A. Semchenko

The following article sets out to highlight some current developments in the interaction between the newly formed labour market and the vocational education and training system in Kazakhstan. Weak interaction between the two spheres is one of the major problems in the creation of a proper training system for the unemployed in the Central Asian countries. The Kazakh project is one of the few forward-looking models developed in recent years in this field. A. Semchenko is an expert at the European Training Foundation (ETF), Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The Labour Market and the Vocational Education and Training System: Possible Approaches to Cooperation

Why Social Partnership in VET?

In implementing the project “Social partnership in vocational education and training”, we put forward the following arguments:

  • Social partnership (SP) in vocational education and training (VET) is an important factor in training skilled workers according to the requirements of the labour market, thereby helping to decrease the rate of unemployment and overcome poverty.

  • SP in VET has been growing and becoming more and more important in Kazakhstan.

  • The development of SP in VET requires the creation of an appropriate legal and regulatory framework as well as the involvement of interested partners working through formal associations.

  • The primary social partners in the area of VET are state agencies, educational institutions and employers.

  • The main objectives of SP in VET consist of updating existing curricula, improving standards of education, and training specialists in the occupational skills required.

  • One of the main obstacles in the way of developing SP in VET is the low interest among partners, who do not know the benefits of effective social partnership.

The Legal Background

The establishment of a new type of social partnership in the field of vocational education and training is based on the regulations and legislation adopted in the early 1990s, the early years of independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The first such legislation was the Collective Agreements Act of the Republic of Kazakhstan, adopted on 4 July 1992.

A little later, on 3 August 1992, the Government issued a decree on “Social partnership in the field of social-labour relations“, implementing the Act. The decree set the framework for establishment of sectoral tariff agreements.

In order to collate and consolidate the proposed general and sectoral tariff agreements between the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, trade union confederations and employers’ associations, the Government issued a decree on 24 August 1992 setting up a special committee and a national conciliation commission on the settlement of disputed collective labour demands.

In July 1993 the three major partners adopted a joint Declaration on the principles of cooperation.

In view of the importance of social dialogue, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan signed a decree on “Social partnership in the field of social-economic and labour relations” on 14 December 1994. The decree provided for the establishment of a permanent dialogue between representatives of the parties concerned, and determined that it was necessary to conclude general, sectoral and regional agreements.

Since then, seven general agreements have been concluded in the Republic, the last of which was drawn up in 2002.

All this has served to create the regulatory framework for social partnership and contributed to the adoption of the “Social partnership in the Republic of Kazakhstan Act“ in December 2000. The adoption of this law provided an institutional mechanism for social dialogue between the partners.

The situation changed after adoption of this law, which states in clause 4, article 17 that the issues of vocational training and retraining of skilled workers should be included in agreements.

From 2001 on, under this law, whenever an agreement is reached between the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, national trade union confederations and national employers’ associations (article 21), the Government is obliged “to arrange for the improvement of the training system for the unemployed and enhancement of the vocational skills of workers”.

In addition, according to article 80, the parties are to accept responsibility for implementing the law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on “public employment”, whereby “appropriate programmes of vocational training for the unemployed shall be developed and implemented“.

It should be noted that the Government has fulfilled its obligation contained in the first part, about training for the unemployed. As a result, Decree No. 836 was adopted on 19 June 2001. This regulates the organization and financing of vocational training courses, and improvement of occupational skills and retraining for the unemployed.

The rules describe the rights and duties of employment offices, educational institutions, employers and the unemployed during vocational training. According to these rules, local budgets must allocate the necessary funding for training for the unemployed. As a result, 19,800 unemployed people gained a new occupation or increased their skills in the Republic in 2001.

The First ETF Project: “Social Partnership in VET”

The implementation of a pilot European Training Foundation project to examine problems through National Monitoring Centres was one of the important steps towards the development of social partnership in the area of VET.

During this project three research reports were prepared: “Social partnership in Kazakhstan” in 1998, “Social partnership in Kazakhstan – the situation in 2000”, and “Social partnership in vocational education and training” in 2001. A number of training and fact-finding seminars were also held for civil servants, representatives of educational institutions and employers.

During the development of the project, the following activities were carried out:

  • Creation of a Council of Experts within the Akimat (city council) of Almaty City as a regional social partnership committee of VET organizations, employers and local government. The practical activities of the Council were implemented through three working groups: the first group concerned itself with interaction between VET institutions and enterprises in order to update the content of vocational training, the second group was responsible for identifying the list of occupations for which there is a demand in the labour market, and the third group worked to develop entrepreneurship by training the population.

