Azerbaijan suffers a shortage of qualified personnel in various fields, from services to production. The data shows that as few as one in ten school leavers continue their studies in vocational and technical schools (VET schools). Many labour market participants lack proper qualifications, which reduces their chances of employment and increases unemployment. This is why in recent years Azerbaijan has prioritised the modernisation of vocational education and the training of qualified personnel, as a key to growth. The European Union actively supports the effort, in particular through the project ‘Vocational Education and Training for the Future: Development of VET Providers’ Excellence in Azerbaijan’.
The project improves the quality of VET provision by increasing the chances of VET graduates for employment and by providing employers with qualified personnel who have the skills and competences that the market needs.
The “VET for the Future” project is funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the State Agency for Vocational Education. It covers eight VET schools, four of them in Baku, and four in the country’s regions: two in Ganja and two in Jalilabad and Sheki. Currently, the greatest demand is for professions such as tailor, cook, confectioner, accountant, programmer and web designer.
This year, one VET graduate who managed to find a good job shortly after graduation is 17-year-old Malahat Azizova. After successful training as a cook at VET school No.5 (Buzovna village near Baku), the young girl and other classmates were assigned for a work internship at one of the famous restaurants of Turkish cuisine, ‘Villa’, in Amburan Mall.
Having proved herself well in the kitchen, Malahat was hired as an assistant cook in the summer. Now, at the age of 17, she has an official workplace, decent earnings, and promising career prospects.
The girl was one of the participants of the Dual Education programme, which UNDP implements in the framework of the project to support the VET system in Azerbaijan. This programme allows VET students to simultaneously learn theory and acquire practical skills in a real work situation. It improves the quality of education and the graduates’ chances for employment.
I could never imagine there was such a variety of soups alone!
The girl says her parents advised her to choose cooking as her career, but she initially lacked the motivation. “Being a cook didn’t seem to me very serious, as anyone can cook something, one way or another. This is what I used to think back then,” Malahat recalls with a smile on her face.
“At home, we’ve always had it tasty, and since childhood I have engaged in the process. But spending two years to learn how to cook some food – back then, it seemed to me a strange idea,” says the girl.
But when she started her first classes at the school, where the classroom was divided into a kitchen and a study area with desks and chairs, Malahat discovered that cooking had many interesting nuances.
“At home, I mostly cooked simple dishes. I could make fried chicken with potatoes, some cutlets, or something from the traditional Azerbaijani cuisine, such as ‘Dushbara’ (dumplings stuffed with meat in lamb broth) or ‘Gutab’ (stuffed flatbread). On the other hand, the courses revealed to me the entire world of various culinary styles, methods, sophisticated sauces and techniques to achieve the wanted crust type, ideal softness and so on. I would never have thought there was such a variety of soups alone! That’s when I got an interest in the profession. I realised there was a lot to learn, and that there is always room for growth,” she says.
You should not be scared to make mistakes
Since Malahat’s aunt also works as a cook in a local restaurant, the girl had the opportunity to work part-time from the very beginning of her studies. She could have the first-hand experience of the operations of a real restaurant kitchen.
“I remember being assigned to prepare the ingredients for the salad – it was Caesar’s salad with shrimp. I started slicing but the cook immediately approached me and said that salad was not sliced that way. He showed to me the right way,” Malahat remembers.
“It felt very uncomfortable at first. I kept stressing out that I would be asked to cook something that I didn’t know how to do exactly, and I would be wrong, and the customer would be unhappy… But soon I realised that it’s not scary to make mistakes. Each mistake teaches you a lesson, you grow, you become a little more experienced every time,” she adds.
When Malahat was admitted for internship at the Villa restaurant, she continued her up-skilling, as the place had higher quality standards and skill requirements for its staff.
Here, she was introduced to various professional kitchen appliances; she learned how to flambé dishes, and how to cook intricate Turkish snacks. Her favourite dishes to cook are Mutabal, a Turkish dip of baked eggplants with walnuts, and cherry Kisir, made of fine bulgur with tomatoes, herbs, and cherry juice, adding an agreeable pinkish color and spicy taste to this appetiser.
Both dishes are extremely popular among customers, and every day Malahat makes an average of 40 servings.
There are things to learn and achieve
“The kitchen is always noisy, there is a certain chaos around. The sound of dishes, the hissing of food cooking, everyone is quickly doing something, the chief cook rushes everyone loudly so that orders are not delayed. The work is difficult and sometimes exhausting but I really like this drive, I feel like I belong here,” the girl says.
She describes her first official place of work: “The atmosphere here is highly motivating, the team is good, and quality standards are high. There are things to learn and achieve.”
Malahat shares this piece of advice to young people on the early stages of their careers: “Don’t waste your emotional resources to get the approval of others, be open to all things new, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and always believe in your own potential.”
The Dual Education programme, implemented within the project to support vocational education and training in Azerbaijan, helps not only students, but also VET providers. VET schools can have closer direct contacts with the private sector and can adapt their training in a more flexible manner in line with the market needs.
Currently, about 130 pupils of VET schools, both girls and boys, are involved in the Dual Education programme.
Anyone can enter the profession
“At this stage, the innovative platform is being finalised to allow students to assess their knowledge online and automatically receive their scores,” says UNDP project manager, Eltekin Omarov.
“In addition, a portal will soon be launched to support graduates in further employment and career paths. The platform allows a student registered in a certain course to get access to companies and organisations operating in this industry and officially partnering with the VET provider,” he adds.
The project also supports some types of production in the regions, such as a furniture-making workshop in Jalilabad, a repair workshop at the Innovation Centre in Ganja. By the end of the project, a grant call is planned to be launched. The author of the most successful business idea will receive the necessary equipment from the project to start his or her own business.
The system of vocational education and training offers a chance to acquire a practical profession within a short time that will also bring stable decent earnings. In addition, this area is attractive because it is accessible for virtually everyone, regardless of their age, gender, or academic background.
#SənDəPeşəyəGəl (#JoinVET) is the hashtag of the awareness campaign about the opportunities coming from VET. Search the hashtag on social media for useful information about available courses.
Author: Elena Ostapenko
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