Secure prospects in the Armenian countryside
21.03.2023 Professional prospects for young people in rural Armenia: that’s the goal of the multinational vocational training project MAVETA. Johannes Brunner and his team are participating in the large-scale project. He describes his experiences in an interview.
BFH-HAFL has been involved in developing dual vocational training programmes in Armenia for some time. How do things look these days?
That’s right. Between 2017 and 2020, we teamed up with HEKS/EPER to implement a dual vocational training initiative with two vocational schools and private companies in southern Armenia. But HAFL has been involved in the field of international cooperation with the Hugo P. Cecchini Institute for a very long time.
Armenia is shaped by its past. The genocide of the Armenian population before and during the First World War has left deep scars. In 1988, an earthquake destroyed the infrastructure and many buildings in the northern part of the country. Then came the fall of the Soviet Union and economic collapse. In 2020, 5,000 young people died in the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. As a result, people – especially those living in rural areas – want to leave. They’re looking for ways to make a living in the capital Yerevan or abroad.
What does this exodus mean for the people who stay behind?
There are too few skilled workers, especially young people who want to work as farmers, veterinary assistants or dairy technologists. At some point, basic care – like vaccinations, veterinary interventions or local milk processing – can no longer be ensured.
How do the BFH projects support local communities?
It’s very important to show people in tenuous circumstances the different ways their situation might be stabilised. There currently isn’t any way for young people in remote areas to build a secure professional future. The vocational training courses available in rural Armenia are outdated, and young people cannot find a job in today’s labour market with the degrees conferred there. With our dual vocational training programmes, we can offer them an alternative.
How exactly does this new educational path work?
Local private companies train young people on the job, with support from instructors from the vocational schools. This is an entirely new concept in Armenia because vocational training used to be provided without private companies. Hands-on experience like this really motivates the trainees. They’re far more interested because they can immediately apply what they’ve learned. It also motivates companies because they can customise lessons and units to target the skills they’re looking for. The instructors support young trainees in the workplace and reinforce the learning process through reflection exercises.
And this works?
Yes. Our preliminary project (2017–2020) demonstrated that young people are drawn to hands-on learning opportunities. Receiving one’s training in the private sector makes the training process itself more exciting. And even instructors became more skilled in their roles.
How did instructors benefit?
The dual approach means a reduction in teaching hours – and thus, wages – for instructors, so we show them ways to make up for these losses. They might work as trainers in higher vocational education, for instance, or as mentors in the company. By taking on the triple role of instructor, mentor in the company and trainer in higher vocational education, these individuals can expand their field of activity and become more skilled in contact with professional practice. And, of course, they gain a great deal of methodological and pedagogical expertise from our targeted professional development courses.
What does BFH gain from such projects?
Whatever BFH staff members and project teams learn on the ground flows straight back into our teaching. For example: as an instructor myself, I can share my own practical experience – which grows and changes with every new project I encounter – with students in international agriculture. In this way, we keep instruction relevant to the challenges students will have to face after graduation.
What challenges exist in a project like this?
Dual vocational training as we know it in Switzerland cannot simply be exported. We take it one step at a time and sometimes we have to adjust our training concepts owing to local conditions. It’s important to try new things, though, to find the best way to tap into the advantages of the approach. External factors like the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh or COVID have also complicated matters. And one shouldn’t underestimate the challenges presented by such aspects as culture, communication and language. Not only does the Armenian language use its own alphabet, but it also lacks certain technical terms, which means we must rely on complicated paraphrases.
Sometimes, we also have to resolve resistance among local implementation partners when we want to try something new. For instance, participatory methods that we might consider an exciting new approach, can be viewed as a threat in hierarchical societies. It’s just important to stay the course in situations like these.
What’s the motivation in tackling these challenges?
The locals are friendly and very grateful for the various interventions and trainings. We’re also learning a great deal about other perspectives and cultures and making new friends. Many things that we in Switzerland consider safe and self-evident are really put into perspective.
Johannes Brunner: research associate with focus on vocational and adult education, counselling and knowledge exchange, facilitation and mediation
Prof. Dr. Roland Stähli: Head of Teaching Programmes at the School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences
2017 infoHAFL article: article on the early days of the HAFL cooperation initiative in Armenia.
Major in International Agriculture: Agriculture studies with professional internship in a developing or newly industrialised country.
Federal Council press release: outlines involved stakeholders and the scale of ‘Modernising Vocational Education and Training in Agriculture in Armenia’, or MAVETA for short.