This article explores the role of Vocational Education and Training (VET) centres in reducing Turkey’s high NEET (Not in Employment, Education, or Training) rate among young people aged 15-29. Turkey’s NEET rate, which was 28.7% in 2021, is significantly higher than the OECD average of 14.5% in 2021. Despite the presence of 4,581 VET institutions in the 2019-2020 academic year, there is still a need for expansion and quality improvement to meet the increasing demand for skilled labour. To ensure VET centres contribute effectively to reducing the NEET rate, the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) considers various strategies, such as strengthening collaboration with industry, improving the public image of vocational education, increasing investment in VET centres, fostering connections with employers, and updating curricula.
Qualitative research methods were used within the scope of the subject discussed in this article, and semi-structured interviews were conducted with managers, teachers, students of VET centres and private sector representatives. According to the qualitative research results, the improvements that have occurred in the VET centres in the last few years have greatly pleased the educators, students and their counterparts in the private sector. By implementing targeted interventions and support programmes, VET centres can play a crucial role in reducing Turkey’s NEET rate, fostering a skilled workforce, and promoting inclusive economic growth. The participants in the qualitative research study think that this transformation in Vocational Training Centres will play a significant role in reducing Turkey’s NEET rates in the foreseeable future.
Keywords: Vocational Training, Vocational Education and Training (VET) centres, NEET rate, Turkey, Youth employment
The NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) rate represents the percentage of young people who are neither working nor studying. This rate has been a cause for concern in Turkey, with recent data indicating that it is higher than the average among OECD countries (OECD 2021). In response, the Turkish government has been investing in vocational education and training (VET) centres as a potential solution to reduce the NEET rate. This article will explore the role of VET centres in addressing this issue and whether they can effectively reduce the NEET rate in Turkey.
Turkey has been grappling with a high rate of young people who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET). According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat 2022), the NEET rate for young people aged 15-29 was 28.7% in 2021 (OECD 2021). VET centres have the potential to mitigate this issue by equipping young people with the skills necessary to enter the workforce. VET centres offer both education and employment opportunities to young people in NEET positions.
This article discusses the development of VET centres in recent years and the legal regulations that have been implemented. Qualitative research was conducted within the scope of this article to understand whether VET centres have been successful in reducing Turkey’s NEET rate. Turkey’s NEET rates are compared with other countries according to OECD data.
2 The Importance of Vocational Education & Training (VET) Centres
VET Centres play a pivotal role in shaping the future of our workforce and fostering economic growth. These centres serve as critical hubs where individuals can acquire specialized skills and knowledge, tailored to the demands of various industries. By providing hands-on training and practical experiences, VET Centres bridge the gap between theoretical education and real-world application, empowering students with the tools they need to excel in their chosen careers. Moreover, VET Centres cater to a diverse range of learners, including school leavers, career changers, and individuals seeking upskilling opportunities, making education more accessible and inclusive. As industries evolve rapidly, VET Centres ensure a steady supply of skilled professionals, contributing to reduced unemployment rates and increased productivity. Emphasizing the importance of these centres in nurturing a competent and adaptable workforce is vital for sustaining economic progress and driving innovation in the ever-changing landscape of the job market.
VET centres provide a combination of practical and theoretical education designed to equip students with the skills required for specific jobs or industries (European Commission 2019). In Turkey, VET centres have been identified as an essential tool for addressing the NEET rate due to their potential to prepare young people for the labour market and increase their employability (Aydin 2018).
2.1 Vocational Education & Training (VET) Centres in Turkey
Vocational Education & Training (VET) centres in Turkey, formerly known as apprenticeship schools/centres, are institutions that focus on providing skill-based education and training to prepare students for careers in various sectors. These centres offer vocational and technical education programmes in fields such as healthcare, tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing, amongst others.
VET Centre students receive theoretical training at school once a week and practical training in enterprises for 4 days. Accordingly, the conditions for registration in vocational training centres are:
- To have completed at least secondary school or imam hatip secondary school.
- To be conducive to the education of the relevant profession. Documentation with a health/health board report when necessary.
