Small craftsmen, still in demand. The government wants five times more places in dual education

The major deficit faced by the labor market in Romania requires the most urgent solutions. And dual education could be a real lifeline in the long run. What exactly does this learning system entail, but also what is the difference from the classic vocational school, explained the director of a technological high school together with the owner of a restaurant chain.

The labor market would need at least 100,000 craftsmen. Photo source: archive

“Mihai Bravu” Technical College from Bucharest entered the dual education system six years ago. “As a division by qualifications, we have a plumbing and gas installer, a cook, a waiter, a waiter and a salesperson in food establishments. I also had a hotel worker, but also a pastry chef. This year we also tried to introduce the qualification of electrician, but we did not succeed. In each class there are between 20 and 26 students who, at the end of their studies, leave with a job”, Carmen Ștefan, the director of the college, explained to “Adevărul”.

The students follow three years of training, from the 9th to the 11th grade, during which they learn theory, taught by the teachers at the school, but also benefit from practical training. In dual education, however, students no longer practice only in the school's specialized laboratory or workshops, but also at the headquarters or workplace of the economic operator under contract with the school. “For example, our students, those who opt for the chef and waiter qualification, have been taken under the wing of the largest restaurant chain in Romania”explained the director. “Also, those who signed up for sanitary and gas installations are trained by one of the largest gas companies in the country“, she says.

High demand, low supply

How do these companies come to collaborate with schools? The procedure seems simple. Companies make a request to the Ministry of Education, to the National Center for the Development of Professional and Technical Education, according to the dual education methodology. At the same time, I also send a request to the schools. Then some contracts are signed. A framework contract, before the start of the school year, between the sector municipality, the school and the economic operator and a second contract, after the start of the school year, between the school, the parent and the economic partner.

Cătălin Pârvu, the owner of the restaurant group that invested in the students from “Mihai Bravu”, explained to us that the demand for labor is high, the supply, on the other hand, quite small. “Since 2018, we have been partners with the “Mihai Bravu” Technical College. We have three classes of cooks and waiters and this year we have asked for two more. We ask for extra classes almost every year. However, I noticed that the students seem to be fewer and fewer. It's as if they don't enroll in vocational schools in such large numbers anymore”, he specified. “In general, we have big problems with the workforce in the HoReCa field. We, for example, employed around 200 people from Asia. We have, at group level, approximately 20% foreign employees”it also shows.

Vocational school and dual education

Concretely, so that there is no more confusion between what classical vocational school means and what dual education entails, we must make a clarification. There are no big differences between the two education systems. The structure of the school year is the same, the subjects are the same. “The only difference between the two education systems is that you, as a school, conclude a contract for three years of study with only one economic partner. If you want me to tell you in Romanian, exaggerating a little just to make myself understood, when I had professional education classes, we asked our partners to sign a contract. Then, the interest was more ours and less the economic operator's. They did not trust that the children would hire them. Whereas now, at the dual, they are praying for us. It is a collaboration with advantages on both sides”Carmen Ștefan explains. “The economic operator takes the students under his wing from the 9th grade, trains them, offers the children a scholarship. We are talking about amounts starting from 300 lei per month”, the director of the “Mihai Bravu” College also specified.

Indeed, children receive scholarships from economic operators, but companies also have their claims. “We offer them 300 lei per month, but we also have our conditions: six absences per month from practice hours they lose the scholarship for that month. We give them some money, but in return we want them to stick to the book. Many probably think that they come and stay at practice for nothing. But it's not like that at all. Our interest is for them to learn a trade, and then to work for us. We offer them everything they need: training, uniforms, scholarships, daily meals”, the owner of the restaurant group also told us.

Cătălin Pârvu also made an investment calculation. “At the group level, for a three-year cycle with one or two classes, I think the amount invested by us in these children jumps to 50,000 euros. Money that I have no guarantee that I will ever get back. For example, in 2021 we had our first promotion. I went on the road, in the 9th grade, with two classes. In total, 54 children. Of these, about 45 graduated, and we took somewhere around 16-17. We would have taken them all, but they didn't want to come.”

In addition, in addition to the money they receive from economic operators, students have the chance to practice at their headquarters. “In addition to what they do at school, students also come to our locations. Here they are taken over by a practice tutor from among the management staff. Waiters, for example, are handled by managers qualified in the field, and cooks are handled by chefs. Including me,” Cătălin Pârvu also specified.

“A real chance at a better life”

However, students are not obliged to work for the respective companies. “But if the partner knows how to attract them, invest in it, the children come. They come if they receive a motivating salary, if they have the opportunity to grow in the company. We, for example, have a successful partnership with a large gas company. This company managed to hire all the students. More precisely, at the end of the three years of study, 53 children chose to work in this company”, explains director Carmen Ștefan. The reasons are easy to understand: high wages, good working conditions.

Cătălin Pârvu is of the opinion that the employer must also know how to keep those people in his company. You invest three years in 50 children for nothing if, after they hire you, they leave in a few months. That's not the point. It would be self-sabotage. “The salary we offer these children after they work for us is somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 lei, which includes many bonuses. We may not be the highest payers in the country, but at least we are trying to do something. Be careful, though. These kids are just getting started. Without experience. What do we do next? We continue to educate them. Let's teach them, let's train them. We then offer them real chances to grow in the company, to develop. The idea is for us to recover at least partially our investment. No one has any interest in these employees leaving. On the contrary. We need them because that's why we trained them”.

Carmen Ștefan, director of the “Mihai Bravu” Technical College, believes that dual education offers these children a real chance for a better life. “These are generally children from disadvantaged social backgrounds or children who did not have the best academic performance in general school. Can you imagine that no children with grades of 9 come to such high schools Evaluation. Also, many have less material conditions. Therefore, this kind of dual education gives them a great chance. Because, if this door hadn't been opened for them, let's say, they would have stayed in their country and I don't know what they would have done”.

Cătălin Pârvu is of the opinion that dual education is primarily an attempt to train young people. “We give children the chance to learn a trade. Then, each economic agent, each company or firm must think of a plan to attract these young people and to keep them. And the state should think of a very well-designed system through which this labor force stays here, in our country, and does not go abroad”.

The government promises 50,000 skilled workers

50,000 skilled workers could come directly from the benches of schools with dual education in the near future, promises Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu. Current students would cover part of the current labor market need. “I will propose to the private sector a national program for the accelerated expansion of dual education. This partnership must allow us to have 50,000 places annually, required by the business environment, in dual education in the next five years – five times more than now“, said Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu, at the beginning of last week's Government meeting.

The Ministry of Education announced at the end of last year that the Government will finance all 29 regional consortia for dual education declared eligible. Vocational education in Romania is graduated annually by approximately 20,000 students. However, their number is insufficient, and this is because the labor market would need at least 100,000 craftsmen.