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Timor-Leste: Setting the STAGE for a brighter future

Despite a significant boost in national income last year from oil revenues, Timor-Leste is amongst the world’s poorest nations. While unemployment in rural areas is at least 20 per cent, it reaches 43 per cent among urban youth. ILO Online reports from Timor-Leste where the ILO’s STAGE programme supports an enabling business environment that will be critical in the years ahead to create decent and gainful employment and reduce income poverty.

Article | 13 July 2007

MALIANA, Timor-Leste (ILO Online) – Following the death of her husband in the clashes that erupted after the 1999 referendum for independence, Terezinha tried to eke out a living from selling vegetables along the road. It was a demanding job that neither allowed her to dedicate enough time to her three daughters nor to pay the school fees for them.

Terezinha decided to ask for the assistance of the local District Employment Centre of the Ministry of Labour and Community Reinsertion, which referred her to a Business Development Centre, where she participated in a two-week training, called Start Your Business (SYB). During the training, Terezinha developed a good business idea and learned how to turn it into a microenterprise.

“The training made me change my mindset about business”, she explains. “I have also learned a lot of very useful things that I apply every day in my new business, such as how to determine cost and prices of the products, how to do a good planning, how to keep family expenses separate from the business ones and how to deal with my suppliers.”

Today, Terezinha is a very dynamic businesswoman. After the training, she managed to obtain a credit from a microfinance institution and opened a shop selling kitchen equipment. The shop – now one of the largest of its kind in Maliana town – allowed her to repay the loan, to sustain her family and even to save enough money. She is even going to open another business in town.

Terezinha is just an example of the successful support that the ILO’s STAGE (Skills Training for Gainful Employment) Programme is providing to the Ministry of Labour and Community Reinsertion and to local training providers in order to empower Timorese rural communities.

Since the start of the programme in October 2004, around 8,200 people looking for a decent employment have been registered in the District Employment Centres of Dili, Baucau, Bobonaro, and Oecusse, with a female participation rate of 40.2 per cent. 1,171 registered unemployed participated in enterprise training courses organised by the Programme and more than 3,000 beneficiaries found a job or created their own income generating activity with STAGE support.

During the same period, STAGE made further concrete moves in the skills training area. A first National Vocational Training Meeting, involving all Skills Training Providers active in Timor-Leste, was organized to promote the introduction of the “Partnership in Training” concept (between Training Centres and Employers) as a fundamental step for the development of a labour market driven vocational training system. The meeting resulted in the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Ministry of Labour and Community Reinsertion and twelve participating Training Centres that will receive financial and technical support from the Ministry.

STAGE also successfully completed the bulk of its initial work plan for the strengthening of the Division of Employment and Skills Development of the Ministry of Labour and Community Reinsertion, by focusing on the improvement of the managerial and technical skills and of its staff. In the meantime, the Division has reached a remarkable operational capacity in terms of provision of labour market services, including job counselling and job mediation, organization, monitoring, and supervision of training and employment programmes.

According to Jose Assalino, the STAGE Chief Technical Adviser, 2006-2007 was a very challenging period for Timor-Leste and, consequently, for the STAGE Programme. After the April 2006 crisis, the timid attempt to regain patterns of normality was brutally interrupted again in early 2007 by the resume of violence in the streets of Dili.

“Despite the crisis, Timor-Leste believes in its capacity to turn the gloomy present into a bright future and the STAGE Programme continues to represent an important positive contribution in this direction”, he says.

Timor-Leste is not the only client for skills training in the region. Many countries in Asia and the Pacific are finding it increasingly difficult to respond to the skills needs of their workforce in a time of increasing globalization, new technology and changing patterns of work. It is hard for these countries to get access to the latest information on innovative training policies, practices and system reform, and to make the necessary changes.

“At the same time there are other more advanced economies in the region which have developed new approaches to skills development to respond to the emerging challenges for skills development. There are, however, few means or networks available to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, products and services”, says Trevor Riordan, Manager of the ILO’s new Regional Skills and Employability Programme (SKILLS-AP).

It is for these reasons that the ILO/SKILLS-AP has developed its Regional Skills Network to provide more effective services to ILO member States on skills issues and to provide opportunities for countries in the region to share knowledge, expertise and good practice.