Economic Policy Review ISSN 1313 - 0544

A Research by IME: Vocational Education and Employment

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The full text of the analysis is available HERE (in Bulgarian).

Executive Summary

The main purpose and biggest strength of vocational education is its ability to create a direct link between young people and the labor market. A vocational education system of high quality generates highly skilled specialists, who are responsible for the comparative advantage of every economy.

Vocational education has been attracting lesser students in the last decades. For the last 14 years the number of students in vocational schools has deteriorated by roughly a quarter (26%). This is a tendency not only typical of Bulgaria, but of Europe as a whole. On the one hand, the decline in the number of specialists with a secondary degree is caused by the aggravating demographic situation. On the other hand, the quality of teaching in many vocational schools is being frayed at the edges, while vocational education is mainly associated with an unprestigious and low-paid blue collar work.

The analysis of the data for the participation of professionals with a secondary degree in Bulgaria shows that they occupy a very important segment of the labor market. Over one third of the labor force is characterized by vocational degrees and in 2014 almost half of the high school graduates have been part of vocational schools. At a district level there are some significant differences. In Kyustendil, Targovishte and Silistra, for example, over 60% from the graduates are with a vocational qualification, while in Sofia (capital) and Kardzhali they amount to 40%.[1]

Vocational education still provides with decisive advantages in the labor market. Having acquired a vocational degree affiliates one in a group with a higher economic activity, higher employment rate, as well as lower unemployment rate. In 2014 the employment rate is 6 points higher than the percentage of this for all graduates and 13 points higher than the average for the country. The unemployment rate is 0,4 percentage points lower than this for high school graduates and 1,2 percentage point from the country’s average.

People with vocational education usually work in comparatively well-paying and highly productive sectors in the economy, where the spread between the pay in some of these sectors and the average for the country reaches 50%. These estimates assign the performance of the group of vocational specialists second - one place above the group with general education and just behind the university graduates.

The scarcity of workers with vocational education and the time and the resources, which employers and employees use for a continuous professional schooling, are among the biggest weaknesses of the vocational education system in Bulgaria. In 2015 15% of the firms engaged in manufacturing are unable to find workers that are sufficiently educated for the position, which is twice as big a proportion as this in the EU (7,4%). What is more, the share of employers, who send their employees to courses for acquiring additional qualifications, has doubled over the last 10 years.

Only recently did the issue about the quality of vocational education attract the attention of the general public. Over the last few years certain measures have been taken, so that a reform in this system can finally be initiated. This includes passing specific statutory changes, as well as adopting a Strategy for the Development of Vocational Education and a Plan for its execution. One of the main aspects of the modification manifests itself in introducing the concept of “education through working” (dual education), which, slowly though, starts seeping in the educational system. In the same time its execution is in question having in mind the examples of inapplicability or the lack of capabilities for the implementation of seemingly innovative strategic documents.

The research about the connection between vocational education and the labor market shows that:

  • Vocational education carries number of strengths for the labor force, private enterprises and the economy as a whole;
  • Vocational education suffers from a lot of weaknesses related to its dissatisfactory quality and its plunging reputation;
  • The opportunities for the vocational education system include its modernization and the nation-wide implementation of dual education, which would intertwine the process of acquiring professional qualification even more closely with the needs of the labor market;
  • The main threats for vocational education are associated with the rigidity of the system and the lower interest in practical training of the workers on behalf of the employers.


[1]The explanation for the result of the capital can be sought in the high number of students in foreign-language, mathematics and other specialization High Schools.