- Signing a contract with a workplace related to the profession to be registered. A master with a “Master Teaching Certificate” must be present in the workplace where the contract is to be signed.
- There is no age limit for registration.
- Student registrations can continue throughout the year.
VET Centres are located in all Turkish provinces. Candidates with at least a secondary school diploma can enrol throughout the year. Applications can be made in 181 different branches. Theoretical training is given at school one day a week, and skills training is provided in enterprises four days a week. Apprenticeship training lasts 3 years, journeyman training takes one year. 9th, 10th and 11th grade students attending the vocational education centre receive at least 30% of the minimum wage, and 12th grade students receive at least half of the minimum wage. VET Centre graduates can open their own businesses by obtaining a “Mastery Certificate” and a “Vocational and Technical Anatolian High School diploma”. Those with a mastership certificate will have “Business pedagogy training” and a “Master Trainer” certificate for apprentice student employment.
There were 4,581 VET institutions in Turkey in the 2019-2020 academic year, accounting for nearly 32% of all secondary education institutions in the country (MoNE 2020). In Turkey there are 3,321 Vocational Education Centres affiliated to the Ministry of National Education. Despite the large number of VET centres, there is still a need for expansion to meet the increasing demand for skilled labour and to address the high NEET rate. In terms of qualitative characteristics, the effectiveness of VET centres in Turkey has been mixed. Some centres have managed to provide relevant, high-quality training, resulting in positive employment outcomes for their graduates. However, others face challenges such as inadequate funding, outdated equipment, and a lack of qualified instructors, which can limit their ability to prepare students for the workforce (Atici & Bati 2019).
Efforts to improve the quality of vocational education in Turkey will be crucial for enhancing the impact of VET centres on reducing the NEET rate and ensuring the country’s future economic growth.
2.2 The Role of VET Centres in Reducing Turkey’s NEET Rate
The Role of Vocational Education and Training (VET) Centres in reducing Turkey’s NEET Rate has emerged as a vital topic of discussion in recent years. The term “NEET” refers to young individuals who are not in employment, education, or training. This poses a significant challenge to Turkey’s economic and social development. VET Centres play a pivotal role in addressing this issue by offering specialized, job-oriented training programmes that equip young people with the skills and competencies demanded by the labour market. As these centres focus on practical, hands-on learning experiences, they effectively prepare students for employment, enabling them to transition smoothly from education to productive work. By providing tailor-made training courses and apprenticeship opportunities, VET Centres contribute to reducing the NEET rate and ensuring the integration of young people into the workforce, fostering economic growth and social stability.
Several studies have highlighted the positive impact of VET Centres in tackling Turkey’s NEET predicament. The availability of diverse vocational training options allows young individuals to explore their interests and passions while acquiring market-relevant skills, significantly enhancing their employability prospects. Additionally, close collaboration between VET Centres and industry partners facilitates the identification of labour market needs and ensures that training programmes remain up to date and aligned with evolving job requirements. Moreover, by promoting entrepreneurship and self-employment through entrepreneurship-focused courses, VET Centres empower young people to create job opportunities of their own, further contributing to the reduction of the NEET rate and fostering a culture of innovation and economic independence. As such, VET Centres stand as a fundamental pillar in Turkey’s efforts to combat the NEET challenge and drive forward its socio-economic development.
VET centres offer a wide range of practical, skills-based education and training programmes (such as healthcare, tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing) designed to prepare young people for careers in various sectors (European Commission 2019). By providing targeted training that meets industry demands, VET centres can help to bridge the gap between education and employment (Atici & Bati 2019).
Several studies have shown the positive impact of VET centres on NEET rates. For example, students who participated in vocational education programmes in Turkey had better employment prospects than their peers who did not participate in such programmes (Kılınç et al. 2019). Furthermore, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) reported that VET graduates across Europe had a higher employment rate than general education graduates (Cedefop 2020). VET centres also provide unemployed youth with new skills, and with their employment, increase the welfare and education level of society.
