For the EBRD, the stark differences in economic performance between regions, especially in south-eastern Europe, mean that promoting inclusion has become imperative. An ambitious project to upgrade Serbia’s road network is helping to address this issue.
The EBRD, the European Investment Bank and the World Bank are committing a joint total of €274 million to upgrade 1,200 km of Serbian roads that are in need of repair after years of under-investment. Including contributions from the Serbian government and Technical Cooperation grant funds, the total value of the programme is €460 million. The project will improve road safety and make road transport easier, which will in turn contribute to economic growth.
The project will also help young people in rural areas improve their employment prospects by providing on-the-job training opportunities in a way that sets a precedent for the Serbian construction industry. In Serbia, half of young adults are out of work while almost a quarter are not in education, employment or training. The problem of youth unemployment is particularly acute in rural regions.
The road upgrade project introduces, for the first time in Serbia, a requirement in the tender process for construction companies to undertake their best efforts to offer on-site training opportunities to unemployed young people. The companies will be encouraged to recruit trainees through the National Employment Service (NES), which will pre-screen applicants and accredit the vocational experience gained from their placement.
As a result, over the four years of the project’s life, it will offer about 120 young people up to three months’ training, boosting their skills set and giving them valuable exposure to potential employers.
The main inclusion impact of the project stems from its introduction to the public procurement process in Serbia’s road sector of practices, modelled on international standards, for the opening up of training opportunities to unemployed young people. These practices strengthen the links between employers and education providers, facilitating the transition from training to employment for young people, and have the potential to be replicated across other areas of public procurement in Serbia and beyond.
“This is a very important investment which will address some major challenges that Serbia is facing today and that go beyond road conditions,” says Mirjana Milovanovic, the banker who led the EBRD’s involvement in the project. “The training programme for young people will greatly improve their chances of getting work in the construction industry and help them fulfil their potential.”