Rivne: Ukraine’s capital of sustainable wood

Rivne is a Ukrainian region with great expanses of trees and forests that attract large numbers of tourists worldwide every year. Just 200 km away are the borders of Poland and the European Union. The region has a characteristic that makes it unique. 

Rivne and its people have developed an economy centred on woodworking. But that’s not all. As well as being one of the cornerstones of regional and national development, Rivne's furniture manufacturing sector is highly innovative, competitive and export-oriented, with unique suppliers and skilled workers harnessing cutting-edge technology and relying on sustainable regional natural resources. 

Between 2014 and 2020, the number of woodworkers grew by 33.6%. Also, the wages have increased. Although the salaries in the timber sector are the highest on average in the Rivne region, they remain below the overall national average. These data come from an ETF study in the Rivne region - through interviews and stakeholder focus groups - as part of its skills for smart specialisation methodology. According to the research, training providers and the regional administration complain of a shortage of workers mainly caused by difficult working conditions, low attractiveness, low wages and outflow of migrants, especially among young people. 

What is smart specialisation? 

It is an initiative promoted by the European Commission involving the survey of leading industrial sectors. The focus is on identifying niche areas of competitive strength, addressing critical societal challenges, introducing a demand-driven dimension and promoting innovation partnerships. While this initiative originated in the context of EU Member States, through its European Neighbourhood Policy, the same approach has been extended to neighbouring countries to strengthen political cohesion and economic integration. In the case of Ukraine, it became entirely associated with the Commission's Horizon 2020 programme in 2015. Because together, we work better. 

Bringing skills into the mix 

The ETF has been supporting the smart specialisation by bringing skills into the mix. Vocational education and training and skills development have been recognised as framework conditions for innovation ecosystems. To connect vocational education fully to the broader drive for innovation, growth and competitiveness, in 2019 the ETF began developing and testing a practical guide for analysing the skills implications of smart specialisation strategies.

The ETF’s goal is to provide a methodological approach for vocational education policy makers in EU neighbouring countries to assess the skills implications of economic prioritisation resulting from smart specialisation, and to connect vocational education and skills provision to the broader drive for innovation. Following two pilot studies in 2020, the ETF further developed its methodology and adapted it to the regional context. It added a foresight dimension to sketch out possible future development paths for education and training linked to smart specialisation and partnership approach where vocational education providers are paired up with centres of vocational excellence in the EU. 

The keywords: innovation and education. 

Rivne has many virtues but has not yet realised its full potential. This green region can create more attractive jobs in woodworking and furniture production, higher wages and better working conditions. However, the vocational training offered to workers is not yet built around the needs of woodworking companies. Some of them adopt circular economy practices, which could be a model that could be exported to other sectors or regions if put to good use. 

Digitisation is another crucial aspect; this is improving working conditions, but this change is not yet reflected in career guidance. Teachers in vocational education centres play a central role. If they attend new training in new technologies, they can pass them on to their students, stimulating a continuous innovation process. For example, investment in workers capable of promoting digital marketing activities could further boost exports and cause a virtuous circle that improves the economy and social conditions in Rivne. 

Rivne is ready to take off as a capital of sustainable wood and launch its products known worldwide. What it needs are skills, innovation and best practices. Don't miss our upcoming podcast to know more!

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