  • The second component of the project was the organization of training courses for the Council of Experts working group dealing with interaction between VET organizations and employers as it developed national standards and criteria for vocational education and training.

  • The third component was preparation of the report about the situation of social partnership in VET. The experts made the following recommendations in order to stabilize and further strengthen cooperation:

  • To review and gradually improve legislation in order to provide for good quality vocational education and training for the public, for jobs and for social partnership in this sphere

  • To establish councils of social partners at national, regional and sectoral levels to coordinate action and to prepare the process of decision-making in the field of vocational education and training on the basis of the model developed for Almaty City within the framework of the National Monitoring Project

  • To develop scientific methods of identifying the needs of different sectors of the economy for skilled and non-skilled manual and non-manual workers, taking into account the relative priority of sectors of the economy, geographical peculiarities and changes in the market, with the participation of the social partners

  • To improve curricula and syllabuses, and standards of training, on the basis of the opinions and suggestions of specialists in the field

  • To conduct regular research on labour market forecasting with all social partners and to inform all interested parties when necessary about likely future labour needs

  • In cooperation with the social partners, to develop national and regional retraining programmes for 2003-2005 based on labour market requirements

  • To organize seminars on interaction between the social partners in the field of vocational education and training at national and regional levels

  • To develop measures to stimulate employers to carry out training programmes for their staff

  • To conduct an information campaign to explain the need for social partnership in the field of vocational education and training

As part of the project “Social partnership in vocational education and training“, a survey of the most prominent social partners and the relevant national bodies in the country was conducted in 2001 on the further development of social partnership in VET. 

Among those returning the 110 completed questionnaires were the Ministry of Labour and Social Security of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Opinions on the question of developing a social partnership were expressed by 60 employers, including large companies in Almaty City, and by the representatives of academic institutions, public organizations and educational trade unions.

According to the survey results, all respondents essentially recognized the need to develop SP to increase the efficiency of vocational training and to balance needs and demands in the labour market. At the same time, different categories of respondents varied in their enthusiasm for SP: educational bodies 78 %, employment offices 73 % and employers only 22 %.

Respondents believed that public organizations, academic institutions and trade unions were not involving themselves in the process of social partnership in VET. In the opinion of respondents, the main issues which social partnership should address were the employment of university graduates (54% of respondents), the quality of training (36%), youth unemployment (31%), the forecasting of needs for trained workers in various occupations (28%), and the importance of improving training programmes in accordance with the requirements of modern enterprises (19%).

The majority of the people surveyed thought that it was necessary to create special bodies in the regions to ensure that partners cooperated: 82% of respondents suggested a regional committee within the Akimat (the local municipal council). Others proposed the creation of structures which were independent of government: an advisory committee or a council of trustees.

According to a significant proportion of those surveyed, the essential way of guaranteeing effective cooperation by the social partners in VET was to develop an appropriate regulatory framework to govern relations between the partners and to promote the implementation of ideas that were developed.

Thus, almost all participants in the survey noted the need for legislation to encourage employers to take part, in the form of tax incentives, particularly reduced tax on profits. It was suggested that legislative encouragement for public associations and academic institutions should be done through social grants.

Respondents thought (52%) that educational institutions should spearhead this work. They expected employment offices to be closely involved as well. According to respondents, employment offices had sufficient potential, but without close cooperation with academic research institutions (47 % of the answers) they would not able to do much in the way of labour market analysis and forecasting.

About one-third of respondents expected the trade unions to strengthen their positions on protecting the employment rights of young people. And the same number of respondents thought that if academic research institutions were involved, they would use their forecasting potential to train workers to meet the requirements of the labour market.

Young People: Difficulties in Finding a Job

According to 2001 statistics, 330,400 unemployed people were registered with employment offices, 19,800 of whom received training as mentioned above. Subsequently, 13,200 of those trained (or 66.6%) found jobs and 1,100 (or 5.5%) opened their own businesses.

According to statistics, between 70,000 and 90,000 graduates of basic and upper secondary comprehensive schools enter the labour market annually. These graduates have no opportunity of continuing vocational education, more than half of them become unemployed, and others can only expect low-skilled work. The worsening of condi tions in the labour market makes young people who have no vocational training or previous work experience uncompetitive.

