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Interview with vice minister for Labour and Social Protection, Kazakhstan: Olzhas Ordabaev

From Nick Holdsworth - November 11, 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.

Olzhas Ordabaev, Kazakhstan’s vice minister for Labour and Social Protection, regards the 300,000 young people entering the country’s labour market every year as a key national resource.

At 33, Mr Ordabaev is only a few years older than many of those now seeking work for the first time.

A graduate of the Kazakh University of International Relations and World Languages, as well as the Cesar Ritz College, Switzerland, and Manchester Metropolitan University, in the UK, before entering the ministry he worked in the non-profit sector and as director of human capital development, and later, managing director of the Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs.

As a partner country in regional projects, Kazakhstan brings a wealth of experience in skills development to international schemes, and has developed a range of innovative measures to address the needs of young people entering the labour market.

Its work with international organisations, such as the OECD, had been valuable in helping identify “road maps” for skills development and economically positive labour market measures, the vice minister said.

“Countries of the OECD have trod a very wide path to develop their [education and skills] systems, and to prepare their experts, so for us it is very important to use the experience of these countries, and not to repeat any mistakes they have made on the road,” Ordabaev notes.

A recent example of OECD work that has been utilised in Kazakhstan included detailed research and analysis of skills needs, including examples from within Kazakhstan, he added.

Such research was valuable aid to better understanding skills and labour market needs and formed the basis of recent reforms in the national professional qualifications system, he said, adding that by employing such research it “helps us develop further and faster.”

The range of measures already in place to help young people enter the labour market in Kazakhstan is impressive.

Recognising that the key hurdle to the transition from education to work is lack of experience, the ministry is subsidising employers to encourage them to take on young workers.

First Working Place is a programme aimed at supporting young people who are not in education, training or employment (NEETs) to enter the labour market. It addresses what Ordabaev calls the classic problem of young people without experience” by paying employers to take them on as trainees so they are better placed to take their next steps in the labour market. Recently introduced, the programme has already supported more than 3,600 young people to enter the world of work.

Another scheme Youth Practice, works with those that are at school or college, or graduates who are having problems entering the labour market, gain additional skills to make them more employable. 27,000 young people have already benefited from this scheme.

And there is also an innovative project that draws upon the skills of older people nearing retirement, who are paid to mentor younger people.

“The idea is to help young people enter the workplace, to get the practical experience they need to start their careers,” Ordabaev says, adding that across its range of labour and social support programmes there are specific quotas for young people. Of the 602,000 Kazakhs who have been involved in such projects so far, 233,000 of them have been young people.

Working to develop a level playing field for qualifications that could be recognised across Central Asia was also a priority in a region where labour migration is a major faces of the economies of most of the countries.

As the leading economy in Central Asia, Kazakhstan – which is rich in natural as well as human resources – values cooperation with international organisations, including the ETF.

“Over the years, I have worked very actively with the ETF, and the most important thing – the highest value it brings – is that is does not give prepared answers to problems,” the vice minister says. “It works with you, supporting you in assessing the local situation and helps you work out your own unique answer. The ETF works together with its partners to understand issues and come up with solutions.”

Asked to put in a nutshell one phrase that sums up the challenge for young people in Kazakhstan today, he says: “It is time for young people to take responsibility for their future in their own hands.”