While young people are considered ‘less physically’ at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic, they are some of the most vulnerable to its economic and social impacts. Young people are right to assume the insecurity about the future is even greater. Thus, making informed decisions about what to study or what kind of work to search for has a lasting impact on their lives. In North Macedonia, we’ve responded to the challenge by creating a collaborative network with several actors to address the impacts of the pandemic on the education and career decision making of young people.
Spring. A time when the excitement of the blooming season runs high. This is more important for youth who are about to make, for the first time, a serious decision that will determine their course of life in the next 3-4 years.
Whether you’re a student, about to graduate, or job seeking, the COVID-19 pandemic is most likely creating a deep sense of uncertainty about your career opportunities. Most businesses have closed down or substantially scaled down their operations. Even if they resume operations, the prospect of a quick recovery is difficult. Many have lost their jobs. A March 2020 survey of 40,000 young people in 150 countries showed that current education isn’t preparing them with the skills they need to get jobs.
In such a situation, what is the prospect of a career for young people? What is the role of information in career orientation to support young people to navigate this rapidly changing landscape?
To learn more, we looked at the experience of Education for Employment in North Macedonia Project (E4E@MK) of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in North Macedonia, which is implemented by Helvetas, the Macedonian Civic Education Center and the Economic Chamber of Macedonia.
Adaptation and its limitations
Spring 2019. The usual promotional activities with a variety of events took place for the enrolment in secondary vocational education—this year, enhanced with the private sector partners who were around eager to attract future professionals to a certain occupation. One of the goals of E4E@мк is to increase the interest of youth in vocational education and training as the educational track for their career choice.
The project facilitates strengthening cooperation of the vocational schools and their private sector partners. The companies provide opportunities for students to learn skills during practical training. The objective is to broaden the chances for students in their future employment—either immediately after finishing secondary education, or later, after getting a higher-level qualification.
The Vocational Education and Training Centre (VET Centre), just before the outbreak, had planned to support the career orientation processes for primary school students. Compiled and relevant information would help young people while they explore their options. This would have been a starting point for the future secondary education students which was to be enhanced by the promotional activities of the schools and their private sector partners.
Fast forward. The pandemic hit. It is important now, more than ever, to have a consolidated pool of information to support and guide young people. Despite the uncertainty, decisions needed to be made—use whatever was possible with resources in place, under the difficult conditions. The reason is obvious: either during or after the pandemic, making informed choices about education and careers where skilled workers are in demand remains the same or is getting increasingly more important.
In a way, the pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of certain skills and professions. Examples include skills requirements in information and communication technology (ICT), industrial skill (a wide range of products ranging from cleaning and disinfection products to mask production), health care, as well as critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, adaptability and resilience.
With the closure of education and training institutions, learning is taking place remotely through various digital platforms. Yet, a key factor in vocational education and training is its focus on practical skills and work-readiness. This, to a higher extent, makes remote learning particularly difficult. Wherever few businesses remain open, perhaps work-based learning can continue.
Moving to teach and learning online isn’t straightforward for some groups. Those from privileged backgrounds will find their way around closed school doors to alternative learning opportunities. The digital divide and the effects of young people’s socioeconomic backgrounds are factors that affect access to learning online.
On the flip side, digital learning and accessing information also has great potential to engage people who might struggle with traditional forms of learning. It increases the retention of information and takes less time.
Leveraging existing practices through collaboration
E4E@MK and other relevant institutions moved quickly as soon as the pandemic started spreading. They brainstormed possibilities. With the support and facilitation of E4E@MK, a collaborative initiative started. The VET Centre supported by E4E produced informative material ‘Guideline through Vocational Education Qualifications’, accessible in 4 local languages.
The challenge was the fast distribution to the target groups: the students who are to make the career choice, and their parents/custodians who usually have a high influence on their choices. One of the responses of the educational system in North Macedonia during the lockdown is a TV show dedicated to primary school students called ‘TV ucilnica’ (TV Classroom) on the Macedonian National Television and Radio.
Another modality was a digital platform, EDUINO, supported by UNICEF; this was initiated before the outbreak of the pandemic.
Also, in 2017 the International Labor Organizations (ILO) and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy were promoting occupations with short videos.
E4E@MK applies an inclusive systems approach where facilitation for sustainable and scalable results is critical. Thus, we connected the dots and moved quickly.
This is what happened next…
The ILO approved the usage of the videos as teasers. E4E@MK supported their adjustment by adding information about the Guideline through Vocational Education Qualifications where information on how to get educated and trained about that and other occupations can be found.
The videos are aired in the Macedonian National Television and Radio educational show called ‘TV Classroom’. Being recognized of interest to the nation – the promotion is aired beyond this educational show. The information about the Guidelines has reached every household that owns a TV.
The EDUINO platform shares the four language versions of the Guideline through Vocational Education Qualifications, reaching every family that has the digital equipment to utilize the digitalized response.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) and the VET Centre, as the institutions in authority, used their communication channels with the schools and other authorities to make sure that all primary school support services and class responsible teachers have the material and can provide the information to their 9th graders and their parents/custodians.
The State Education Inspectorate integrates a question in their inspection activities. This is to ensure that the school has made efforts for the information to reach the target group it serves.
‘When I saw the publication, my first thought was: this has been needed for a long time!’ says Natasha Ivanovska, a parent and a professional career counselor. For parents, like Natasha, the guide explains the complexity of the educational system concisely and understandably.
Natasha’s son, Damjan, is in the ninth grade. He also believes that the guide is so useful, and it has a lot of information. ‘It gives us more possibilities for further career and education which are well described. I have a friend who is interested in electrotechnics – this guide is really helpful to him.’
Ardijana Isahi Palloshi, the Acting Director of the VET Centre, summarized it well: ‘With joint inter-institutional effort and under restricted opportunities for communication, we found a way to enter every household. We’ve increased the awareness of the need for competent and quality workforce.’ This, of course, happened in an ever-changing and uncertain time.
The process involved so many institutions and organizations. Coordination was complex, but energizing. This experience at the local level demonstrates the power of collaboration and solidarity to address a global crisis and its consequences on the development of human capital with significant long-term economic and social implications.
- Moving to Online Skills Development—Not as Simple as it Sounds
- The COVID-19 Pandemic and Accelerated Innovation: Learning and Training Anywhere, Anytime
- A Triple Challenge? Disability and the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Turning the Coronavirus Challenges into Opportunities