Elevate and educate: How Georgia is embracing the European Year of Skills
From its mountainous transcontinental location between Eastern Europe and West Asia, Georgia’s economy has traditionally traded on agriculture and wine production.
These sectors will continue to play a key role as the country seeks to upskill its labour force and catch the attention of employers at home as well as further afield.
“Previously, Europeans purchased wine from Russia or other post-Soviet countries, but now Georgian producers are reaching European markets and it’s very clear that they must produce quality wines to be competitive,” says Nino Veltauri, Head of the State Employment Support Agency (SESA) and Georgia’s European Year of Skills (EYS) coordinator.
“So it’s important for us that wine employers themselves – not just vocational education and training (VET) centres – are developing and providing training courses. They recognise that this is a way to improve quality and grow.”
Expanding skills to support industry growth
In addition to its traditional industries, Georgia sees growth potential in sectors such as construction and transport. With thriving ports on the Black Sea, the country is fast developing the infrastructure needed to support an international transport corridor.
“We’re now working on renewing airports and the seaport in Poti, and building another new port in Anaklia, because the demand for shipping is growing,” says Veltauri. “This lifts the entire surrounding economy and creates jobs in many other sectors.”
In such a climate, upskilled workers are well placed to find a job, Veltauri explains.
“Those who participate in training/retraining have a high employment rate, and the number of people willing to undertake it is increasing. But we still have labour market shortages. So the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs’ policy is to expand our activities to provide the right upskilled people.”
Another growing sector, especially post-Covid, is hospitality and tourism.
“We have some areas, for example in the Svaneti region, where the main activity used to be agriculture and now it’s tourism. More workers are learning languages and bringing related skills to work in hospitality and other services.”
Supporting circular migration
In 2020–21, the International Organisation for Migration and GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, the main German development agency) trained over 50 SESA staff on circular migration and other related topics.
“Georgia has a high rate of emigration and it’s also a receiving country,” Veltauri says. “We need to [train] citizens to meet the shortage of, for example, truck drivers, construction workers and others. These newly skilled workers can easily find jobs in Europe. At the same time, the government is also trying to implement circular migration schemes with European Union (EU) countries, because we’ll need the skills of those who’ve gained experience there.”
“These schemes involve legal employment agreements that enable temporary workers to return repeatedly. We already have a good partnership with Germany that enables Georgian workers to do unskilled seasonal agricultural labour. We’re now planning to extend this system to high-skilled professions.”
Aligning standards with Europe
Given Georgia’s candidature for accession to the EU, Veltauri, as EYS coordinator had the opportunity to visit Brussels. There she learnt in detail about the challenges of the European labour market and understood that Georgia’s development is part of a long-term organic process.
“My visit confirmed for me that Georgia’s education policies have been well advised. Our government correctly realised that education must focus on skills rather than professions. This is why we established another legal entity, the Professional Skills Agency, under the Ministry of Education and Science, with whom we collaborate closely.”
Veltauri emphasises that the process of harmonising with European standards started before the EYS. An EU association agreement had already specified numerous requirements, and more work will be needed to meet target benchmarks.
“Jobseekers’ skills in Georgia do not yet meet employers’ requirements. As in Europe, employers demand more from the labour force – but our skills gap is greater. In recent years, we’ve carried out surveys to identify skills that are lacking. But employers themselves are often unaware of the skills they need, and don’t see the importance of responding to SESA surveys. There is certainly room for improvement in this area.”
Veltauri highlights the support of the European Training Foundation in tackling this and other challenges.
“They offer expertise and have been actively involved, for example, in helping us open a Professional Centre of Excellence for Construction and Logistics in Tbilisi.”
Increasing access to qualifications
Additionally, the Professional Skills Agency has opened qualification centres across the country to certify non-formal education through universities and VET institutions.
“Trainees have traditionally attended VET courses in Tbilisi, but the Ministry of Education and the Professional Skills Agency have been working together to increase access to professional education in the regions country-wide, but particularly in western Georgia,” Veltauri says. “Each year, new colleges open in regions where people couldn’t previously get professional qualifications.”
“Two years ago, it wasn’t possible to get recognition for non-formal skills,” she continues. “While this has changed, there’s still room for both workers and employers to better understand the importance of certification.”
Meanwhile, new support frameworks are emerging, with multiple skills initiatives taking place in 2023 alone. The Professional Skills Agency partnered with international organisations to hold a Skills Week to unite stakeholders around vocational education and agree a common strategy for development.
The agency also collaborated with other entities, such as the Georgian Employers Association, the Business Association of Georgia, the Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and local governments in 10 regions to focus on “skills for the development of the region”. Involving around 500 employers, these events enabled local businesses to explore ways to tackle the shortage of qualified labour, working alongside state and donor organisation representatives.
Encouragingly, while only three occupational standards were registered in 2023, 30 more are in the pipeline for 2024.
“Growth has been impressive, but it needs to be stronger, because our labour market is in need of these standards. My firm belief is that these initiatives will raise skills levels in Georgia to meet market requirements and make the country even more competitive,” Veltauri concludes.