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In Kyrgyzstan, employment and training programmes help stem a rural exodus

Providing decent employment in agriculture for young people is an immense challenge but mass migration from rural to urban areas has led to poverty in and around cities. Appropriate employment and training programmes can help regulate the rate of rural out-migration and ease pressure on urban centers, says a new ILO report on rural employment and poverty reduction issued at this year’s International Labour Conference in Geneva. ILO Online reports from Kyrgyzstan.

Article | 16 June 2008

KYZYL KYA, Kyrgyzstan (ILO Online) – Villages around this town in southern Kyrgyzstan look somewhat strange. After a while, the reason becomes obvious – there are hardly any young people, only grandparents and grandchildren.

“Our children are all working in Russia or Kazakhstan, earning money for the families, and we look after the grandchildren”, says Urpasha Tashpakova whose three children have gone to work in Moscow.

Seventeen year old Gounash is one of a few young people still living in her home village, but she plans to leave soon too. “There is no real job here”, she says. ”You will never earn enough to feed the family.”

Kyzyl Kya is typical of rural areas in today’s Kyrgyzstan. Rural youth account for 62 per cent of the total young population aged 15-29, but they find accessing education and training more difficult than in urban areas. For girls and young women the situation is even more difficult.

While the quality of rural education has deteriorated, widespread poverty prevents parents from affording children adequate education and training for their children. Another serious problem is the lack of information on labour market opportunities and demand.

According to the ILO survey, in deciding on future employment the majority of young people in Kyrgyzstan (60 per cent) are guided by their parents and 30 per cent rely on their friends and neighbours. At her local school Gounash hasn’t received any professional orientation or training. She has never been to the employment service because she doesn’t know it exists. For her, like for many others, labour migration seems to the only way out.

But Walter Verhoeve, chief technical adviser of the ILO’s Dutch-funded Boosting Youth Employment project in Kyrgyzstan, believes labour migration should not be the only employment option.

“We all know that migration has its positive aspects but also negative aspects, which are often underestimated”, he says. “Conditions must be created so that an adequately skilled and entrepreneurial generation of young people can choose to stay and work in their home villages, providing decent income for themselves and their families.”

“Among our students 60 per cent are from the rural areas, and some 90 per cent of the graduates will most likely leave the country to work abroad”, says Mamaturay Issakov, vocational school director in Kyzyl Kya. “But I would strongly disagree with the opinion that there are no job opportunities in the national agricultural sector. The problem is that our vocational training system is outdated and the training takes too long. We need shorter courses that are well oriented to the actual demand on the local labour market.”

Kyzyl Kya has been selected as a pilot region for the Boosting Youth Employment project, and it is going to see positive developments in vocational training entrepreneurship training and employment in the near future. In addition to the development of youth employment policies and strategies, the project provides for the introduction of the very practical tools, like the ILO’s competency based modular skills training (MST) programme that helps match demand and supply of adequately skilled workers on the labour market. Twenty six MST packages, including the ones on agricultural professions, have already been made available to the project partners, and teachers at selected vocational schools are being trained in the MST technology. New relevant packages are developed based on the results of labour market studies carried out in Kyzyl Kya.

“A traditional vocational training course in Kyrgyzstan lasts for 2-3 years. It starts with studying theory in a classroom and has practical exercises only in the end. The MST technology is different – in a short period of time a person acquires practical skills that allow him or her to get a job or to become self-employed on the labour market. That is why the MST is so much appreciated by the students”, says Masuma Bashorova, local MST expert.

The ILO report to the 97th session of the International Labour Conference on Promotion of rural employment for poverty reduction stresses the need to “encourage entrepreneurship, especially among women and young people, through training programmes such as Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB)”. In Kyzyl Kya the SIYB programme for existing and aspiring small business operators is already under way. It is supplemented by various career guidance tools and by the “Know about Business” (KAB) programme for specialized secondary and vocational training schools, which is aimed at positively influencing the students’ attitude towards entrepreneurship.

“A key factor to reduce rural poverty is the quality and accessibility of training and learning opportunities for rural people, as well as the relevance of the training to labour market needs, says Michael Henriques, Director of the ILO’s Job Creation and Enterprise Development Department. “In this respect entrepreneurship training and linking businesses with local and wider markets is of central importance. Our youth employment project in Kyzyl Kya has successfully addressed these issues. Methodologies and approaches developed and tested in Kyzyl Kya are expected to be replicated throughout Kyrgyzstan and beyond.”

With new employment opportunities being created, young rural people like Gounash get a chance to be well trained and informed by the time they take a decision on their future employment – be it wage employment or starting their own business, working abroad or in their home country.