Fair and equal access to the labour market benefits a country’s economic growth and prosperity. Achieving this requires appropriate skills training and job opportunities to be made available to all. Kazakhstan enjoys low unemployment rates and robust female labour-force participation (the highest in Central Asia) thanks to strong economic growth and high education levels. Issues remain, however, when it comes to equality of opportunity, amid gaps in the quality of education and skills mismatches. While official youth unemployment is low, 10 per cent of young people are not in education, employment or training. Legal barriers mean women face discrimination when applying for certain jobs in male-dominated industries and gender pay gaps remain a cause for concern. This impedes the optimal participation of women and young people in the Kazakh economy. This is particularly evident in the energy sector, where there is an acute lack of training opportunities and women account for only 25 per cent of the total workforce, with little sign of improvement in recent years.
How we work
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has taken a holistic approach to boosting equal economic opportunities in the Kazakh energy and mining sectors, working with private and state-owned enterprises and the government through investment, technical assistance and policy engagement. The EBRD’s initial engagement in 2016 was a €100 million loan and technical assistance to national energy company Samruk-Energy. It was the first project in the Kazakh energy sector to cover both the youth and gender aspects of inclusion, enhancing gender reporting standards, boosting the number of women in higher positions and developing partnerships with local educational institutions and universities. This was followed by a US$ 200 million investment in the development of the Kyzyl gold deposit, accompanied by technical assistance. The project aimed to foster skills transfer to young professionals through standardised training in the workplace and to enhance gender equality through the dissemination of best practices and lessons learned in the mining sector. The Bank has also engaged in policy dialogue with the Ministry of Labour and KazEnergy (the national association of major energy companies) to develop and implement policy recommendations on removing legal barriers to women’s employment in the energy sector and encouraging more women to enrol in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.
Achievements and results
- The EBRD has developed a dual leaning programme with Samruk-Energy to train over 120 students a year through partnerships with local technical universities and institutions.
- Four new National Occupational Skills Standards address better skills and standards for 22 professions based on employers’ requirements, in collaboration with KazEnergy and the Association of Mining and Metallurgical Enterprises. The standards are part of the National Qualifications Framework, so inform the curricula of all vocational colleges and universities with relevant courses on mining and energy.
- The share of women in group-level board positions at Samruk-Energy rose from 15 per cent to 18 per cent between 2017 and 2019. In March 2019, Samruk-Energy became the first EBRD client to sign the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles.
- The Polymetal Academic Centre’s course on information systems in the mining sector provides work-based learning opportunities for 650 young employees, 220 of which are women. Polymetal also contributed to the development of a training programme on occupational health and safety, which was made available to seven local vocational colleges.
- Following gender policy dialogue, the government removed 75 occupations from the list of 287 jobs previously prohibited to women on the grounds that they would be detrimental to their health. The Bank is working to support further reductions in the list by informing discussions and advocating for change among government and other key stakeholders, as well as by updating occupational health and safety standards for women and men
Asem Saduakas studied in the EBRD-supported dual system while at college: “I gained both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. In 2017, I was employed by the Almaty power generation company and have already had a promotion”
The Kazakh government supports the implementation of technical cooperation activities to promote economic inclusion and equal opportunities through the joint EBRD-Kazakhstan Government Technical Cooperation Fund, providing €200,000 towards these activities for 2021.