Bulgarians Are in the Queue for Digital Knowledge in the EU

The National Audit Office performed an audit "Vocational training for adults" for the period from 01.01.2017 to 31.12.2019. It is part of a parallel audit "Workforce 2030" within the professional organization of European Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions - EUROSAI.

The audit findings are worrying: Bulgaria ranks one of the last places in the European Union in digital literacy. The data for 2019 also show that the difference in digital skills between people from cities and villages in our country is 23 percentage points, while the average for Europe is 14. The issue is extremely important for the development of our country. The advent of information technology and demographic change are transforming the labor market and require highly skilled workers, which can be achieved through continuing education and lifelong learning.

EUROSTAT's digital skills indicators include activities related to the use of the Internet or software by people aged between 16 and 74 in four areas - information, communication, problem solving, software skills. The audit also found that in 2019 Bulgaria ranks penultimate among EU countries in terms of the share of the population aged 25-64 participating in education and training. The results of our country are almost 6 times lower than the EU average, and compared to leading countries such as Sweden and Finland - between 15 and 17 times.

The problem of achieving quality of labor resources is further complicated by the aging population. NSI forecasts show that by 2080 the population in Bulgaria will decrease by nearly 30%, and the share of the population over 65 will reach 29.4%. At the same time, the working age population (15-64) will decline to 2.74 million in 2080.

The World Bank forecasts are also alarming - by 2050 Bulgaria will have the fastest shrinking working age population in the world. In Bulgaria, the system for forecasting of the skills needed for the labor market in the future is not yet fully established. Separate elements and tools have been developed, but that need improvement. Many strategies and programs have been developed, various European projects are being implemented. All strategic documents emphasize the need for lifelong learning and training, but there is no certainty as to what part of the workforce needs to be retrained and upgraded by 2030.

There is no objective picture of the specialties with expected deficits, as there are difficulties in developing and updating the lists of specialties from professions with expected shortages. They arise from:

Lmitations in the methodology, as it does not cover the self-employed, the persons under official legal relations and the insured in the special departments; the number of persons with qualification from the vocational training centers is not taken into account;

There is a lack of information and official analyzes about the professions of the future in Bulgaria; - there is no information about the specialties important for the economic development of the country, incl. at regional and sectoral level;

Ministries and employers' organizations do not know enough about the current lists of protected specialties and those with expected shortages to make accurate forecasts.

The planned trainings for adults - unemployed and employed, financed by the state budget and the European Structural and Investment Funds, will increase from 2017 to 2019. However, the national target for 2020 for participation of adults in education and training is not has been achieved. The progress on this indicator over the last 12 years has been insignificant (only 0.7 percentage points), indicating the ineffective policy implementation.

Among the elderly in our country there is no attitude to lifelong learning. The share of attending advanced training courses is low (less than 10%). The main barriers to participation in trainings are: the lack of meaning for the elderly, free time for the active population and funds for the young. An additional barrier for the youngest (15-24 years) is the lack of vision for realization, and for the active population - the lack of understanding on the part of employers.

In Bulgaria, the training of employees conducted by employers is more underdeveloped - in practice only in large enterprises. Additional incentives are needed for employers in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to include their employees in training.

Adult vocational guidance services in the country are provided by many institutions and organizations, incl. Labor Offices and Career Centers at the Employment Agency, Employment and Social Assistance Centers, State Enterprise "Bulgarian-German Center for Vocational Training" under the Minister of Labor and Social Policy and Centers for Information and Vocational Guidance, licensed by the National Agency for Vocational Education and Training. However, career guidance is carried out according to different methodologies and rules, without a single standard for the service, which leads to a difference in quality.

There is still no national system for monitoring the transition from vocational education to the labor market and to further training. The realization of the graduates, as well as of the persons after subsidized employment is not monitored, and when monitoring the employment of the trained persons, the extent to which it is related to the acquired qualification is not taken into account. All this limits the possibilities for monitoring and evaluation of the effect of the conducted trainings and their effective planning.

The country has not established a comprehensive system for ensuring the quality of vocational education and training, and in the period 2017-2019 the ordinance required by the Vocational Education and Training Act to determine the principles and requirements for institutions for improving the processes, the indicators, as well as the conditions and the order for measuring the achieved quality. As of the end of 2017, there is no state educational standard for quality management in the school education system, as a result of which by October 2020 there are no regulatory requirements for the processes for ensuring the quality of vocational education and training.

The National Audit Office has given 23 recommendations to the Minister of Labor and Social Policy and 26 recommendations to the Minister of Education and Science, which should be implemented by the end of 2022.

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