High youth unemployment and inactivity in Kosovo have persisted for years, undermining young people’s ability to thrive and contribute to the country’s development. With the goal of bolstering youth employment in Kosovo, the World Bank convened a conference on May 28, 2019, with a broad range of stakeholders, including representatives of government agencies, civil society, the private sector, education institutions, development partners, as well as young people. The overall purpose of the meeting was to discuss recent research and initiatives that inform policy and practice and to honor winners of a student blog and video competition on the transition from education to employment.
Opportunity and Challenge
“One in four Kosovars is between the age of 15 and 29, this is the real capital for this country”, said Marco Mantovanelli, World Bank Country Manager for Kosovo, at the opening of the conference. “This is a positive factor but if not utilized it becomes a problem because young people begin to feel frustrated and consider alternatives like emigration rather than contributing to their own country”, he added.
Indeed, the transition from education to work is difficult for young Kosovars; 54% of 25-29 year olds are neither employed nor in education or training, and young women are most at risk. The underlying causes include limited job creation but also young people's lack of work experience and relevant skills for the job. Moreover, informal recruitment channels prevail in Kosovo, indicating the need for increased access to labor market information and intermediation services.
Aligning Education and Training with Labor Market Needs
Over 80% of Kosovo’s youth attend university but finding a good job upon graduation remains a major challenge. During the conference, the World Bank recognized winners of a student blog and video competition that focused on university students’ hopes and fears in their transitions from university to employment. One of the winners of the contest pointed out: “Dealing with the inevitable stress of getting your college degree, and at the same time dealing with the disappointment you will most probably face when you go out and search for a dream job has a way of bringing you down and make you unmotivated.” A majority of contest participants also expressed their frustration about the fact that connections rather than merit determine job prospects: “In our county in order to find a good job, one has either to be a genius or to have contacts, otherwise it is very difficult to find a job.”
Overall findings from the competition and from focus groups of university students confirmed that the higher education system often fails to provide the skills and work experience employers require. As another participant in the contest highlighted: “Unfortunately, practical classes in universities in Kosovo are minimal, and students learn predominantly from theoretic classes.” Improving career guidance and enhancing the practice-orientation of higher education are therefore critical.
Against this background, the World Bank presented preliminary findings from a review of international experience on increasing students’ practical orientation and work experience during their university studies. The results suggest multiple avenues toward pursuing this goal, including mentoring, guest speakers, employer site visits, career clubs, theses with firms, volunteering, and internships – some of which can be implemented with relative ease at the faculty or class-level.
The conference also featured a discussion with private sector representatives such as BPB Bank and Shell on existing demand-driven training initiatives outside the education system. Many firms have developed their own training programs to compensate for skill gaps among (potential) new employees. These programs are typically short (3-6 months) and focus heavily on on-the-job training. Firms would benefit from more incentives and support to train new entrants and from training partnerships with other companies, industry associations and third-party training providers to share costs. This will help alleviate the risk of investing in training and then losing individuals to other companies or to outward migration.
Strengthening Human Resource Development in Firms
If young people are to acquire more practical experience during their studies, it is crucial that firms, both big and small, provide high quality on-the-job training, such as through internships that offer authentic learning opportunities. Unfortunately, human resource management in Kosovo is underdeveloped in many firms and often regarded more as a requirement for compliance than as a key component of firm performance. According to conference participants, the lack of priority placed on human resource management often translates into poor recruitment, supervision and training of interns and young staff, which can result in negative experiences for youth and undermine their learning. Future efforts to improve youth employment outcomes will therefore need to strengthen firms’ ability to recruit, develop and retain young staff.
Improving Labor Market Information and Intermediation
The conference also explored ways to improve labor market information and intermediation services to facilitate transitions from education to employment. Participants, including representatives from KosovaJobs and PortalPune, Kosovo’s biggest online job portals, discussed the potential of such portals to provide information to job seekers in a more transparent way and produce insightful data in real time to inform policy. An analysis of job postings in online portals carried out by the World Bank showed how this vacancy data can provide valuable information on the number and types of jobs created by, for example, city, industry, and job characteristics. Moreover, analysis of job descriptions can yield key insights into the skills demanded by employers, thus having the potential to inform education and training curricula. Moving forward, it is recommended to conduct similar analysis with vacancy data from Kosovo’s Public Employment Agency to provide a more comprehensive picture of labor market dynamics in the country. Moreover, standardizing how job posting data is collected across the Employment Agency and private portals would allow for richer analysis of job creation and skill demand.
Finally, participants discussed priorities for moving Kosovo’s Public Employment Agency toward a more modern service agency. Mr. Muhamet Klinaku, director of the Employment Agency’s labor market department, highlighted the need for adequate resources to ensure a sufficient number of employment counselors and basic infrastructure. Participants also discussed the importance of ensuring high quality services to jobseekers and employers as a foundation for other reforms. To achieve this, participants pointed to the need for better tailoring of services to address jobseekers’ skill gaps, increased partnerships with specialized non-public providers, stronger quality assurance mechanisms through monitoring and evaluation, and the recruitment of young competent staff as older counselors retire.
Marco Mantovanelli, World Bank Country Manager for Kosovo, and Skender Reçica, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, highlighted the need for cultivating dialogue among all stakeholders, private and public, to identify feasible steps toward increasing the employment of Kosovo's youth. The World Bank will therefore continue to engage with the Government of Kosovo and all other stakeholders to address the barriers to young people’s employment in the country.