With fewer than 12,000 Romanian students having graduated from a school providing professional training in the 2015-2016 academic year, foreign companies are looking to intensify their efforts to promote the vocational education system in the country.
The German, French and Austrian business communities in Romania have been struggling in the past few years to make the vocational training system more appealing to youngsters, but they have had to deal with the bad perception that professional education has had in the country since the fall of communism.
Companies sound warnings of shortage of skilled workers
“The challenge is the perception held by most parents and teachers, who believe that the only solution for their children is a theoretical high school or university and that practical skills are not necessary. In fact professional schools are ideal for young people who are practically oriented, not just for children with poorer marks or limited skills. Young people have the chance to gain a good job, to develop their career and also to continue their studies in parallel with the job if desired,” Gerd Bommer, commercial counsellor at the Commercial Section of the Austrian Embassy in Bucharest, told BR.
Adriana Record, executive director of the French Chamber of Commerce in Romania, added that a massive effort is underway to upgrade the school curriculum and this also needs a lot of input from the Ministry of Education.
“We would like to get involved in the identification of areas of competence based on clusters of jobs, around companies that can offer high-level specializations and can contribute to the revaluing of these areas of education,” Record told BR.
She said that France has implemented this system in the past few decades and over 40 percent of students now attend a professional school.
In 2012, Romania upgraded its legal framework so that the professional education system adopted some of the main features of the dual education system currently in place in Germany, according to Anca Hociota, manager of membership and vocational training at the Romanian-German Trade and Industry Chamber (AHK Romania). She added that German companies had been warning for a few years that it has been getting very hard for them to find skilled workers on the local market.
Essentially, the dual education system means that a teenager attends school while also getting the chance to get hands-on experience in manufacturing units. Students enrolled in this system get a small sum of money each month and can secure a job after graduation.
Pundits say this could be one of the avenues to decrease youth unemployment, which has been hovering at over 20 percent in recent years.
Number of students enrolled in Romania’s professional education system
11,600 – number of graduates of the professional education system in the academic year 2015-2016
Source: National Statistics Institute (INS)
Youth unemployment rate in Romania/EU average
2012 22.6% / 23.3%
2013 23.7% / 23.7%
2014 24% / 22.2%
‘Lack of stability’ among the issues hampering vocational education
The AHK Romania representative says that the professional education system has been on a positive track and more pupils and companies are becoming interested in it, although the pace of development could be improved. She suggested that the lack of stability of the whole system puts brakes on the progress of this initiative.
“In the past few years we have had many changes at the helm of ministries and the lack of continuity has been felt. There were good intentions, but the measures that needed to be taken did not necessarily reflect what the previous official had in mind. So, we felt some sort of a reduction in the development of professional education and we think it could have been better,” said Hociota.
Bommer of the Austrian Embassy added that red tape dents efforts to improve the image of dual education and all existing schools are working to attract a declining number of students.
Experience of companies with trainees, mainly in the technical field
Partnerships between private companies and public schools for professional education have been promoted mainly in the Tranyslvania region, including Satu Mare and Sibiu cities. In this region, there is a strong manufacturing base, primarily in the automotive segment, and more recently in the aerospace industry. According to Hociota of AHK Romania, the experience of companies with students enrolled in professional education has been largely in the technical field.
But the dual education initiative can also be applied in the retail industry. For instance, the Commercial Section of the Austrian Embassy along with several Austrian companies is already successfully collaborating with the Costin C. Kiriţescu Economic College in Bucharest on a pilot project for dual education in the field of retail merchants called o’SCAR and with Aurel Vlaicu Technological High School in Cluj-Napoca in the field of welding/metal working on an initiative named STAR-T.
Several companies are involved in the o’SCAR program, including retailers Billa and Hervis and telecom operator Telekom Romania.
Edit Szilágyi, specialist for training and organization development at Telekom Romania, says the implementation of the dual education program remains difficult also because the general interest is to promote the available educational offer in high school classes rather than in professional schools.
She added that proper educational counselling given before a pupil enters high school could encourage more teenagers to choose this vocational training path.
“Also, those high schools where the pass rate of the Baccalaureate exam is low (below 40 percent) could be calibrated to professional schools, ensuring training programs in dual education for jobs needed by the business environment,” said Szilágyi.
Asked about Telekom Romania’s experience in the o’SCAR program since 2015, she said, “Students enrolled in this education system are more open-minded and develop their problem-solving skills through practical sessions. Through this process, they have a mentor in the organization who ensures the knowledge transfer, and this also means that the learning content of the program is aligned to the real needs of the job market,” said the specialist.
The next phase of enrolment in professional school starts on September 1 and will be open until beginning of the school year, so the teenagers up to 18 years can apply for a dual training.
What positions are in high demand right now?
The demand for skilled workers in so great in the country right now that companies are hunting future specialists right out of schools, according to Ciprian Daraban, national operations manager at Adecco Romania, the recruitment consultancy. He added that painters, welders and electricians are sought after by firms all around the country.
Some companies are even trying to relocate personnel from the east of Romania, which has a less developed industrial sector, to the west of the country, added Raluca Penes, HR coordinator at Smartree, the recruitment consultancy.
Although it would be too much to conclude that Romania is seeing the rebirth of the professional education system, recruiters say it is obvious that demand for skilled workers has grown exponentially in the last few years.
Record of CCIFER said that professional schools under public-private partnerships have been created in large industrial basins in cities such as Timisoara and Pitesti.
She added that although companies are working to train agricultural technicians and electricians, the role of the public education system cannot be ignored on the long run.