There have been important developments in the field of vocational training in Turkey in recent years. The Minister of MoNE and ministry bureaucrats have given special importance to vocational training among educational subjects. In vocational training, the MoNE and the private sector cooperate in a number of different fields. Many demands of the private sector in the field of vocational training are met by the MoNE. Turkey is enjoying its finest years of vocational education in its history so far.
Over the last few years, numerous legal arrangements have been made to make vocational training attractive. Financial burdens on the private sector in vocational education have been removed. The income of vocational training students has been increased. These are just a few examples of legal regulations that have been implemented. The private sector has begun to benefit from the qualified human resources it needs from vocational high schools and VET centres.
2.3 Barriers to the Success of VET Centres in Turkey
Despite their potential, VET centres in Turkey face several challenges that may hinder their ability to reduce the NEET rate. These challenges include:
- Stigma surrounding vocational education, which is often perceived as a second-choice option for those who cannot succeed in traditional academic settings (Kılınç et al. 2019). This stigma may discourage young people from pursuing vocational education, limiting the potential impact of VET centres on the NEET rate.
- Insufficient funding can restrict the capacity of VET centres to provide up-to-date equipment, qualified instructors, and relevant curricula (Atici & Bati 2019). This may result in graduates who are inadequately prepared to enter the workforce, thereby failing to reduce the NEET rate.
- Mismatch between skills and labour market demands: A lack of coordination between VET centres, industry stakeholders, and the government may result in a mismatch between the skills taught and the skills demanded by the labour market (European Commission 2019). This could lead to high unemployment rates among VET graduates and a limited impact on the NEET rate.
Despite all these obstacles, the perspective of young people and their families towards vocational training has started to change positively in the last few years.
3 Reducing the NEET Rate: International Evidence
Turkey’s NEET rate is considerably higher than the average rate for OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. In 2021, Turkey’s NEET rate for young people aged 15-29 was 28.7%, the NEET rate for youth aged 15-19 was 16.5% and the NEET rate for youth aged 20-24 was 33.2% (OECD 2021). In comparison, the OECD average NEET rate for young people aged 15-29 in 2021 was 14.5% (OECD 2021).
Figure 1: Youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) 15-29 year-olds, % in same age group, 2021 or latest available (Source: OECD 2021)
While the NEET rate for young people between the ages of 15-29 in Turkey was around 40% twenty years ago, this rate has since decreased to 20%. However, despite this positive development, Turkey’s NEET rate is still well above the OECD average.
Figure 2: Youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) 15-29 year-olds, % in same age group, 1997 – 2021 (Source: OECD 2021)
This significant discrepancy highlights the urgent need for Turkey to implement effective policies and initiatives, such as the expansion of VET centres in order to reduce its NEET rate. The country’s high NEET rate not only impacts the economic prospects of young individuals, but also hinders Turkey’s overall economic growth and competitiveness in the global market. Addressing the NEET issue in Turkey is essential to ensuring a more inclusive and prosperous future for its younger generation and the country as a whole.
Several studies have highlighted the positive impact of VET programmes on reducing the NEET rate in different countries. For instance, a report by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop 2016) found that countries with well-established VET systems, such as Germany and Austria, generally have lower NEET rates compared to countries with less-developed VET systems. Similarly, a study by the OECD (2015) noted that VET programmes have been successful in reducing the NEET rate in countries like Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
3.1 NEET Rates Differences in Turkey
The proportion of young people in NEET positions in Turkey exhibits significant variations across gender, geographical distribution, and age distribution. In terms of gender, Turkey has a higher NEET rate among young women compared to young men.
In 2021, the NEET rate for women aged 15-29 was 39.5%, compared to 18.4% for men in the same age group (OECD 2021). This gender disparity could be attributed to factors such as traditional gender roles, early marriage, and limited access to education and employment opportunities for women.
Figure 3: Youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) 15-29 year-old men / 15-29 year-old women, % in same age group, 2021 or latest available (Source: OECD 2021)
The NEET rate in Turkey varies across different geographical regions, with higher rates observed in rural areas and the eastern and southeastern parts of the country. These disparities can be linked to regional differences in socio-economic development, educational infrastructure, and labour market opportunities. In more developed regions, there may be greater access to quality education, training programmes, and job opportunities, resulting in a lower NEET rate.
