In Bulgaria, although, the YG has been in active implementation since 2014, little data exist on the extent to which Roma youth access and take up the YG. Such an assessment is important considering that Roma youth could benefit greatly from the YG as a main target subgroup of the scheme. On November 27th 2019, the Center for the Study of Democracy, with the financial support of the Open Society Foundation, hosted a conference on the assessment of the access to and take up of the Youth Guarantee measures by Roma youth in Bulgaria. Representatives of national institutions, non-governmental organizations, and the business sector participated in the event.
In his opening remarks, Dimitar Dimitrov, Program Director for the Program “Roma” at Open Society Institute - Sofia, highlighted the vivid relationship between education and professional development. Dimitrov outlined positive aspects arising from the inclusion of Roma youth in education, training and employment: the curtailment of the current negative tendencies in the number of university students in Bulgaria, as well as the improvement of the business environment and the gradual dissolution of harmful stereotypes on the labor market. The expert delineated potential measures in education and employment, while underscoring the crucial significance of the well-developed cooperation among state institutions, business and society.
Dr. Liliya Yakova, Research Fellow for the Sociological Program at the Center for the Study of Democracy, and Gancho Iliev, Chairman of the Executive Board at World Without Borders Association, presented a collaborative initiative for the assessment of the access to and uptake of the Youth Guarantee (YG) of Roma youth in Bulgaria. Dr. Yakova paid attention to the characteristics and the objectives of the YG, the institutional and labor market policy reforms, and the challenges for the YG among Roma youth. Gancho Iliev presented the methodology of the study, while Dr. Yakova focused on the problematics in the assimilation of the Guarantee, the good practice examples from Bulgaria, and the challenges for the effective take up among Roma youth. Gancho Iliev concluded the presentation with a plethora of recommendations pertaining to the contact with the Roma communities, the Roma labor mediators, the awareness raising among Roma youth, the improvement of the partnership model characteristic to the YG, as well as the participation of NGOs.
Ivan Krastev, social policy expert at the European Parliament, directed the course of the discussion back to the structural issues which impact the YG measures’ effectiveness. The continuously high levels of school dropout, the gray sector in the Bulgarian economy, the income levels in the social services sphere, the deficient income policy, and the presence of inadequate policy measures were underscored. Krastev also emphasised the ineffective policies in the educational system as the most pressing matter.
Nataliya Dicheva, senior expert for the European Integration and European Projects Directorate in the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, succinctly introduced several projects regarding online learning platforms aimed at developing the professional qualifications of young persons in spheres such as entrepreneurship, business management, online trading, etc.
Lastly, Dimitar Dimitrov shared experiences from his own field work, and highlighted three spheres where investments in funds and practical efforts should be realised: education and career progress, diversity in the workplace and youth perspectives and expectations. Dimitrov appealed towards greater engagement of governmental institutions with the problematics of youth development.
During the discussion, representatives of the Public Employment Service (PES) addressed topics such as the levels of illiteracy and the impossibility of assimilating information about the PES, the negative attitude towards PES, and the need to break the mold in information dissemination by engaging more actively in field work within the Roma communities. Meanwhile, PES is preparing to launch two new measures for youth mentorship and family labor consulting. Emphasis was placed on the need for motivating, not victimising young persons, for promoting good practices and success stories, as well as for building up a stable set of skills and knowledge set among the youth. A good practice in dual education, which encompassed some 4000 youngsters across the country, was shared by a representative from the Embassy of Switzerland. Additional good practices were identified in Stara Zagora and Plovdiv.