Private and public actors working together: pilot education project in Serbia

In a large room, five women sit one behind the other at sewing machines and sew.
Thanks to an SDC pilot project, young people in Serbia receive training that greatly increases their chances of finding employment. © SCO Serbia


The economic crisis weakened Serbia's competitiveness. Youth unemployment is relatively high and a large number of  young Serbians are looking for work but employers cannot find qualified workers. An SDC project is taking an integrative approach to address both problems.


Country/region Topic Period Budget
Employment & economic development
Employment creation
SME development
01.10.2014 - 31.12.2024
CHF  5’530’000

Improving private-public cooperation

Following the opening of the market in the 1990s, the Serbian economy entered a boom period. But growth was unstable, as became evident when the economy ground to a halt during the economic crisis of 2007-08. The Serbian economy has yet to recover from this blow, and rural regions and young people have been the hardest hit by the stagnating economy. 

In 2017, 40% of young people in Serbia were jobless – a youth unemployment rate considerably above the estimated global average (12.6%). The reason for this high unemployment rate is not only a lack of jobs, but also the fact that young people are leaving school with qualifications that do not meet the needs of the economy. 

Serbian employers, for their part, cannot find the qualified workers they need in their own country and are therefore unable to contribute to economic growth. 

The main reason for this catch-22 situation is the education system, which has proven incapable of providing young people with the skills demanded by the private sector.  But the problem also has deeper roots:  as long as the private and public sectors fail to work together, an economic turnaround will not be possible.

The SDC's 'South Serbia Private Sector Development' project is taking an integrative approach to tackle the problem:  it aims on the one hand to bring about positive change in a promising economic sector – the timber and furniture – and on the other to solve the underlying problem by establishing a foundation of trust between the private and public sectors. Because under the socialist command economy the government dictated what companies could and could not do, there has never been any trust between the private and private sectors in Serbia. The private sector that emerged in the 1990s has been unable to establish a relationship of trust with the public sector.

The SDC's proposed solution

The SDC has developed a project focused on the timber and furniture industry, Serbia's third largest economic sector in terms of GDP, just behind the agricultural and food sectors. It chose this industry because it tends to employ young people and offers a high level of job security. Once this industry meets its need for qualified workers, it will be able to grow and help strengthen the economy as a whole. 

The SDC is currently working with schools, companies and the government to develop an appropriate curriculum that will give young people the qualifications they actually need. This will provide companies with a qualified workforce and young school-leavers with promising job opportunities. The SDC project focuses on the process for developing the school curriculum rather than on its content, with a view to applying it to other sectors in the near future.

Implementation in Užice

The SDC aimed to develop, through collaboration between the private and public sectors, a successful educational concept tailored to Serbian needs. Užice was chosen as a pilot region for the South Serbia Private Sector Development project because a preliminary study showed that it was open and ready for change and had the necessary capabilities. 

Seven companies and a technical university from the region participated in the programme by jointly developing, field testing and adapting specific curricula for the timber and furniture industries. A working group then contacted government representatives and briefed them on the results achieved to date. Once mutual trust was established, the government approved the curricula and decided that they would be used throughout Serbia. The first course based on one of the curricula was started in 2016. Feedback from companies and students received since 2017 has been positive.

Looking ahead

There are high ambitions for the education sector: four additional practice-oriented curricula have been developed, and the metal and textile industries are in the process of setting up their own working groups. At government level, a new piece of legislation has been proposed providing for active private sector involvement in the development of curricula. 

The South Serbia Private Sector Development project will  continue to support these processes and work to maintain trust between the public and private sectors.