In terms of age distribution, NEET rates tend to increase with age. Older youth (20-24 years old) generally experience higher NEET rates compared to their younger counterparts (15-19 years old). This trend could be due to various factors, including the transition from education to the labour market, limited job opportunities, and a mismatch between the skills acquired in education and those demanded by employers.
To address the issue of NEET youth in Turkey effectively, it is essential to consider these disparities and develop targeted interventions that take into account the specific needs and challenges faced by different demographic groups.
3.2 Situation of Young People in NEET Positions in Turkey
To understand the situation and expectations of young people in NEET positions in Turkey, a variety of studies can be undertaken. These studies would provide valuable insights into the underlying issues, motivations, and aspirations of NEET individuals, allowing policymakers and educators to develop targeted interventions and support programmes. Suggested research topics include the following:
- Investigating the root causes of NEET status by examining the socio-economic, cultural, and educational factors that contribute to young people falling into the NEET category in Turkey. This research could involve quantitative analysis of available data, as well as qualitative interviews and surveys to explore the lived experiences of NEET individuals.
- Analyzing the barriers to education and employment: identify and evaluate the obstacles that prevent NEET youth from accessing education, training, or employment opportunities. This could include investigating factors such as lack of access to quality education, inadequate career guidance, and financial constraints.
- Assessing the aspirations and expectations of NEET youth: conduct surveys and interviews with NEET individuals to understand their goals, motivations, and expectations from life. This information could help to tailor interventions and support programmes that resonate with their aspirations.
- Evaluating the effectiveness of existing interventions: analyze the impact of existing policies and programmes targeted at NEET youth in Turkey, such as VET centres, job placement programmes, and social assistance measures. This research would provide insights into the efficacy of current approaches and inform future policy development.
- Exploring the role of family and social networks: investigate the influence of family and social networks on the NEET status of young people, and how these networks can be leveraged to support their reintegration into education or employment.
- Examining the impact of gender on NEET status: investigate the specific challenges faced by young women and men in NEET positions, and identify gender-responsive interventions that could address these disparities.
- Identifying the skills and training needs of NEET youth: assess the skills and training requirements of NEET individuals, and evaluate the extent to which existing programmes meet these needs. This research could inform the development of targeted training initiatives to enhance the employability of NEET youth.
By conducting these studies, stakeholders can gain a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics surrounding NEET youth in Turkey, enabling the development of effective policies and programmes to reduce the NEET rate and support the personal and professional development of these young people.
4 Potential of VET Centres in Turkey
In Turkey, the government has made significant efforts to expand and improve the VET system. In 2018, the Ministry of National Education introduced the “Vocational Education and Training Strategy” (MEB 2018), which aimed to increase the quality and accessibility of VET programmes throughout the country. Since then, Turkey has seen a gradual increase in VET enrolment, suggesting that more young people are recognizing the potential benefits of vocational education.
VET centres in Turkey provide valuable opportunities to the business world by equipping students with industry-specific skills, fostering a skilled workforce, and promoting innovation. By focusing on practical, hands-on training, VET centres help to bridge the gap between educational institutions and the labour market, ensuring that graduates are ready to contribute effectively to their respective industries.
According to the Ministry of National Education, the number of students in vocational training centres who could meet the qualified workforce needs of the private sector increased from 159 thousand in December 2021 to 1 million 376 thousand in April 2023.
The Minister of National Education noted that the strengthening of vocational training centres would make a very important contribution to reducing youth unemployment rates: “Especially the ratio of young people who are neither in education nor in employment” according to the performance measurements of OECD countries, and in parameters that measure the pass-through performance of education and labour market (MoNE 2023).
