30 years, 30+ stories: "Investing in education pays off." The history of ETF cooperation with Armenia

The European Training Foundation has been working with Armenia since 1994 to support education reforms and improve labour market opportunities. A look at three decades of shared goals and perspectives.

Armenia has recently faced numerous socio-political and economic upheavals, including the 2018 Velvet Revolution, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2020 conflict with Azerbaijan. Military tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2023 resulted in the displacement of more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians, prompting crisis response measures. Even before that, Armenia had one of the highest emigration rates in the world, with around 30% of the population living outside the country (OECD data from 2017).  

Despite these challenges, Armenia has made advance on its reform agenda, prioritising evidence-based policy and strategic planning. Education plays a key role in achieving sustainable development, in line with the broader objectives of the Armenian Transformation Strategy 2050

In recent years, Armenia has made significant progress in improving access to education. The gross enrolment rates in primary and secondary education were 91.24% and 87.25% respectively in 2020, according to UNESCO data for the Sustainable Development Goals in 2021. 

Since 2010, Armenia has been an active participant in the ETF's Torino Process, which analyses education and training systems to inform policy reforms. In 2023, the ETF launched a new round of the initiative, focusing on lifelong learning perspectives and reviewing national policies, particularly on the accessibility and attractiveness of vocational education and training (VET). Preliminary results were discussed in Yerevan in November 2023. 

Cristiana Burzio, ETF human capital development expert and country liaison for Armenia, highlights the important role of the Torino Process in informing national reform agendas, with findings and recommendations being integrated into policy reforms.

"Looking ahead, it's clear that Armenia is keen to continue supporting learners' participation in society and the labour market," says Burzio. 

"Participation in the Torino Process provides an opportunity for all policy makers and social partners in VET to regularly review sector policies and monitor the effectiveness of implemented programmes for the benefit of learners and their employability in the labour market," says Tatevik Gasparyan, Director at the National Centre for Vocational Education and Training Development. "One of the successful projects with the ETF was the development of the concept of work-based learning, which was later adopted by the National Council for VET Development. Although the dual education system had been piloted in Armenia for several years, there was no comprehensive approach to cooperation between education and business. The provisions of the concept are reflected in the draft of the new Law on Vocational Education and Training.” 

Over the last decade, Armenia has seen a significant decrease in the percentage of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) in the 1524 age group, from 44.5% in 2010 to 20.3% in 2021 (Key policy developments in education). Despite this positive trend, challenges remain, particularly in terms of gender inequalities, which disproportionately affect young women. At the same time, half of VET graduates aged 1529 were NEETs in 2019, highlighting the difficult transition from school to work that young people face, in addition to the significant mismatch between labour demand and supply in the Armenian market (Youth transition and skills mismatch in the Eastern Partnership). 

In 2016, the ETF produced a short film about a project in Armenia that supports and empowers victims of gender-based violence to gain entrepreneurial skills. Through professional training, the initiative aimed to build participants' confidence, trust, business and decision-making skills. 

In the midst of these challenges, it's crucial to amplify the voices of young people like Goharik Grigoryan, a dedicated Young European Ambassador in Armenia and founder of the Professional Orientation Centre, an NGO that aims to guide young people in their career development and help them make the right choices. Goharik emphasises the important role of international programmes supported by the EU in promoting professional development and opportunities for the new generation. 

"I got to know the ETF during my internship at the Armenian Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport and was fascinated by its activities," says Grigoryan. "Some initiatives have promoted essential soft skills, such as critical thinking, analytical skills and media literacy. These skills are indispensable not only in the labour market, but also in academic pursuits and scientific endeavours. Indeed, the evolving landscape shaped by EU initiatives has fostered a generation in Armenia, equipped with diverse skills and a comprehensive approach to personal and professional growth." 

Bent Sorensen, former Head of Communication at the ETF, provides a living example of how the ETF's support to Armenia has not been just a theoretical process. In October 2010, Sorensen was with the Euronews TV crew in Vanadzor, a town in northern Armenia, where Victoria Hakobjanon was living. She was the focus of a Euronews report on 'Training in Armenia', because she represented a generation of young Armenians who are benefiting from the ETF's work to reform education and training in the country. 

"Victoria had recently been hired as a chief designer at a local textile company and was happy to talk about how her education at Vanadzor Technical College had been the key to her career. The TV crew wanted to use Victoria's story as a great example of vocational education as a way forward for youth in Armenia," Sorensen says. "Many people in Armenia have benefited from the modernisation of education, training and the labour market. Victoria was a living example for other young people and policy makers: investing in education pays off.” 

As part of its support for Armenia's national reforms in work-based learning and career guidance, in 2022 the ETF carried out a survey of the country's career development support system and a review of labour market policies to better target ETF policy advice on education, retraining and employability. 

The ETF's role is also to highlight how rapidly the labour market is changing, including in Armenia. From the study The future skill needs in the construction sector to the pilot of the SELFIE tool in the field of digital education, the ETF is helping to address future challenges and the skills needed to compete in the new world.

"Widespread digitalisation processes are rapidly changing the demands of the labour market, so a correspondingly rapid response is needed in terms of the content and quality of the education provided," says Tatevik Gasparyan. "In this case, international cooperation provides an opportunity to exchange already accumulated experience and find ways to jointly solve similar problems in the vocational education and training sector."

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