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Enhancing professional training through international cooperation

Since 2003 we have been supporting Serbia to develop education and training to boost employability, increase access to opportunity and promote social cohesion. Complementing the work of the EU’s External Action Service, we bring together ministries and social partners to develop scalable projects.

The ETF is supporting the Serbian Government in its policy agenda on vocational education and skills. The ETF Serbia Country Strategic Plan 2018- 2020 focuses on promoting work-based learning and developing a National Qualifications Framework. It also addresses skills shortages and mismatch in leading sectors (e.g. ICT) and Small Business Act (SBA) assessment and support. In addition, the plan aims to strengthen the quality and validation of vocational education and training and the initial and continuous professional development of teachers and trainers.

Political context and priorities

Serbia has faced considerable challenges after the global financial crisis of 2008 exposed the structural weaknesses in Serbia’s economic growth model. The current economic reform program focuses on ensuring economic and financial stability, halting further debt accumulation, and creating an environment for economic recovery and growth to foster employment and raise living standards. According to the EU’s Enlargement Strategy, Serbia is expected to join the European Union in 2025. Education reforms are at the heart of the accession process, with a view to better aligning education and skills with labour market needs and strengthening cooperation between education and business.

Socio-economic situation

Low fertility rates in Serbia mean that the aging population decreased from 7.64 million in 2002 to 7.04 million in 2017. This drop was also due to the ‘brain drain’ of educated young people to countries offering better employment prospects. The country has a rather low proportion of youths (aged 15-24) in the labour force (only 16% in 2017), suggesting potential problems with the new entrants to the labour market. There is a pattern of internal migration from rural areas to urban centres such as Belgrade, but growing sectors such as ICT already report difficulty in recruiting skilled workers and the number of young people entering the labour market is decreasing.

Similar to other countries in the region, Serbia has a service-oriented economy, contributing 61% of GDP and 31% generated by industry. About 8% of GDP comes from agriculture but the employment structure (agriculture employs 17% of workers) suggests it is typically subsistence-type.

Education and labour policies

Serbia’s National Employment Service plays an essential role for skills needs anticipation and matching. The ETF is working closely with education, employment and statistics institutions on skills mismatch analysis. This will inform vocational training and labour market policies, reflecting emerging skills needs, supply and demand and school-to-work transition. Nearly 75% of upper secondary students enrolled in vocational education in 2016, but despite this 17% of young people (aged 15-24) were neither in education nor in employment or training in 2017. This suggests there are issues with the employability of vocational education graduates and skills imbalances which the government is seeking to address.

EU support and the ETF

The EU is by far the biggest donor to Serbia with more than €2.6 billion (as of January 2014) in grants provided over the past 13 years in all fields, ranging from rule of law, public administration reform, social development, environment and agriculture. These reforms are crucial elements of the country’s European integration process and will directly improve the daily lives of Serbian citizens. The financial assistance is provided through EU’s Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA), which aims to help Serbia to prepare for assuming and effectively implementing obligations of its future membership in the EU. EU Member States also provide substantial bilateral assistance.

The overall priority of the ETF’s interventions in Serbia are to strengthen work-based learning, address skills mismatch in priority sectors, for example ICT, develop the NQF, Small Business Act (SBA) assessments, strengthen key competences including entrepreneurial learning and digital skills and the continual professional development of teachers and trainers.