Analysis of the statistical data for graduates of years 9 – 11 reveals the basic obstacles in the way of social partnership in VET. In our view, these obstacles are as follows

  1. There is no strategy or plan for the development of social partnership in VET.
  2. The legislative and regulatory framework is not adequately developed.
  3. In this regard, the involvement of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan is unsatisfactory. They currently have little communication in the field of social partnership.
  4. Participation by employers is weak, even though they should be the main participants of social partnership in VET.
  5. There is a negative influence from economic factors, such as shortage of financial, material and staff resources, especially in the countryside and small towns. 
  6. There is an excess supply of certain occupations in the labour market (employers prefer to give jobs to skilled workers who are already trained, rather than putting resources into training and wasting time on partnership).
  7. There is a prevalence of commercial interests in educational institutions, which train workers in skills that are clearly not wanted and offer inadequate quality of training.
  8. Educational institutions find it difficult to process information and enquiries from employers. The absence of well-established contacts with the employment services is another part of the problem.
  9. People are not proactive themselves. They tend to wait for the government to take charge and solve problems.

Under current government arrangements, training and retraining of workers in all forms of education and training depends on the financial resources of the region, and the need for skilled workers is determined essentially at the regional level.

As a result, even by the late 1990s, some regions were not yet running training programmes. At the same time, a lot of private colleges were established in the cities. For a fee, students are able to obtain qualifications in professions such as the law, economics, banking, etc., which are already in excess supply in the labour market.

The main shortcoming of planning is the absence of national and regional forecasting, even for the short term, of the needs of the sectors of the economy for trained staff (skilled manual and non-manual employees). Such research is possible only with the active participation of all social partners and employers.

In the sphere of social-labour relations, the social partnership programme currently in place in Kazakhstan primarily covers remuneration and security of employment.

New Challenges for the VET System

However, vocational education and training of skilled workers according to the requirements of the labour market is one of major issues that needs to be discussed by the social partners at all levels. Not only educational institutions, but also employers, state agencies, parents and students have now come to realise this problem.

The legislative and institutional preconditions for the development of social partnership in the field of vocational education and training are now in place in Kazakhstan. However, social partnership in VET is still in its infancy. This can be explained by lack of experience among partners, poor communications and absence of trained management staff.

In countries in transition to the market economy, the general concept of education, and especially of vocational training, has changed. Mar ket relationships have forced education to follow market demands, which means that education and training should fit the requirements of industry and employers.

The factors associated with the labour market which directly influence the activity of vocational educational institutions are:

  • Changes in the pattern of employment

  • Changes in the job structure of the labour market

  • Stiff competition because of private educational institutions

  • The structure of the availability of trained workers in an open labour market, which acts as the basis on which student training is carried out

There is a gap between initial and continuing vocational training and the requirements of the labour market.

The standards that were developed more than 15 years ago have become outdated, and skill profiles do not meet the requirements of employers. As a result, graduates of vocational training institutions often become unemployed, even when they have studied those specialities and occupations which are supposed to be in demand in the labour market. Thus, vocational training is becoming part of a new system of social objectives and has the particular goal of producing new types of specialist who will be competitive in the labour market as soon as they finish training. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to reorganize the vocational education and training institutions. The directions of the reorganization are:

  • To rethink the activities of VET institutions according to the requirements of the labour market

  • To revive the social partnership system on an essentially new basis directed at cooperation between vocational education and training and the players in the labour market, i.e., employers’ associations, trade unions, employment offices etc.

  • To integrate VET into the system of labour market monitoring. This system identifies labour market needs, new occupations which will be required in the labour market in future, the capacity of the labour market, activity research, employers’ requirements for workers, skills and qualifications

  • To coordinate the efforts of VET institutions and social partners in order to develop and improve new and existing standards of training

The first step towards reorganization of labour resources is to involve the vocational education and training institutions in the process of labour market analysis. It is also important to introduce trainers to the new technologies for the analysis and forecasting of labour market needs.

The “Analysis of the Labour Market” Project: A Successful Attempt

The project of the European Training Fund on “Analysis of the labour market”, developed and carried out within the framework of the Training Improvement Programme (Part III) in Kazakhstan was one way of carrying out the above tasks.

For the research conducted in Kazakhstan, a specific methodology and tools (questionnaire, research technology) were used, drawing on experience in Switzerland and Saint Petersburg. The work of Kazakh researchers and practitioners was widely incorporated as well.

