From Mechanic to Exemplary Baker

Photo: UNDP

An irresistible aroma of freshly baked bread spreads through Elida Markets in Kumanovo. It is early in the morning but already a long line of customers has formed at the bakery’s mouth-watering display of bread and bureks, small leek and spinach banitsas, pretzels and flaky buns.


The tireless bakers at the Elida Markets Bakery have been working hard since dawn. Amongst them is 28-year-old Rufat Demirovski, a relative newcomer to baking who has already earned himself a place as an indispensable part of the team.


“Rufat started as an apprentice to the main baker,” says one of Rufat's colleagues, “but he quickly gained the skills and experience and now he can work independently. We’re really pleased with his work, especially with his calm and methodical approach to each task. Nothing is too difficult for him.”


Given his obvious aptitude for baking, it is surprising at first to learn that Rufat originally studied to be a mechanic. He started looking for a job in this field immediately after finishing high school, but with no success.


“I trained to be a mechanic and now I'm a baker,” he says. “People find that quite strange, but actually there are more connections between the two professions than you might think at first glance. For example, in both trades it’s your hands that are the main tools.”


Rufat was disheartened by the difficulty of finding a job as a mechanic, but the challenge also made him rethink his career options and ultimately persuaded him to gain more qualifications.


“I decided I needed to retrain,” he says, “and eventually I applied for a training course in Baking at the Workers' University in Skopje.


After gaining a professional certificate as a baker in 2008, Rufat approached his local Roma Information Centre in Kumanovo and was assigned a coach, Ahmed, who helped him make a job-seeking plan, advising Rufat on how to focus his applications and  how best to present his skills.


“With Ahmed’s help we made a plan and stuck to it until I found a job, says Rufat. “And here I am today. I'm employed and I'm pleased with my work. I’m learning new things every day.’


Rufat’s success story highlights the important role played by mentors, coaches, and the Roma Information Centres. These have proved invaluable in informing and motivating members of the Roma population who face many more obstacles than most in entering the labour market. Whereas the jobless rate for the general population is now 25.5%, for Roma it is estimated as high as 75%.


Mentors are able to give expert and informed guidance and advice on employment, helping young people like Rufat to develop their professional capacities and guiding them to develop realistic plans and adapt their expectations in line with the challenges of the labour market.


Coaching and monitoring support services were initially developed and piloted with the aim of increasing the participation, success and retention rates of unemployed Roma in the numerous active labour market measures introduced in the country since 2007.


By providing individual guidance and advice to candidates for employment services, coaching and mentoring support is designed to overcome some of the major obstacles faced by unemployed Roma and other people at risk of social exclusion in accessing these services and ultimately entering the formal labour market.


And as the number of Roma employment success stories multiplies, programme organizers hope to challenge the prejudices and stereotypes that often prevent employers from considering Roma job candidates.


The success of the piloted services has led to their inclusion within the country’s annual Operational Programme for Employment, with a budget allocated for funding these services in the Programme for 2016. Coaching and mentoring services have further been extended to cover the needs of other vulnerable people at risk of socio-economic exclusion.


UNDP’s key partners in devising the new coaching and monitoring services include the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (which also served as the national coordinator of efforts within the Decade of the Roma initiative), the Employment Service Agency, local municipalities and civil society organisations.

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