The Olympics of Skills, the revival of crafts through vocational education

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s speech at the opening of the second edition of the National Vocational Education Fair, “The Olympics of Skills”:


It is very interesting that so many representatives of the community of international friends and partners of Albania gather either for political crisis or for vocational education. It is even more interesting that although today many think differently than me, that there is in Albania a political crisis, I have not seen so far as many people gathered for the political crisis, as those gathered here today for Vocational Education. I believe very much that the worst crisis in the entire range of crises we have inherited is the youth unemployment crisis, and the most important address of the entire spectrum of our new policies is precisely addressing this crisis.

It is a systemic crisis that has deepened in a quarter of century and has deprived Albania of its ability to have a wide range of jobs. Just a few years ago, the German Chamber of Commerce described at best the dramatic consequence of this 20-year crisis in a report where it was stated: “Albania lacks skilled workers in the textile and food industry, in construction, in the maintenance of industrial machinery, in the electromechanical industry.” To this I would add, Albania lacks welders, electricians, cooks, tour guides, geologists, miners, elevator specialists, tailors, having I a big issue with tailoring due to the size my parents have determined for me.

This list includes many other crafts, and it shows a very simple thing. Albania, a country that has fantastic natural resources and a population that in 25 years of transition has shown that individually it has the ability to survive any kind of challenge – just think of the challenges faced by the Albanians across the sea – has actually lost the ability to address these potentials. To sum up, three and a half years ago Albania lacked skilled workers in any potential trade. But today Albania has eightfold more lawyers than Germany, and we cannot say that our judicial system can be comparable to that of Germany. Quite the opposite.

Another important indicator is that three and a half years ago, less than half the companies operating in Albania knew that there was vocational education in Albania, and the vast majority of companies said that for every particular skill they would train abroad people who had received no qualification.

Today, for example, we have a chain of flagrant cases inherited from the past in the most strategic sectors of a sustainable development in Albania. We have always known, we didn’t learn it today that Albania is rich in natural resources, oil and minerals. There are today in Albania foreign companies operating in this area, and these companies have been forced to set up training systems due to the lack of qualified people. We have known since ever that Albania has an extraordinary tourist potential and, in fact, the main problem encountered still to this day by tour operators is the lack of skilled workers. We have always known that Albania has a great potential to develop agronomic and agro-processing in an intelligent way, but in the past 20-something years Albania failed to generate a new category of qualified people in these areas, and hadn’t we had the people who have been qualified during the old regime period, today there would have not been any qualified people in the Albanian village.

The company that administers the entire project of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline has opened special schools to train employees before the real work begins. There are courses for welders, piping technicians, and courses for geologists.

We are very happy for this because it has been our great encouragement to get these companies to help us in this dramatic transition from an Albania without skilled workers to a country with highly qualified workers. However, what is worth saying today is that most foreign companies seeking special professions don’t have the luxury to do the job of the government, so they would rather go to other countries in the region although Albania is their first choice.

In a survey we did with foreign companies in Albania at the beginning of our term and before undertaking a thorough reform of Vocational Education, the answer to the question of what hinders the increase of the capital invested by them in Albania, was not “taxes “, but “a corrupt justice system and the lack of skilled labour force”.

The policies pursued not only did not bring about the renewal of a qualified workforce – hadn’t we done the reform, many of the youngsters you see here would have been now filling in the betting sheets for Champions League semi-finals – but they deformed dramatically the labour market, by oversaturating it with certain occupations, but leaving it completely hungry for many other professions. Today we have an army of lawyers who are unemployed.

Meanwhile, every building from here to Zogu i Zi has vacancies. There are buildings that have up to 50 vacancies, but they cannot fill them with lawyers. In a 2012 European Union report on crafts in Albania there is a paragraph that expresses the surprise that the number of graduates was higher than ever before, and the employment rate in the country had dropped by over 2%. This explains what we are saying and why all these friends and partners of Albania are here, and why this inherited crisis is the main crisis we need to solve in order to have the Albania we want in the next decade.

According to the report, the number of young people who opted for vocational education in 2012 was 38%. It was lower than the number of those who opted for vocational education in 2007, and the overwhelming majority of students attending vocational education had failed the high school exams, and therefore they had taken the path of vocational education just to pass the time. In 2012, only 2844 young people across Albania received the vocational school diploma. They were 50% less than in 2011. Almost none of them was hired because they were not professional schools, but a source of comfort for students who had failed. A temporary consolation, with the illusion that life will bring better days.

Our reform, which began with the transfer of vocational education from a pocket it was in the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Welfare and Youth, marked the start of a completely new phase. What shows us today that we are doing the right thing, not that we are where we should be, is that in 2016 26 thousand young people enrolled in a vocational school, but most important is that year after year, those enrolling in vocational schools do it no longer because they have no other option, but they are prepared students who prefer being qualified in a determined skills instead of attending university.

This great national fair here, this Olympics of skills is a closing event of a chain of regional activities held in various areas of the country to promote professions. But if there is one area where every good word we say about the European Union and our friends is 100% true, it is the field of vocational education.

Actually, I am grateful to everyone here, starting from someone here who represents Switzerland, a country that is not in the European Union but which has played an absolutely fundamental role in overthrowing a completely bankrupt system, and in the building of a new system. And then, all the others.