It should be noted that the monitoring of labour market needs by educational institutions should not be regarded as a whim of employers or the management of educational bodies.

It is vital that the vocational education and training system should remain one of the elements of social protection of the future generation. The youth of Kazakhstan entering the labour market have the right to, and should receive, training for an occupation and the knowledge and skills which will guarantee their proper place in the system of economic relations, a job and a level of wages that will allow them to lead a satisfactory human existence.

The pilot research project “Analysis of the labour market” in Kazakhstan was devoted to defining:

  • Employers’ quantitative and qualitative requirements for skilled workers to receive training in the national system of vocational education and training

  • Changes which were necessary in order to meet standards of training for skilled workers that satisfied the job requirements of employers

The aims of the pilot project were to gather ideas for improving training curricula and syllabuses in specific occupations:

  • To promote closer partnership between educational institutions and employers in response to employers’ requirements for specialist knowledge and practical skills

  • To develop the methodology of labour market analysis in order to implement constant monitoring in the future, taking into account employers’ demands in terms of occupations and skills

As an object of research we chose occupations which were in demand in the labour market, represented a continuously developing sector and had curricula which needed to be updated in the light of new technologies and more complex skills. The food sector was therefore selected, and more specifically the job titles “cook” and “confectioner”. In Almaty, training in these occupations is carried out at Vocational School No. 18, and in the city of Chimkent at Vocational Technical School No. 6.

One of the research methods was a survey, using a questionnaire distributed to employers in the economic sector selected. Overall, 95 employers were surveyed in the food services sector, 70 of them in Almaty and 25 in Chimkent.

The labour market research project had the following stages:

Stage 1 – June 1999 – preliminary selection of economic sector, questionnaire, research topics, selection of work group.

Stage 2 – July 1999 – pilot project mission of the EFO external advisers (Mr Lareh Anderson and Mr Sergey Ivanov), coordination of the sector selected, research topics, questionnaire, presentation of work group and educational institution; final selection of economic sector and research topics; organization of seminar by external advisers with participation by experts and representatives of the VET system.

Stage 3 – July 1999 – working out of technical project, questionnaire for employers, list of employers, printing of questionnaires; organization of instruction meeting with the work group about questionnaire methods, supply of questionnaires, diaries, letters to employers.

Stage 4 – August 1999 – questionnaire survey of employers, overall monitoring of survey, development of program for automatic questionnaire processing, collection of questionnaires, organization of data, coding, data input on computer; mission by the external advisers of the project.

Stage 5 – August/September 1999 – development of models for tables, algorithms for mathematical processing, machine processing of questionnaire, development of tables; preparation of recommendations to improve curricula and the report.

Stage 6 – September/October 1999 – completion and printing of report; development and implementation of final conference.

Initial Conclusions

Under the new labour market relations, the labour market and the vocational education and training market are closely interconnected. To function well there is a need for cooperation between vocational education and training institutions and employers in the field of research into labour market demand, so that curricula can be improved in response to employers’ labour requirements. The methods of labour market research may differ according to employers’ requirements for trained workers. In the report referred to above, the research was carried out through interviews with employers, using questionnaires. The methodology of research can be further improved.

According to a recommendation of the work group, the wish to include too many questions in the questionnaire complicated the employers’ survey. Despite this complexity, it was possible to achieve significant results.

Employers’ requirements for young trained workers were determined by assessment of the importance of industrial operations – the need for staff to possess the skills of cook and confectioner. This included evaluation of the significance of the spread of new techniques as new technologies develop.

Employers’ main functional and personal requirements of young trained workers were identified. It was also demonstrated that employers give preference to young workers with vocational training and appropriate work experience when recruiting cooks and confectioners.

The rate of remuneration for work, and the need for skilled workers in organizations participating in the survey, were identified.

Employers were found to have a positive attitude towards cooperation with vocational education and training institutions, and to be willing to participate in further market research in order to improve training curricula and syllabuses.

The research revealed the following current trend in social partnership in the sphere of vocational training: educational institutions are taking the initiative to contact and interact with employers.

Thanks to the project, educational institutions, in particular Vocational School No. 18 in Almaty, and Vocational Technical School No. 6 in Chimkent, established new contacts and strengthened existing contacts with social partners in the vocational education and training market.

The results of the research are already reflected in practical activity, in the form of changes to curricula and syllabuses.