months from the moment someone completes the educational process to the moment he or she is usable in the labour market. Many employers fail to invest so much time and money in training their workers, in whom a lot of money has already been invested through the education system. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure in the future that the regular educational process enables the greatest possible harmonization with the needs of the labour market, so that as few people as possible need subsequent additional education and training for work, which is an enormous burden for the state.

Overcoming this problem is also one of the reasons for launching our project in BiH. We strive to achieve results through intensive work and many activities in four project components. Our project Component 1 deals with the career guidance development during and after the educational process, Component 2 seeks to ensure quality in the formal educational process, Component 3 works on teachers’ professional development so that they have enough knowledge to successfully implement developed curricula, while Component 4 wants to ensure the quality of the educational process.

– Why is the education system, harmonized with the EU and international educational trends, important for this country?

In general, the importance of education in the development of a society is undeniable. When it comes to our project, we need to talk about harmonizing the process and fulfilling the obligations that BiH has undertaken by signing various conventions.

Of course, the issue of harmonizing the education system with the very dynamic needs of the labour market is always relevant, both in this country and elsewhere. In order to be able to successfully respond to these needs in the future, it is very important that the above-mentioned instruments, which have not been developed so far, are developed in a way that can be used effectively in BiH, a country that is, in terms of education and labour market extremely decentralized, which is one of our big challenges in the project.

– The main beneficiaries and partners of the project are educational and employment institutions in BiH. Can we hear more about the reasons for this cooperation, and how it is working?

Yes, the institutions that are the primary beneficiaries of our project results are also our main partners. They are really numerous, which makes our work extremely complex, but we are also very glad they are actively involved in the project, because we hope that through a large number of project participants we will improve the reach and achievements of the project.

This is an opportunity to mention the beneficiaries of the project individually, namely: the Ministry of Civil Affairs of BiH; ministries of education (at all levels); Institutions dealing with labour, employment and education issues; teachers in schools and universities; educators in training/learning centres and career guidance centres; associations/business organizations; and the citizens themselves.

– Every project brings many challenges with it. What are the main challenges that you faced in recent months and what challenges has this project overcome?

I have already mentioned that one of the main challenges on the project is the fact that the education system in the country, as well as the labour market itself, is extremely decentralized. Also, we have fewer and fewer children in BiH, due to demographic changes and the visible emigration from the country in the last few years. All this presents new challenges for both education and the labour market, because perhaps for the first time we are facing a shortage of labour, both in terms of number of workers and their qualifications, and as far as we can see the education system itself fails to respond effectively to the needs of the labour market.

Another challenge for this project is the large number of educational institutions and authorities, which have different visions and different capacities. For example, it is evident that smaller ministries have problems with complex projects such as this one. Therefore, we are extremely grateful for their participation and commitment because we are absolutely aware of the challenges they face in their daily work and the limited capacities they have.

We are also grateful to the Delegation of the EU funding this project, to the BiH Ministry of Civil Affairs, which is our main beneficiary and partner in the project implementation, to all entity and cantonal ministries of education, and to BiH’s education agencies. Together with us, all of them are working extremely hard to overcome the above mentioned challenges.

– The characteristic of this project is that it operates through intensive work and cooperation of a large number of participants from numerous educational institutions in BiH. There are over 20 working groups (WGs), with about 300 participants working on the project. Why did you decide on this approach to implementation, why is it important and who are the specific members of these WGs, i.e. which institutions exactly do they come from?

Through our work, the need has arisen for such a large number of working groups and their members from the simple fact that we have decided that our WGs will be the places where we will develop results, in professional language “products”, where we will gather relevant information, do basic training, and that their members will become the main drivers of change when it comes to the education system in the institutions and beyond. Initially, it was planned to establish six to eight WGs, but through concrete field work and meetings with beneficiaries, we noticed that different specific knowledge and experience are needed. That was the reason why we decided to increase the number of WGs to 20, hoping that with 300 participants that are active in them we will significantly increase our target group. It is the members of this target group who, after the completion of the project, with new instruments and new knowledge under their belts, who will represent the bearers of change, not only in the institutions they come from, but also in their immediate environment.

The members of our WG are employees of ministries of education at various levels – which plan and implement educational policies, representatives of regulatory agencies – which regulate the educational process, and representatives of educational institutions, i.e. schools and universities – which conduct the educational process. Also, members of certain WGs are representatives of the economy, Rectors ‘Conferences, employers’ associations, chambers of commerce, etc. Therefore, through the WGs’ activities, we connect the economy and educational processes, in order to more precisely define the changes that are needed by both. Again, I will emphasize that it is very important to us that the members of our WGs are professionals and enthusiasts, who will be the bearers of positive changes in the further development of the education system in the country.

– All decisions are made through the work of a very large Steering Committee that has 25 members. Why was it necessary to have such a large SC on the project and what are the advantages of this decision?

The answer to this question is quite simple. The Steering Committee is large because the country is highly decentralized, and we in this project often need to take decisions that must be made by consensus. It is important to us that these decisions are considered and accepted by everyone who is part of this project. In addition, we really want to develop customized models for each educational institution that are acceptable and that will be used. That is why we are glad that, regardless of the complexity of working with a large SC in which consensus needs to be reached, all those who return to their ministries are able to introduce decisions, instruments and processes that can be used.

The year 2022 begins. At the end of the interview, can you tell us what specific results and achievements the project will strive for in the coming months? What is planned for the various project components?

Our work in 2022 in all project components will be focused primarily on the development of instruments and their use. I will mention again that we have developed all the necessary analyses and operational plans so far, so now we have to develop practical instruments such as regulations, models, occupational standards and qualifications, mapping higher education institutions, conducting a pilot project of external exams, developing career centres and conducting trainings to ensure the continued use and application of these instruments in the future.

I have already mentioned that the project is very complex and could be divided into several different projects. Therefore, I will only point out here that within the project Component 1 we will continue to improve the area of career counselling and career guidance. Under Component 2, we will work to further improve the process of reconciling the needs of the labour market and higher education institutions. Component 3 will deal with teachers’ training, and Component 4 with the quality and strengthening of human resources of the ministries of education through the introduction of students’ external examination.

At the head of this complex project, in addition to me, as a Team Leader, are two other key experts, namely Sasa Niklanovic and Petar Bezinovic. Along with the three of us, a number of short-term experts from various fields and several members of the administrative staff are successfully cooperating in the project. I use this occasion to thank all of them for their dedicated work, and I wish us all to overcome the remaining challenges and achieve good project results.

The EU funded Education for Employment Project is implemented by DAI, in consortium with INNOVA, European Projects Management (EPM) Ltd, and the Institute of Economics Sarajevo (EIS)