The most important thing is that even if all of these friends and partners, Germany, Austria, Italy, the European Union as a whole, the United Nations, were engaged equally, it would not be possible for us to achieve, and we could imagine what we want to achieve without the direct involvement of the Albanian entrepreneurship. Switching from a system where vocational education was an inexperienced theory, as our school did not even have any kind of lab, – actually students of electrical schools were taught electric connections by going to the neighbourhoods that had illegal connections, and were shown how the power is generated, where the wire goes, and how energy goes from the pole to the TV, – in a system where half of the time is spent in the school and during the other half students work in a company. This is the best moral investment because so far, to say the truth, Albanian companies have not made any financial investment and have not asked for it to support this system.

The phase we want to enter is made possible because we have set the foundations. On the one hand, all this fantastic partnership and all those people who spoke here, whom I thank very sincerely, and on the other hand, the continued increase of government funds for vocational education. In just one year, we have increased the budget of vocational education by 30%, but it is relative. This phase requires a more active participation of the companies, to start funding not the state, but to fund all those who hire, during the specified time of the week to go to work. The students who go to the company during the week should not only have knowledge, but make also money. This is the essence.

We have here representatives of tourism. Until today we could not tell them take the students and pay them because you pay 20% tax. From here on, they pay 6% tax. As we speak, the Parliament is discussing this, and it will pass. Which means that the opportunity to increase this partnership, not only by winking to one another but also by joining our pockets, is huge.

In addition, the whole legal framework is new. Thanks to the support of Germany and of the German Chamber of Commerce, we have a law on craftsmanship which is entirely based on European standards, and which supports the development of handicrafts, of crafts, by supporting companies. We also have the law on unemployed jobseekers. We have the law on social enterprises. We have an action plan on social reintegration of financial allowances beneficiaries. We cannot continue to provide economic aid to people who have their arms, legs, mind and heart functioning properly. Of course, we will provide them financial allowance as long as they are offered a proper job opportunity, but it should be a professional training opportunity. What Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other countries do, and they have been doing this since they began to build what is their present day and what is our future, is the ongoing training. They train also men and women in their 50s so that they can still be active in the labour market.

The Albanian Qualifications Framework does also have the mechanism to accredit quality. This enables young people with a qualitative accreditation recognized by other countries, to work there as well. It is a mechanism that makes graduates in vocational education in Albania ready for the European labour market.

Unlike other countries, we do not have refugees. We have people who go abroad and look for a job. They are not refugees. But what makes them refugees is that they do not have access to the European labour market, like Bulgarians, Romanians, etc. If we counted the Romanians, Bulgarians, Poles who leave each year their countries to work in Germany and Austria, then the number of refugees would be extremely high, but they are not refugees. Germany first, and then other countries have made it very clear that entering Germany illegally is unacceptable, and they are right. Whereas, people who own a recognized certificate of skills are welcomed. Tomorrow, when Albania becomes part of the European labour market, this will be required to everybody because, they will be able to move freely, but they won’t be able to find a job unless they know what job to do.

I want to conclude with what is supposed to be today the closing remarks of every speech in Albania, and what was rightfully mentioned also by the European Commission representative, the Vetting and Justice Reform. We can have a vocational education, we can do many other things, but if we fail to make a justice system that is reliable, we cannot grow the volume of foreign investment in Albania as much as we need. It’s very simple because foreign investors have one thousand and one reasons to see Albania as a great opportunity, in areas enriched by God or Nature, but they have a reason to be afraid of investing in Albania because there is Gjon, Hysen or Tom who tells them: stop, this is my place and the judge will invalidate everything you do.

A concrete, flagrant example of recent times is how a strategic investment in tourism failed. It was supposed to be made in a public land on the coast owned by the army, which along with some other properties was made available for tourism. We worked on this project for two years, and 1200 people were envisaged to be employed. When we had the contract ready to be signed, a certain Tom Hasan Gjini showed us a court decision according to which the land was not state property any more.

Why so? Because some of those who claim the land asked the court 49.8 hectares, but Tom Hasan Gjini gave them 498 hectares. He removed the [.], so 500 hectares were gone along with the investment.

Which judge in Germany, where there are 8 times less lawyers than in Albania, would have done this? Which investor would not be afraid after listening to such story?

There are endless stories like this one. How can we expect, at the end of the day, to go where we want to go if Tom Hasan Gjini is not punished and continues to be a judge? Who will punish him? He will be punished by the Vetting law, which is essential for everything else. How can we get rid of these judges and prosecutors, who are not all the same, without the Vetting? Albania has judges and prosecutors who are ready to face the challenge of a fair justice, but one bad apple spoils the barrel. Therefore, everything is connected to the Vetting, everything is connected to the Justice Reform, and we are very much determined to unblock the Vetting as soon as possible.

The Vetting will be unblocked, and the Albania we want, with a state, jobs and welfare is a complex program for a national vision, which is not my invention, but is a recommendation of our Renaissance fathers, and it is possible. It is possible, as everything that is happening shows us, and as evidenced by the fact that today we have begun the process for six Vocational Education schools of Excellence that have been twinned with Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, and those who will attend these schools, will have the same standards, conditions and curricula of the schools in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, etc. It’s a 30-million-euro investment of the Albanian government within the $ 1 billion for reconstruction program, which will give us much more than we have today. But without the Vetting and without establishing justice, these school will only train more skilled workers who will go abroad, as it will be very difficult for us to have as many increased foreign investments as Albania needs.

Many thanks!