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Nasibakhon Aminova

Interview with Nasibakhon Aminova, Executive Director, National Association of Small and Medium Businesses, Tajikistan

From Nick Holdsworth - November 22, 2022

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As DARYA – the European Union’s new project in Central Asia – that aims to bring people and ideas together to create new opportunities for young men and women in the region gets underway, the European Training Foundation is talking to key figures involved in education, training, the labour market and economic development to better understand what can best help develop skills, and key 21st century competences including green, digital and entrepreneurial aptitudes.

DARYA – Dialogue and Action for Resourceful Youth in Central Asia – will work with people across the public and private sectors in education and the labour market in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as organisations and peer groups in Europe during the coming five years to support self-sustaining, long-term strategies for skills and labour market development.

Nasibakhon Aminova, Executive Director, National Association of Small and Medium Businesses, Tajikistan, talks says DARYA can help address the needs of SMEs in her country.

“Small and medium-sized businesses play a crucial role in the development of the national economy – they create new jobs, replenish the budget through their taxes, development implement new technologies, establish contacts both inside and outside the country, improve the skills of their employees, improve product quality, and create new opportunities,” she states.

But these advantages are often overlooked by the education and public sectors.

“Problems for SMEs in Tajikistan are primarily associated – in the view of entrepreneurs themselves – with high taxes, frequent inspections and restrictions on available bank loans,” she adds.

The sector is still reeling from the “external shocks” Tajikistan faced during the pandemic, and economic challenges associated with the conflict in Ukraine, that has also impacted Tajikistan.

“It has affected not only economic indicators, including the unstable exchange rate of the somoni [the Tajik currency], but also labour markets and the standard of living of the population of our country associated with Russia.”

In general, there was a lack of understanding of the particular needs of the small business sector, which is not well catered for by existing education and training policies.

“It seems to me that the education system lives in isolation from the real economy, from entrepreneurship. Yes, there are professions that require a long-term educational process. But there should also be a very labour market-oriented professional and educational segment that meets the needs of the labour market, the demands of SMEs. Colleges, adult education centres, and professional education centres are still far from interacting with the labour market today.”

Ms Aminova gives a couple of simple examples: a small café opens and advertises for cooks, waiters and administrators. But those with such skills are in short supply because, “the system of training catering workers simply does not keep pace with market needs.” In such circumstances, any skilled workers can name their price when it comes to wages – damaging the sector as a whole.”

Or, a small vegetable processing plants faces problems finding trained technicians who can operate modern equipment; few workers understand the importance of food safety standards.

“A business owner has to hire consultants to implement quality standards and train staff. All that amounts to a major investment.”

Of course, businesses can engage in education and skills development themselves. A member of her association, created its own training centre – the Babylon Academy in 2020. “At the height of the pandemic, when the physical market collapsed overnight, the company began to implement the principles of e-commerce, attracting small businesses to switch to online sales and purchases of goods and services remotely via a mobile wallet.”

Such creative responses to challenges should form the basis for dialogue between the public and private sectors, Ms Aminova believes. But those links need to be many and frequent.

“There have been isolated meetings of the Ministry of Education and Science with the private sector. The Ministry of Labour, Migration and Employment of Population has worked more actively with projects designed to develop professional skills and competences. But this is not enough. We need a permanent platform where these three parties responsible for the formation of the labour market, high quality education that meets modern realities, and the private sector meet regularly.”

But for that approach to work, greater flexibility is needed, she insists.

“But focusing on additional education (continuous education) that meets the needs of the private sector, it is possible to balance the existing gap. The ‘rigidity’ of licensing by the Ministry of Education and Science requires change. The centres providing licensed courses can be counted on the fingers of one hand. There should be a lot of them – particularly in a country where 70% of the population is young people.”

As for the future of those young people, Aminova believes it is time to understand that “there is need for continuous and advanced training to adapt to changes.”

“I would encourage parents to see their child as a person and develop creative abilities… schools to see a child as a person, to help a person grow into a fully–fledged member of society. I would urge the state and its institutions to see us, citizens, as individuals first of all. And create safe conditions for their citizens to develop and live.”