Vocational training to counter skills shortage in Bulgaria

Article, 04.11.2019

In September 2019, a Bulgarian delegation visited various companies, vocational schools and training centres in Switzerland. The Swiss model has inspired Bulgaria's reform of its vocational education and training (VET) into a dual system, to which Switzerland contributed financial support and expertise. The new system includes more practical work and the active participation of companies in the traineeships.

Pupils working in a vocational school workshop
Pupils at the Henry Ford vocational school in Sofia © SDC

Tanya Mihaylova does not need any prompting. For her, the most impressive aspect of the Swiss VET system is its excellent reputation – which means that it steadily attracts around two-thirds of Switzerland's school graduates. Now she understands why Bulgaria's deputy education minister believes that VET is the best social insurance for young people in their country. And she recognises that well-qualified specialists have a key role to play in a company. Things are different in Bulgaria. VET has anything but a good reputation and is considered to be the second best option after university in career terms. This means that it is unpopular even though the country has a shortage of qualified workers.

That is why the Bulgarian VET system is being overhauled. In 2018, the government adopted a legislative package that sets out the key parameters for work-based learning. One of these is the active participation of the private sector, so that apprentices acquire skills that are needed by businesses and the market. Until now, Bulgaria's VET curriculum was purely classroom-based with no practical emphasis or on-the-job training.  The new dual system is largely inspired by the Swiss VET model. The reforms have been financed by both countries under Switzerland's contribution to the enlarged EU. The Swiss model is also the reason for the Bulgarian delegation's visit to Switzerland. Led by the deputy minister and comprising representatives of Bulgarian industry associations and vocational schools, the delegation visited a number of Swiss companies, VET schools and industry associations based in Switzerland. 

Tanya Mihaylova is optimistic. She can already see the reforms bearing fruit. 76% of those completing the revised curricula have found jobs and the remaining 24% have decided to complete a higher education qualification in addition. More than 170 companies (80% foreign) are actively involved in developing the new curricula and are even investing in teacher training and school workshops.

Bulgaria is hard hit by emigration and is in urgent need of qualified, market-oriented skilled workers that can provide an attractive workforce for companies based in Bulgaria. In this way, the Swiss VET model offers better future prospects for everyone involved – young people, the state and the business community in Bulgaria.