Project IDEAL: Paid internship and employment ensured for secondary school students after their graduation

In cooperation with Prevent Group, and with the support of the German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH, the Hastor Foundation is implementing the “IDEAL – Improving and Developing the Educational and Learning System for plastic workers in BH” project, which is part of the program. The main goal of this project is to improve the quality of vocational education for the profession of a plastic worker, which would result in there being competent workers for the most modern machines in the Bosnian-Podrinje Canton (BPC). On Wednesday, February 12, representatives of the media visited us in Goražde. You can read about their impressions below.

Only few minutes away from the center of Goražde and we already arrived to the huge buildings of the Prevent COMPONENTS Company, where students of the Secondary Vocational School “Džemal Bijedić” (profession plastic worker) serve their regular paid internship, as part of the IDEAL project. That the company meets global standards is the first thing you notice on the way to the facility. And upon the very entrance – huge machines, workers sorted by different clothes colors, and the smell of plastics.

Our attention was immediately captured by a boy and a girl wearing yellow shirts, who were sitting at a machine right by the door. The two of them were sorting through plastic pieces in boxes. Though they were rather shy, they gladly agreed to us snapping some photos. I found out that yellow shirts are worn by the students who are interns in the company, so I asked them how they liked working with plastics, considering that they’ve chosen to study that, and what their internship involves. “Once we come, we are first told what our duties are. We have a mentor who helps us and tells us what we should do. So far, I was in the measuring room, which is where car (or other) pieces are measured”, says Ena Spahović, who is currently in her first grade at the Secondary Vocational School “Džemal Bijedić” in Goražde.

Her classmate Dušan Vorić continues: “The internship is great; the colleagues here are rather pleasant and willing to help. If you don’t know something, they come and explain everything to you”. He is one of those who can see their future here. “I hope that this will be my profession in the future and that I will stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, he says.

This is the first generation of students who were given the opportunity for this internship as part of the IDEAL project. Their mentor Dženana Omanović, who diligently supervised these young workers who are the rays of hope for BiH, says that there is a curriculum in which it is clearly defined what is in the focus for every one of their classes. “The students who participate in this internship are assigned to different segments of production, so that during a day one person can be given proper attention and devotion, as well as the knowledge needed for that position”, she says.

She also mentions that it is a great pleasure for the Prevent COMPONENTS Company to share their long-standing experiences with the students. “It is important to create a link between the curriculum and the practical application of the knowledge, because it is much easier to learn certain things when you talk about them and then see them as well. At the beginning, the students are provided with instructions as to how to behave and work in the facility, but then they get more relaxed and become part of our team”, says Dženana.

The students who are only getting to know the machines and the production in general look at us out of the corner of their eyes, whereas the older workers continue to work devotedly and intently, regardless of our presence there.

That young people did not always have opportunities was pointed out by the Managing Director of the Hastor Foundation, Seid Fijuljanin, who implements the IDEAL project together with the German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH, as part of the program of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). 

We realized that sooner or later we would come into the position where there would be a smaller number of people who would gain their education in BiH so we came up with the idea to become part of the formal education and improve the practical teaching through our Prevent COMPONENTS Company. We decided to focus on the area of Goražde because we maintained it has the potential needed. We wrote the project and decided to amend the legislation so that one whole class of the vocational school could come to the company and have their practical classes there, and that this is acknowledged and accepted as a regular school activity. We faced a great challenge, but we included all the key parties”, says Fijuljanin.

While teenagers in the hall, wearing modern pants and sneakers, carry boxes in their tiny hands, observe machines, and measure pieces of plastics, I find out that 95 percent of them didn’t even know what a working facility looked like until recently. “This is also one of the great successes of this project. Not only will children become familiar with work processes, production processes, not to mention modern technologies, but they will also be able to learn how to love what they do, to understand that there is a job in BiH that is well above everything that is happening here. Those who seek employment after secondary school will have the opportunity to find it in a modern company and environment, with the support of colleagues”, says Fijuljanin.

The most positive information about this process is that these young people are also given the opportunity for employment after this internship. “Our commitment in this project is to offer employment to all of them, so we will hire one whole class, but in my opinion this is the least challenging part. What makes me happy is that this project will be continued”, concludes Fijuljanin.

We say goodbye to the wonderful people at Prevent Company and head to the Secondary Vocational School “Džemal Bijedić”, where we receive a warm welcome by Admir Kurtović, the principal of this school, and Arman Bešlija, the Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of BPC. This was the first time that I saw the school’s vision and mission written in huge letters on the school wall – to shape qualified workers needed for the local labor market. “The primary mission is to provide qualified workers for BPC, and this is possible only through hands-on teaching. The better the practical teaching, the better the students’ skills and knowledge will be. The more they are in touch with the real work environment, the more experience they get. The obsolescence of the professions we once taught led to employers having to find a solution within the education system itself. The inadequacy of the staff’s level of knowledge in terms of newer technologies has forced us to become more open, to have our teachers visit companies and to have everything adapted to the education system”, says principal Kurtović.

He said that, when he became the principal, the key technologies were based on the 30-year-old knowledge, whereas nowadays the classrooms in this school are equipped according to the highest standards and are available to more than 208 students, half of which have practical classes at local companies.

The importance of a project such as this one, which simultaneously contributes to the employment of young people and to their staying in BiH, was recognized by the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of the BPC. “Over the past few years, we have achieved good cooperation with the economy, we have had to change the curricula and adjust them to the labor market. We have adopted the first Rulebook on practical training, which ensures for the payment of the children’s practical work. At the moment, we have 13 economic entities that are involved in the program and to which we send our students to do their internships”, says Minister Bešlija.

That this story resulted in a positive outcome is shown by the reactions of the economic entities that rewarded students with certain gifts in order to keep them in their companies, so they could use their acquired knowledge in BiH. One company even sent company cars to students for their prom, paid for their suits and bought them mobile phones.

As I slowly move away from this small town on the Drina River, I realize that there still are positive stories in this country, in this great madness of the exodus, and that there is someone who thinks that this is where they belong; not only do they think so, but they have something to hope for, because they know that, once they graduate, they will be given employment. The winding roads and snow across Romania, and a gentle smile on my face, because there is light at the end of the tunnel after all, even for us.

(Adin Šabić, )