Bosnia and Herzegovina’s contracting economy, smaller than it was in 1990, has posed problems for many people, but especially youth. Nearly 60 percent cannot find the jobsthey need to start adult lives. Many consider leaving the country, dreaming of better prospects abroad.
Aleksandar Vrhovac is one. “I did not want to leave Bosnia,” he says firmly. “But I wasconstantly searching for a job, going from interview to interview, with no success. Many young people become so discouraged. It feels useless to make an effort.”
At 25, Aleksandar had no previous work experience. He knew nothing about how to prepare a resume, look for a job or present himself in an interview—until he went to one of the new Centres for Information, Counselling and Education, known as CISO centres,opening across the country.
There, he finally learned the basics of how to market himself to prospective employers. One of his next interviews landed him a job at Moj Market, a national retail chain. “CISO staff really encouraged me and gave me confidence, and that has paid off,” he says, adding, “I’m so happy to be able to work.”
Aleksandar has found a footing to start his adult life. Bosnia and Herzegovina has kept a young person who can contribute to its future, instead of its brain drain.
Services just for young people
The CISO centres emerged from a collaborative UN initiative involving UNDP, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In 2009, in partnership with the Government and with the assistance of the Government of Spain, the five organizations came together under the umbrella Youth Employability and Retention Programme. Its aims include assisting the country’s network of Public Employment Institutes to do a better job in supporting young people.
The programme introduced a novel approach in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Instead of assuming that all unemployed people need the same kinds of support, it launched the CISO centres with services specifically tailored to young people new to the job market.
In the past, the Public Employment Institutes mainly performed basic functions such as registering the newly jobless and validating official documents. The CISO centres, while sponsored by the institutes, are proactive in reaching out to youth. They teach them how to write resumes, succeed in job interviews, develop job searches, bolster computer skills, and find work placements and internships.
Across the country, 16 centres now provide standardized, quality services to unemployed youth, an important step towards reducing inequalities in opportunities especially for rural youth, who typically have fewer resources. In their first 14 months of operation, the centres provided career counselling and skills training to more than 6,800 young people, while almost 1,800 youth gained their first work experience.
A scheme for sharing job ads on the CISO Facebook page has made the former discouraging trek to the Public Employment Institute to search for ads on a worn-out bulletin board a distant memory.
Wherever they are located, young people can tap into the online system for information, as well as connections to CISO advisors and other jobseekers. The page had 11 million hits in its first year.
A number of factors helped the CISO centres take root. One of the most important was the UN programme’s willingness to acknowledge and address widespread scepticism about the value of this new kind of service. People in the Public Employment Institutes had become used to thinking of their responsibilities in a certain way. The public was used to services that did not meet all their demands.
A starting point was to foster interest and ownership among existing Public Employment Institutes staff. The programme began by building relationships with high-level officials as well as mid-level managers and service directors charged with daily administration.
Concerted advocacy convinced decision-makers to invest in the programme’s success by financing some of the training and recruitment of CISO staff.
The programme team held meetings and workshops explaining the potential benefits of the youth-focused centres; once they began operating, additional sessions shared early successes and lessons. Favourable media coverage helped send home the message that change was necessary for the future of the country. Officials of the Public Employment Institutes were particularly receptive to this, because it helped mitigate public perceptions that they had not done enough in a time of widespread unemployment.
Another early priority was to ensure that the new services would be high quality, relevant to young people, and would stimulate demand. Towards that end, UNDP worked with the Public Employment Institutes on indepth training of CISO staff, including youth-focused techniques for one-on-one job counselling. While specific to the centres, the training built on a larger platform already in place for institute staff, minimizing extra administrative burdens.
Different UN agencies contributed diverse sources of expertise as the new services were planned and delivered. UNDP offered inputs on assessing labour markets to tailor counselling services, while UNICEF assisted in establishing life skills education to help youth manage personal and professional affairs. UNV has helped young people explore volunteering as a source of job-related experience.
Sustaining a good practice
Bosnia and Herzegovina, like many countries, operates in a time of austerity, with a freeze on hiring additional public employees. Nonetheless, support for sustaining the CISO centres has been strong. The Government helped find space for several of them, and the Public Employment Institutes have begun modifying regulations to incorporate CISO operating expenses in their own budgets—nine of the centres are on track for integration by the end of 2012, with the remaining six to follow. Plans call for opening an additional 14 centres, in part by building on links with an existing network of job clubs financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
In the interim, some individual institute directors have begun allowing CISO staff to travel and provide services in areas that do not yet have their own centres.
For its part, the UN system remains active on other critical dimensions of youth employment. One initiative is tracking school dropouts through municipal databases so that authorities can understand what causes dropouts and develop effective strategies to encourage young people to return to school.
In areas with high rates of migration, primary and high schools have used IOM assistance to make youth more aware of potential dangers of going abroad, such as false job advertisements and risks of exploitation. UNFPA is helping to develop the first national system to monitor youth migration trends, a critical input for devising accurate laws and policies in response.
While over the longer term, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s economy will need to grow to provide more young people with jobs, for now, some are at least better equipped to navigate through difficult times.
First employment services specifically for young people.
16 centres across the country, including in marginalized areas
Career counselling and skills training provided to more than 6,800 young people in the first 14 months of operation; almost 1,800 youth gained their first work experience.
11 million hits on Facebook in one year. Public Employment Institutes are integrating the centres in their own operations.
The booklet can be downloaded by clicking on the picture below: