© EYE Project/Helvetas

The Promise of Employment during COVID-19: Non-Formal Training and ICT Skills

FROM: Lisar Morina - 24. September 2020
© EYE Project/Helvetas

How has the outbreak affected job seekers?

According to the IMF, the COVID-19 pandemic is set to trigger a 5% reduction in Kosovo’s GDP for 2020, affecting many industries and an already fragile labor market. Social distancing, downsizing, layoffs, and business interruptions have pushed many into unemployment or losing income sources.

For many job seekers—especially the youth—navigating this unprecedented economic shock often means thinking about gaining new skills. It also means completely rethinking career choices as their job outlooks have taken a turn for the worse.

It is no big news that Kosovar ICT companies are often approached by international clients with proposals to ‘nearshore’ ICT services to Kosovo. Such opportunities must often be turned down due to a shortage of skilled labor as well as a lack of targeted local training opportunities that enable young Kosovars to acquire the right skills.

However, plenty of local actors are looking to change this. At the Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) project of the SDC, we are constantly looking to support innovative non-formal training providers who offer demand-oriented and socially-inclusive training packages. Demand for non-formal training surged during the COVID-19 crisis.

Fostering ICT skills through practical training

Whether young people are looking to make a career change or gain new skills to improve their job outlook in Kosovo, one of the best ways to achieving that is non-formal education. But what is non-formal education? Simply put, it’s about short-term training provided by private training providers that are tailored to the needs of the market and jobseekers, meant to quickly upskill and improve employment prospects for the participants.

Two of our partners stood out for attracting young people looking to enter the labor market: Baff Works & Cactus Education. Baff Works is a software engineering company based in Kosovo. It has brought together a technology-driven team of professionals in the software development, ICT, and education sectors to foster software engineering in Kosovo by providing practical training for all levels.

The EYE project supported Baff Work’s training as they held great potential in equipping young people with the skills to think and code like a programmer. The training also offers programming skills that are tailored to labor market needs, and vastly improve employment prospects for the participants.

‘My time in this training was extremely helpful for me,’ says Ariot Ymeri, 22, who participated in the training. He first attended the training due to his desire to understand programming from an experienced professor, but expresses that he learned much more than he expected. ‘I first attended the Java course for beginners to learn about the basics of object-oriented programming and Java, and then proceeded with the advanced one,’ adds Ariot.

During the time Ariot was attending the course, he had already been searching for a job amidst the pandemic. This is where his new qualifications became handy and proved to be of great help. Immediately after the training, his teacher at Baff Works recommended him for a job as a salesforce developer trainee. Ariot landed the job shortly after undergoing two interviews. He is now working full-time on a platform that serves as the biggest global platform for data processing, sales, and marketing for businesses.

‘One of the main advantages of the non-formal training we received at Baff Works was the small size of our group—15 students worked with 3 experienced tutors who fully committed their time to ensure we understand the subject matter,’ explains Ariot.

It isn’t just job opportunities that skilling and upskilling in non-formal training has been offering young people. It also provides a unique outlook and skillset for those aspiring a career in programming. ‘I saw the advertisement on Facebook, and I had initially decided to attend as I was curious about Fatos Maxhuni’s [the tutor] teaching style, as I had heard great reviews about him,’ shares Rrite Dedaqi.

The tutors were adapting to the students’ level, which Rrite found great. She managed to learn the programming language Java, in quite a unique way that also taught her the basics of programming in general. After finishing the training, Rrite also got employed as an intern at the recommendation of her tutor—she now works at Start-Cons, which is a partner of Salesforce based in Switzerland.

The future of work also means digital works

Cacttus is a company in the field of ICT services and solutions, operating in Networking and Telecommunications, Cybersecurity, and Software Development. The company’s spin-off, Cacttus Education, is the first professional school in the field of Information and Communication Technology in Kosovo and provides students with professional study programs in the field.

With the support of the EYE project, Cacttus Education has been piloting a new conditional contract model that seeks to employ all participants of a new training curriculum in local ICT companies. The latter, in turn, benefit from an increased supply of skilled labor. The program offers an intensive, practical boot camp that usually lasts a few months and imparts students with the skills to develop web applications.

The scheme guarantees young people jobs once they complete the training modules. Cacttus Education acts as an intermediary between labor supply (mostly young participants) and labor demand (local ICT employers). The participating companies, which are extensively involved in the selection of candidates, are also the ones who cover the cost of training through salary deductions after they employ their preferred candidate.

Endrit Veseli, 21, speaks of his experiences at the training. ‘The training was great—in the beginning, we started mastering a few basic skills, and later proceeded to delve into technologies with which I now work every day,’ he says. ‘One of the most important advantages of this training was the practical side of it, which allowed us to understand these technologies faster, and get to work on real projects.’

Endrit applied for jobs in many local companies. He, too, was searching for a job during the pandemic, which was not an easy effort. His new skills and his ability to work on real projects helped him secure a job at a company called Starlabs after briefly working as an intern there.

‘The value of non-formal education like this one is that you understand and learn a lot faster because it provides you with a hands-on approach which allows you to immediately implement in practice what you learn in theory,’ reflects Endrit.

Digital transformation is underway

The convergence of both rapidly evolving technologies and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to rapid shifts in the labor market. The key to preparing young job seekers for the digital future of work is the transformation of education and training.

As it stands today, most actors in the labor market are using an education system that was designed to grow and equip a workforce for the industrial age. Unfortunately, we are no longer in the industrial age. The old education system placed a lot of emphasis on routine and specialized knowledge. However, this won’t work in the digital future.

Supporting this transition will be the transformation of work, the key enabler of which are both new technologies and the COVID-19 crisis. We have all now reached the front of the line. It’s time to cast aside the trappings of the industrial age and boldly imagine our new future in the post-pandemic world —one that looks very different than the world we left behind. Re-imagining the future of work in the post-pandemic world is a little bit scary, but it’s also thrilling as we brace ourselves for what we know is going to be a bumpy but amazing ride.

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Lisar Morina is a media and communications professional working at the nexus of development and communication. He is currently engaged with Helvetas Kosovo in the Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) project.