The SDC creates opportunities for young people through vocational education and training

Article, 04.06.2018

More than 500 guests from business, politics and education will attend the third International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training – the theme of which is 'Skills for Employability and Careers' – from 6 to 8 June in Winterthur. The SDC will also take part in the event. In an interview SDC expert Brigitte Colarte-Dürr explains just how important vocational education and training is to successful development cooperation.

A group of young Laotians, wearing aprons and toques, ladling food from two large pots.
The SDC is improving job prospects for young people in Laos through practical vocational education and training in the hospitality industry. © SDC

Ms Colarte-Dürr, what do you expect from the forthcoming International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training in Winterthur? 

Many of the 500 or so participants come from SDC partner countries and include representatives of ministries, partner organisations and SDC projects. We hope they will take inspiration from the Swiss system of dual-track vocational education and training to improve their own systems. Dialogue between international experts plays a vitally important role in this respect. Past experience shows that such conferences provide the opportunity to look at the issues facing other countries and to explore the best solutions. Tangible improvements are often achieved. For example, the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, became an advocate of dual-track vocational education and training after attending a previous congress. He later initiated a reform of the Serbian system with Swiss support. As a result, young Serbs can now undertake apprenticeships and find employment more easily thanks to the practical skills they have acquired.

Brigitte Colarte-Dürr, an expert in vocational education and training at the SDC.
Brigitte Colarte-Dürr, an expert in vocational education and training at the SDC. © SDC

The SDC is endeavouring to improve vocational education and training in over 80% of its partner countries. Why is this such an important issue in the fight against poverty? 

It is quite simply impossible to achieve development without basic and vocational education and training. A well-educated workforce is the key to increasing the productivity of a company or sector. It also makes a direct contribution to poverty reduction. Many people are only able to find a job or become self-employed, and to then increase their income, after completing vocational education and training. For example, the SDC is helping thousands of men and women in the textiles and construction industries in Bangladesh to improve their job prospects by taking courses. Empowerment is another key factor. Vocational education and training makes people more self-assured and puts them in a stronger position, enabling them to become independent and providing future prospects. This is particularly important for women who often have no access to the employment market and no way of earning their own money. 

What do the SDC’s projects achieve? 

Many of our projects focus on the lower levels of education. They are particularly successful if we can harness synergies between vocational education and training and the creation of new jobs. The report on effectiveness in the field of employment, published by the SDC and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) last year, indicated that vocational education and training performed well in this area. The impact of such programmes on poverty reduction and the results for particularly vulnerable population groups received very positive evaluations. Almost eight million people in nine countries of the South – more than the entire population of Switzerland – received education and training between 2013 and 2016 thanks to SDC projects. In Bolivia alone, over 29,000 people from poor backgrounds completed courses in a year. Today more than half of them are earning more than the minimum wage of USD 240. 

How exactly do these projects work? 

They differ greatly depending upon the situation and what we are aiming to achieve. They range from courses lasting several weeks, such as in tailoring or repairing computers at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, to apprenticeships, which take several years to complete, such as in the wood-processing sector in Serbia. The SDC does not just carry out vocational education and training projects in its traditional partner countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but also in the states of the former Soviet Union, in the Balkans and in the new EU member states where Switzerland is providing humanitarian aid. 

The SDC is well-known for its long-term commitment. Can you provide an example that illustrates this? 

Nepal is a good example. We set up a fund there in 2007 to pay for private education and training providers. They only receive the full contribution once candidates have completed the short training and found a job. This allows us to ensure they really gain a foothold in the employment market. After the earthquake in 2015, we modified the project to provide training for reconstruction work, such as courses in earthquake-proof construction. The government has now taken over the fund with other donors, while we have gone a step further by now providing apprenticeships. This example shows how the SDC’s engagement in a country can change over the course of time.