how vocational education and lifelong learning are opening up the job market in Lithuania
As a third-year student at Marijampole Vocational Education and Training (VET) school in southern Lithuania, Edvinas Černauskas set his sights on becoming an auto mechanic. He knew that an apprenticeship would give him the skills he needed to pursue a career he had a passion for, but also put some money in his pocket while learning his trade. However, his experience as an apprentice offered him much more than he initially imagined.
"As an apprentice, I didn't just learn how to service and repair vehicles," says Edvinas. "I developed an understanding of the real business world, where many things depend on you."
Edvinas soon discovered he was not only developing mechanical skills. He was becoming a 'people' person.
"Working with clients is a great responsibility," says Edvinas. "It taught me the importance of the motto, ‘the client is always right’."
Throughout his apprenticeship with the transportation company JSC Autoriba, Edvinas spent 70% of his time in the workplace learning directly from skilled mechanics, and 30% of his time back in VET school. During this time, he discovered an appreciation for lifelong learning, ultimately leading to a change in his career trajectory.
"After my apprenticeship, I continued to work for the same company for a year and really enjoyed it," says Edvinas. "But I was also attending college, and ultimately this brought me back to Marijampole VET school, not as a student, but this time as an auto mechanic teacher."
At the age of just 21, Edvinas finds it easy to relate to the aspirations of his young students while admitting that he learns something new every day.
"It's a really friendly atmosphere," says Edvinas. "I enjoy working with young people and passing them my knowledge. Every day is different, and as a teacher, I can't stop learning and seeking out new competencies."
Edvinas believes in encouraging his students to follow their passions while taking personal responsibility for their futures.
“Everyone who starts an apprenticeship should have a passion for their profession and really want to continue working in that sphere,” says Edvinas. “It’s not always an easy route, and they need to take responsibility to take advantage of all the knowledge they can acquire in the real labour market.”
Earn while you learn
As the deputy head of Marijampole VET school, Roma Šimukauskienė is keen for other students to emulate Edvinas’ success as an apprentice.
Roma explains how apprenticeships help young people discover fulfilling careers while also helping many of the region’s companies develop the skilled workforce that they need to expand their operations.
"Many young people want to enter the labour market as soon as possible," says Roma. "An apprenticeship allows them to do this while giving them the skills they need to secure a fulfilling career with great prospects. The city of Marijampole is home to many small businesses. Many of these businesses are looking to grow, and hiring apprentices creates the opportunity to secure a highly skilled future workforce specific to their needs."
As the largest economy in the Baltics, Lithuania has a global outlook that highly values education. With more than 130,000 students currently studying at university level, the country has one of the highest graduation rates in Europe. Despite this, the local business community has expressed concerns about the mismatch between the high-quality education provided by the nation's universities and the requirements of a modern and competitive economy.
This shortfall in skills can be seen in the areas of study that are popular with Lithuanian students. For example, 47% study social sciences, business, and law (compared to an average rate of 34% across the EU), while maths and computing attract just 5% and 10% of students, respectively.
"Graduating with a good degree doesn't guarantee that a student will find a job in their preferred profession," says Roma. "Every year, more people realise this and look at alternatives such as Vocational Education and Training and apprenticeship programmes. We are also seeing a lot of graduates who cannot find jobs in management coming to VET schools to change their qualifications."
Filling the skills gap
Roma highlights a number of sectors that are crying out for skilled workers.
"We are seeing a shortage of skilled workers in engineering professions," says Roma. "This is especially true in areas like mechatronics, which is vital to keeping factory production lines running. We also see shortages in professions like social work and preschool teaching.
With approximately 2,000 students, Marijampole VET school is well-placed to work with local industry partners to tackle specific skills shortages.
"This doesn't come without its challenges," says Roma. "As industry changes, for example, as the automobile industry moves from petrol and diesel engines to electric vehicles, we have to keep pace with the technology and replace equipment. There is financial support from the EU, and we also rely on teachers like Edvinas constantly updating their skills to ensure vocational education and training stays relevant to the country's economic needs."
The European Union supports Member States in making their VET systems fit for the green transition, which will see various important sectors undergo fundamental change. Latest studies estimate that up to 2.5 million new jobs will be created in the EU under European Green Deal targets by 2030, specifically in the water supply (+961,000) and construction (+486,000) sectors, while jobs will be lost in the sectors of coke and refined petroleum products (-167,000), and gas, steam and air conditioning (-61,000).
The automotive sector will also be significantly affected by the green transition. It provides roughly 14.6 million jobs in the EU, almost 7% of total employment. The move from conventional petrol or diesel engines towards electric is ongoing and accelerating. In 2021, hybrid electric vehicles accounted for 19.6% of all new passenger cars registered across the EU, compared to 11.9% in 2020.
In Lithuania, the EU, through the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), contributes to the development of skills by supporting lifelong learning and active labour market policy measures. The ESF+ will develop a ‘one stop shop’ lifelong learning platform and will continue financing trainings in line with the common lifelong learning model. More specifically, ESF+ support will be focused on implementing the Lithuanian skills strategy developed together with the OECD. About €64.5 million in ESF+ funds will be invested in adult learning and should allow support to more than 22,000 people.
More than €250 million in ESF+ funds are dedicated to supporting active labour market policy measures. More than 54,000 people will receive support to facilitate their integration into the labour market, including by acquiring the necessary qualifications or competences.