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The Balkans and Turkey: Skills training for future needs

In a dynamic region that encompasses countries both new and old, large and small, with young populations, skills training to prepare the workers of the future is a priority for education and training policy experts - if not for politicians with more short term goals influenced by electoral cycles.

Kosovo

Europe's newest country, Kosovo - which declared independence in 2008 - is also the continent's youngest society, with an average age of 26 and around 38 percent of its population of 1.8 million younger than 20,according to the World Bank.

This young population "represents a resource for the country's future prosperity" but one that policymakers are largely failing to capitalise on, says Ardiana Gashi, an associate professor at Prishtina University's Economics Faculty.

The Kosovo Education Strategic Plan 2011-2017 aims to improve the quality of vocational education by 2021. A framework on Visions for Skills 2020, backed by the European Training Foundation, envisages Kosovo as a "globally competitive knowledge society" by 2020 with a workforce equipped with adaptable skills.

It is a laudable vision, Prof. Gashi says, "if proper education policies are put in place and if implemented consistently."

However, she adds: "So far, Kosovo's attempts have been mainly positioned to meet actual labour market needs, with little emphasis to prepare the workforce for the changing demands of the future."

Serbia

In Serbia, where dual college/workplace education is being introduced, the focus is more on current labour market demands than anticipating skills for the future.

Around 4,500 trainees - less than two percent of Serbia's a 186,000 vocational students - are currently enrolled in dual education courses, says Lara Lebedinski, a research fellow at Belgrade's Institute of Economic Sciences.

"Reforms in the educational sector are politically not so popular, because changes and improvements can be at best seen after the (full) election cycle," Ms Lebedinski says. "Governments need incentives to pursue these reforms more firmly."<

Turkey

More than 40 percent of Turkey's 80 million people are under 25, and skills-training has long been a government priority. Even though 52 percent of adults this year graduated from vocational, rather than general educational institutes, many workers may lose their jobs to automation. Automotive production, electronic and some aspects of the financial sector are all at risk.

By taking advantage of technology, Dr Mehtap Akgüc, Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels and Visiting Professor at the Saint-Louis University, Brussels, believes a bigger, more diverse and flexible workforce can be created.

"One of the main opportunities in Turkey is to reap the benefits of the variety of flexibility that the future of work offers, in terms of where and how work can be done," citing online platforms and freelance work.

This could "draw inactive individuals - especially women, young people not in employment, education or training, older workers, retired people and those with disabilities - to the labour market, creating an opportunity to increase the size, and diversity, of the workforce."