The European Year of Skills, 2023, opened the door to new opportunities for hundreds of young people from the countries of the Western Balkans who participated in projects supported by the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2). Committed to acquiring new skills, young people recognized that their development is a key factor in building a better future for communities and the entire region.
Strengthening the entrepreneurial and digital skills of young people, improving their participation in democratic processes, psychological and career counseling of young people, support for the development of business ideas, promotion of craft skills, and numerous useful education and training are only part of the activities in which young people participated through ReLOaD2.
Young people from all parts of the Western Balkans were given the opportunity to improve their abilities and competences in order to more easily find their place in the labor market. That’s how ReLOaD2 reached the small municipality of Štrpce in the south of Kosovo*, where young people were given a rare opportunity to work on themselves.
“The municipality of Štrpce is a rural place where young people do not have the opportunity to learn new skills, but they are very interested in participating in various workshops, educations and trainings. ReLOaD2 helped them discover a completely new world,” said 26-year-old Milena Lazarevic from Štrpce Municipality.
Together with her peers, Lazarevic participated in several trainings and workshops supported by the program, through which they acquired project management and fundraising skills.
“When young people are given the opportunity, they are willing to work on themselves. Participation in this program helped many to acquire new knowledge that will be useful in their future work and professional development”, said Lazarevic.
Her compatriot, Arlinda Gashi from the Kosovar city of Skendraj, adds that participating in education within ReLOaD2 was a completely new and positive experience for her.
“I studied continuously and participated in workshops until I received a grant for the development of my business idea. With the support I had, everything is possible”, said Gashi.
She adds that projects like this one are extremely necessary in her community in order to continuously animate young people for personal and collective development.
In Serbia, young people also actively worked on themselves and promoted the European Year of Skills through participation in ReLOaD2. Among them is 19-year-old Minja Milovac from Novi Sad, who was one of the participants in the SCRUM master and soft skills training. She decided to attend this informal education in order to prepare for the study of economics.
“It was important for me to acquire new knowledge and skills, expand my horizons, make new acquaintances and raise my self-confidence. Thanks to this regional program, I achieved that,” said Milovac.
Young people from Novi Sad have shown great interest in learning and improving in various fields, from digital skills to entrepreneurship and creativity development. Milovac says that such opportunities should be provided to young people in all environments and spheres of their interest.
“It is very important for students that, in addition to the faculty, they have the opportunity to strengthen their knowledge in the specific areas they are studying so that they will be better positioned on the labor market after their studies,” Milovac added.
Young people from Bosnia and Herzegovina who participated in ReLOaD2 also showed great interest in realizing their professional ambitions. Among the numerous projects for young people, they showed the greatest engagement in digital skills training.
New knowledge and skills in graphic design have opened completely new professional opportunities for 26-year-old Jelena Rundić from East Sarajevo, who does graphic design work part-time. Rundić says that for her every new day is an opportunity to learn and spread knowledge.
“During the training, I learned a lot of new ways to implement projects and gained practical knowledge. This was an excellent opportunity to upgrade myself, primarily because it is interesting to see how others solve problems, think and create visuals, and then because I myself opened up some new possibilities and faster, simpler and more efficient solutions through practice and application of what I learned,” said Rundić.
She adds that education and training are an excellent opportunity for young people to get started, figure out what they want, find themselves and direct their interests, but also an opportunity to improve their competences. The process of developing the skills of young people in the Western Balkans plays a key role in achieving a just transition. Today’s job market is increasingly valuing digital knowledge and skills, and young people, with a little wind behind them, can easily fill the shortage of a suitable workforce and succeed in a greener, online economy.
“Unfortunately, the ratio of young people’s interest and job opportunities is not yet sufficiently developed in our community. A large number of young people aspire to develop skills, and the opportunity to work is not easy to find,” said Rundić.
Proof that persistence and will pay off are many young people who, through ReLOaD2, got the opportunity to develop their business ideas that they had been dreaming about for a long time. New knowledge and skills enabled them to take their first steps in the business world. One of them is Milica Radočaj from Montenegro, who received a grant for the realization of her unusual business idea that combined fashion and sweets.
“I learned a lot, from creating a business plan to real achievements. I learned to always try to be the best version of myself. I would recommend young people to believe in their ideas, to believe in success and to work on themselves as much as possible”, concluded Radočaj.
Skills development, within the framework of the European Year of Skills, is a key factor for the sustainable social and economic progress of young people in the Western Balkans. Such initiatives also help young women to empower themselves, develop their potential and become competitive in sectors that have traditionally been dominated by men. The inspiring stories of Milena, Arlinda, Minja, Jelena and Milica give hope for a community where all women and men are equal and competitive in the increasingly demanding digital market.
The EU and UNDP have recognized the importance of supporting young people in developing their skills, be it entrepreneurial, digital, psychological or other competencies. This investment creates the basis for long-term social development, encourages innovation, strengthens competitiveness and contributes to the stability and prosperity of the Western Balkan region.
The Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2) is funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
* For the European Union, all references to Kosovo should be understood in full compliance with Resolution 1244 (1999) and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence. For the United Nations, references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).