How to attract young people to choose agriculture over university
26 January, 2018
Young people are needed in Georgia’s agriculture but are leaving the rural areas for the city. By modernizing the Vocational Education system, an internationally funded programme makes efforts to attract Georgia’s youth to stay and work in the villages.

Lik
a Mamulaidze has taken a different path than her friends. Many young people from Arkhiloskalo, a village in the municipality of Dedoplistskaro in Eastern Georgia, left the place to go to Tbilisi to attend university. In contrast, Lika is studying at a Vocational Education College close to her village to become a veterinary nurse. “I have always loved animals”, the 16-year-old student says. “Now, I can turn my hobby into my profession.” Lika attends college two days a week. On the remaining days, she works at a farm as a veterinary assistant in order to gain work experience. She likes this way of education: „I can practice at the farm what they teach us in college. Both theory and practice are equally important in order to know what I am doing and why I am doing it.“

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Lika Mamulaidze, veterinary assistant: „I like everything about my profession. I love animals.“

Lika is one of 40 students who take part in a pilot project, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme. The selected students work on a farm while studying at a Vocational Education College, a system that has been successfully practised in Switzerland. Two thirds of the Swiss youth choose this more practice-oriented learning education which is seen by many as one of the key reasons for Switzerland’s very low unemployment rate.

“The aim of the work-based learning concept is to link work and education more closely”, Nino Edilashvili says. The National Programme Officer at the SDC is certain that both students and employers can benefit from this approach: “The students will have better chances of actually finding a job after graduation and the farmers will have more qualified workers in the end.”

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Lika Mamulaidze and Giorgi Amiridze are an exception among their friends in choosing Vocational Education over the university.

Introducing the work-based learning model is one important part of the SDC’s efforts to modernize Georgia’s Vocational Education system and make it more attractive to young people. Traditionally, Vocational Education used to have a bad reputation in Georgia. Even in 2015, a Government report found that less than 2 percent of the 15-19-year-old age group is participating in Vocational Education. Most of the young people in Georgia choose to attend university but have difficulties finding a job afterwards. According to the Government analysis, workers with tertiary education make up 40 percent of the unemployed in Georgia. Simultaneously, there is a need for qualified workers in the villages, especially in agriculture. The Global Competitiveness Index named the lack of adequately educated workforce the second largest problem for doing business in Georgia.

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Giorgi Amiridze, veterinary: “Young people are sometimes ashamed to work in agriculture. They prefer to live in a big city than to live in the village, work harder and have more profit.“

“Traditionally, higher education was a prestigious thing to do", says Nino Edilashvili. "During the Soviet Union, a university degree was the benchmark of your success. The universities were open to everyone with employment practically guaranteed after graduation. Only now, people start to understand that they receive these degrees, but can’t find jobs afterward. We need to convince people that Vocational Education brings more income.”

The Georgian government has recognized this discrepancy and is working on a new strategy to improve the functioning of the labor market in general, and to facilitate job creation and skills development for the Georgian population. Special attention is paid to the Vocational Education and Training. These efforts are assisted by the SDC. As a part of the government’s strategy, a new law will be discussed in parliament this spring. The new legislation would reshape the Vocational Education system and make it more attractive to young people.

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The SDC is working with 7 Vocational Education Colleges like this agricultural school in Senaki. (Photograph: SDC)

In addition, the SDC is working with seven public Vocational Education Colleges and their teachers, aiming to improve the quality of the modules, the equipment, the teaching methods. All of these colleges offer classes in agriculture which is the main focus of the SDC’s programme.

“Agriculture is the main source of income for the rural population and, therefore, plays an important role in the economic and social development of Georgia”, says Nino Edilashvili. “We are trying to raise awareness and showcase that working in agriculture can be profitable and successful. Furthermore, through introducing the work-based learning concept, we are trying to get the private sector on board. We encourage the colleges to work hand-in-hand with the farms.”

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Nino Edilashvili, SDC: “Agriculture plays an important role in the economic and social development of Georgia.”

Convincing farmers to take part in the work-based learning model by employing students is the most difficult part of the SDC’s programme. “This approach is new to the farmers. It takes time to convince them that they will benefit from it in the end”, Nino Edilashvili explains. While the Vocational Education project is running, the 20 farms and agricultural cooperatives that take part in it have no expenses. The SDC pays Lika and the other students a salary and accounts for their travel and food expenses. The future challenge will be to bring the farmers to continue the work-based learning model after the project ends. “The problem is that, even if farmers see the advantages of this model and are willing to pay, they often cannot afford it”, Nino Edilashvili says. “Farmers need to become more financially independent.”

The SDC has been working on this programme since 2013. The first phase of the programme will cost approximately 6,5 million dollars and will end in 2018. Currently, the SDC is evaluating the results of the first phase, while already elaborating a second phase to intensify efforts and involve more students and farms in the work-based learning model. “For us, this is a long-term project”, says Nino Edilashvili. “Change happens slowly. The success of this project depends on a lot of factors and to a large extent on the normative environment and the political will.”

Meanwhile, Lika will graduate from college in 2019. However, she is already planning far ahead: “I want to have my own little farm and then expand it. That way, I will always have a job and my own income.“

Author: Simone Herrmann

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