4.1 What advantages do vocational training centres offer?
- Vocational training opportunities in 34 fields and 184 different branches
- The opportunity to complete compulsory high school education in vocational education centres for those who have completed secondary school
- Insurance against work accidents and occupational diseases starting from the 9th grade
- At least 30% of the minimum wage for 9th, 10th, and 11th-grade students
- 12th-grade journeymen can be paid at least half of the minimum wage
- Mastery certificate, Vocational and Technical Anatolian High School diploma, and the opportunity to open one’s own business
- 88% employment rate in the field of graduation
4.2 Collaborations With Business Organizations
MoNE collaborates with business organizations such as the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) to enhance the quality and relevance of vocational education. These collaborations involve regular consultations, curriculum development, and the establishment of sectoral committees to identify industry needs and ensure that VET programmes align with labour market demands (TOBB 2020). In addition, joint initiatives such as the “MEB, TOBB, TOBB Univesity of Economics and Technology Cooperation in Vocational Training” project, launched in 2019, aim to improve the vocational training infrastructure and provide modern opportunities to VET students (TOBB 2019). Again in 2022, with the “VET Centres Collaboration” project initiated in partnership with the MoNE and TOBB, the private sector began to recruit students for training assignments in VET centres. Through these partnerships, MoNE and TOBB work together to ensure that VET centres effectively prepare students for the workforce, thereby contributing to Turkey’s economic growth and competitiveness.
5 Qualitative Research and Prominent Findings
Qualitative research was conducted within the scope of this article to understand whether VET centres were successful in reducing Turkey’s NEET rate. OECD data was analyzed and Turkey’s NEET rates were compared with other countries. There are limitations to the research, as the MoNE has not released official statistics regarding the number of students in VET centres. In this context, only the MoNE’s press releases could be taken into account.
A stratified random sampling method was used to select the research participants to represent Turkey. Within the scope of the qualitative research, a total of 30 administrators and teachers and 30 students in various VET centres across Turkey were interviewed face-to-face or online. In addition, 30 private sector representatives from all over Turkey were interviewed. Semi-structured interviews were conducted within the scope of all these interviews. Participants were asked questions about VET centres and NEET. Their answers were deciphered with the help of video and audio recordings. In this context, all statements offered by participants were made available for analysis.
MAXQDA and Nvivo programmes were used within the scope of the qualitative research. These programmes were used to analyze participants’ views on VET centres and their role in reducing Turkey’s NEET rates.
According to the qualitative research results, the improvements that have occurred in the VET centres in the last few years have greatly pleased the educators, students and private sector employees.
Based on the research results conducted within the scope of this article, the role of vocational training centres in reducing Turkey’s NEET rates can be summarized in the following items:
- Awareness and Communication:
- VET centre administrators, teachers and students are aware of the concept of NEET.
- This awareness enables students to understand the risks of NEET and the potential for VET centres to reduce these risks.
- VET centre administrators and teachers support their awareness of NEET by communicating regularly with students.
- Career Guidance:
- VET centres provide career orientation and guidance services to students.
- These services ensure that students are directed to occupations that suit their interests and abilities and reduce the risk of falling into NEET.
- VET centre teachers help students to make the right decisions by guiding them in their choice of career.
- Cooperation and Internship Opportunities:
- VET centres enable students to interact with the business world.
- By offering internship opportunities to students, they help them to develop their professional skills and gain work experience.
- Cooperation between VET centres and the business community increases students’ employability and reduces NEET rates.
- Flexible Training Programmes:
- VET centres offer flexible training programmes, allowing students to receive training tailored to their individual needs.
- This makes it easier for students to complete their education and reduces the risk of falling into NEET.
- VET centre administrators take student feedback into account to increase programme flexibility.
- Qualified Workforce According to Employer Demands:
- VET centres provide students with skills that match employers’ demands.
- A trained workforce with the qualifications required by the business world increases potential employment matches and opportunities.
- Students are more likely to find employment and avoid the pitfalls of NEET.
- Private Sector Cooperation:
- VET centres cooperate with private sector representatives.
- Programmes are updated and aligned with the needs of the private sector.
- This collaboration increases the employability of students and helps reduce NEET rates.
