Overview of the Bulgarian approach
As of late 2016, skills anticipation was still very much in its development phase in Bulgaria. Skills anticipation activities include:
Skills assessment carried out by the National Network for Competence Assessment (NNCA). The NNCA is run by a Council
which is supported in its activities by the National Competence Assessment Centre
Employment and skill forecasts undertaken by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy
Skills foresight activities at the occupational level carried out on an ad hoc basis by branch associations and social partners;
Other activities, such as regular employer surveys run by the National Employment Agency
A model of skills assessment was developed and implemented with funding from the ESF (2009-2013). The project ‘Development of Workforce Competence Assessment System by Sectors and Regions’ was managed by the social partners – Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA), in partnership with the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (CL Podkrepa) – and led to the creation of the NNCA. Amongst other activities, the NNCA provides online competence assessments, free of charge, at the Workforce Competence Assessment System’s ‘My Competence’ portal. This is an information system that comprises five main modules: sector competency models, assessment, sector information, e-learning and development resources.
Skills forecasts were initiated by the Council of Ministers in 2013 (1) and are the responsibility of the MLSP. These forecasts are based on a macroeconomic model and incorporate data from surveys of employers, the National Statistical Institute (NSI), the National Social Security Institute (NSSI), the National Revenue Agency (NRA), and the NEA. With financial support from the ESF (2013-2015), through the project ‘Development of a system for forecasting the needs of labour force with certain skills and characteristics,’ the MLSP has undertaken skills forecasting and published a long term forecast on labour force supply and demand for the period 2014-2028. (2) The methodology used in the forecast provides a basis for the preparation of future forecasts to be funded by the MLSP.
An in-depth analysis of the future skills needs of enterprises was conducted in 2015 by the NEA as a pilot study under the guidance of the MLSP and with financial support from the ESF. The results of the study provided a short-term forecast of the development of the labour market in Bulgaria. (3) Funding from the MLSP and NEA will allow the survey to be repeated in the future.
Other instruments for the analysis of skills demand include regular surveys by the NEA (4) and the collection and analysis of quantitative data collected through local labour offices. Sector specific skills foresight activities are also undertaken.
The mission of the NNCA is to ‘enhance labour market adaptability and effectiveness, as well as to strike a greater balance of labour market demand and supply by developing a system for workforce competence assessment by sectors and regions.’ (5) The aims of the MLSP’s forecasts are closely linked to the country’s labour market policy aims. Labour market policy is oriented towards ensuring that the supply of labour is aligned to the qualifications, skills and competences in demand in the labour market. This is set out in the annual National Employment Action Plan (NEAP).
The most important legal document relevant for skills anticipation, and the systematic use of its results, is the 2013 Council of Ministers’ Decision on the ‘Mechanism for including the results of foresights of supply and demand of labour in developing and implementing government policies’. The Decision outlines, among other things, the role of individual institutions regarding skills anticipation. According to the Mechanism, the MLSP has the main responsibility for governance of skills anticipation and provision of annual reports on the labour market needs based on employer surveys and official data from the NSI, the NEA, and the NSSI.
Overall, much of the regulation on VET highlights the importance of skills matching and meeting the needs of the labour market, (6) which can be supported by skills needs anticipation. The ‘Strategy for the Development of VET 2015-2020’ encourages cooperation and partnership amongst VET institutions and employers to bring about better matching of skills provision to labour market needs. In addition the ‘National Strategy for the Development of Higher Education 2014 – 2020’ seeks to strengthen the links between the needs of the labour market and higher education providers
In accordance with the ‘Mechanism for including the results of forecast of supply and demand of labour in developing and implementing government policies,’ the MLSP is primarily responsible for the governance of skills anticipation. The Mechanism states that the responsibilities of the MLSP include providing regular reports on labour market needs; the organisation of data collection and analysis; facilitating consultations with stakeholders; policy design; and the monitoring of policy implementation. The MLSP is supported in this regard by the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) that provides data on higher education and VET.
The role of stakeholders
The NNCA cooperates with employers, trade unions, experts and practitioners in different economic sectors, including substantial stakeholder engagement via its 20 sectoral and 10 regional units. Within the NNCA sits a National Reference Network (NRN) involving a variety of stakeholders, including individual employers and employers’ organisations, government experts, trade unions, consultancy companies, and education providers, that have an advisory role. At local and regional levels, more than 300 representatives from business, education, government, trade unions and others participate in the activities of NRN. The NNCA also works closely with two trade unions (the CITUB and the CL Podkrepa), education experts, employers and university researchers in the preparation and dissemination of their labour market skills assessments. The effectiveness of the NNCA is reliant upon stakeholders’ cooperation in this regard.
Social partners at national level also sit on consultative bodies relevant to skills anticipation in, for instance, the MLSP, the NEA, the MES and the National Agency for VET (NAVET). Stakeholder involvement is also significant in regional administrations, municipalities and local labour offices. Additionally, NGOs and other forms of citizens’ representation are invited to assess any policy initiatives and legislative changes through the Public Consultations Platform at the Council of Ministers. Notably, the NNCA was developed jointly by the social partners.
Employer organisations are actively involved at the planning stage of policies relating to higher education and VET. For example, the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) sends official queries to the four main employers’ organisations and other competent authorities during the preparation of the annual admission plan to education in higher secondary schools and VET schools. The key stakeholders involved in steering education and training provisions, are the MES, the MLSP, the NAVET, higher education institutions, VET providers, the social partners, and NGOs. Their representatives sit in consultative committees which advise the MLSP (e.g. in the National Employment Promotion Council, Coordination Council for Implementation and Monitoring of the National Plan for European Youth Guarantee 2014-2020).
The NAVET operates on a tripartite principle. The Governing Board and expert committees for different vocational areas involve employers, trade unions, state organisations, and VET experts. This involvement arguably helps to ensure that VET standards and the respective skills offered in education and training courses take labour market requirements into consideration.
It is also of relevance to note that training was provided in 2014 to government officials in the NEA, regional employment directorates and labour offices to increase their knowledge of and involvement in the MLSP forecasting exercise.
The NNCA activities target a wide range of groups such as employers, employees, human resources managers, policymakers and experts in the fields of education and training and labour market, university researchers, trainers, training institutions, students, and all potential users of the Workforce Competence Assessment System ‘My Competence.’ Surveys run by NEA are intended for regular use by labour market experts, guidance practitioners, recruitment agencies, training providers and employers. Meanwhile, the MLSP’s skills forecasts are targeted mainly at policymakers.
Funding and resources
As noted above, funding from the ESF has been used to develop skills anticipation in Bulgaria. The MLSP funds forecasting work, while the NEA’s regular surveys are financed from its own budget (via the MLSP). The continuation of activities to sustain skills anticipation activities has been guaranteed through the State’s financing of active labour market policy measures, the MLSP’s forecasting work, and the NEA’s regular surveys (the NEA’s activities are funded via the MLSP).