6 Challenges and Recommendations
Despite these efforts, the impact of VET centres on Turkey’s NEET rate remains unclear. The VET system continues to face challenges such as inadequate funding, a lack of industry-specific training programmes, and the negative perception of vocational education among parents and students (Aydin 2018). To maximize the potential of VET centres in reducing the NEET rate, these challenges must be addressed. Recommendations for improvement include:
- Increasing funding to improve the quality and accessibility of VET programmes (Aydin 2018).
- Strengthening partnerships between VET centres and industry sectors to ensure that training programmes are relevant and meet the needs of the labour market (European Commission 2019).
- Promoting the benefits of VET programmes through awareness campaigns targeting students, parents, and employers (OECD 2015).
To ensure that VET centres in Turkey play their part in effectively reducing the NEET rate, the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) should consider the following action plans and suggestions:
- Strengthen collaboration with industry stakeholders: enhance partnerships with business organizations, such as TOBB, to identify labour market demands and ensure that VET programmes are tailored to meet these needs.
- Improve the public image of vocational education: implement public awareness campaigns and promote success stories to counter the stigma surrounding vocational education and encourage more young people to pursue VET programmes.
- Increase investment in VET centres: allocate additional resources to improve facilities, provide up-to-date equipment, and attract qualified instructors, ensuring that VET centres can deliver high-quality education and training.
- Foster connections between VET centres and employers: encourage internships, apprenticeships, and job placement programmes that help students gain practical experience and facilitate their transition into the workforce.
- Update and adapt curricula: regularly review and revise VET curricula to keep pace with technological advancements and industry trends, ensuring that graduates possess relevant and in-demand skills.
- Expand access to VET programmes: address regional disparities in VET centre availability and work towards providing equal access to vocational education opportunities for young people across Turkey.
- Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of VET programmes: establish mechanisms to assess the impact of VET programmes on employment outcomes and the NEET rate, using the findings to inform future policy decisions and programme improvements.
- Support lifelong learning initiatives: promote and facilitate continuing education and skills development for VET graduates, ensuring that they can adapt to changing labour market conditions and maintain their employability.
In conclusion, VET centres hold great promise in reducing Turkey’s NEET rate by equipping young individuals with the necessary skills for gainful employment. International evidence supports the notion that well-established VET systems can significantly contribute to lowering NEET rates. However, several challenges persist within Turkey’s VET system, demanding collective efforts to overcome these barriers.
By addressing these challenges and investing in high-quality vocational education, Turkey can proactively prepare its youth for the labour market and create a positive impact on the NEET rate in the long run. A strategic approach to preparing young people for careers in high-demand sectors through VET centres can foster education, employment, and welfare growth in society.
It is vital to recognize that VET centres offer a dual benefit of providing education and employment opportunities to young people currently in NEET positions. Through the acquisition of new skills and subsequent employment, these centres have the potential to elevate the welfare and education levels of society. However, to realize their full potential, certain key steps must be taken.
Firstly, addressing the stigma surrounding vocational education is imperative. It is essential to promote the significance of vocational skills and the diverse range of career opportunities they offer. This will help to change societal perceptions and encourage more young individuals to consider VET as a viable path to success.
Secondly, adequate funding for VET centres must be secured to ensure their sustained operation and growth. Sufficient financial support will enable the improvement of facilities, training programmes, and the overall quality of vocational education.
Thirdly, aligning VET curricula with the ever-changing needs of the labour market is vital. By closely collaborating with industries and employers, VET centres can tailor their programmes to equip students with skills that are in demand, enhancing their employability upon graduation.
To maximize the impact of VET centres on the NEET rate, policymakers and industry stakeholders must unite their efforts and develop an effective vocational education system. By working together, they can create an environment in which young individuals have access to high-quality vocational education, leading to improved employment prospects and ultimately reducing the NEET rate in Turkey.
In the long run, the successful implementation of these recommendations can pave the way for a brighter future for Turkey’s youth, allowing them to overcome barriers and achieve personal growth while making a significant contribution to the nation’s economic and social development.
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