Many young Albanian workers are returning home after losing their jobs abroad due to the economic crisis. For many of them, re-entering the local labour market is a daunting task. An ILO-UNDP project helped them address that challenge.

ILO News – Jorilda and Edi Pepa worked in the bustling tourism industry of the Aegean Island of Santorini until the Greek crisis came knocking at the door two years ago.

Jorilda Pepa

After they lost their jobs in Greece, they decided to return to Albania and open a coffee shop in the town of Lezha.

Edi’s family also owned a 1.5 hectare field in their home village of Malci, located in the municipality of Kolsh. The land had been laying fallow for several years, but the couple lacked the know-how and funds to invest in it.

One day they met the experts of the ILO-UNDP project Local Level Responses to Youth Unemployment Challenges , and their luck changed. The experts helped this hardworking couple transform the field into arable land. This fall, they were able to harvest sage for the first time.

The training not only taught them about the cultivation of sage and other aromatic and medical plants, but also how to set up a business. The project also paid for the sage stems to be planted on their plot of land.


Half of returnees unemployed

Jorilda and Edi Pepa are two of an estimated 130,000 Albanian emigrants that have returned home over the last three years. Most of them came from Greece and Italy, where economies dipped in the aftermath of the European debt crisis.

A joint study by Albania’s Institute of Statistics (INSTAT) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) shows that 50 per cent of migrants who have returned to Albania are unemployed.

The project raised the capacities at the local level to recognize and address youth unemployment as an issue.”

Teuta Zejno, ILO National Project Coordinator

They face an uphill battle to re-enter the local labour market, which is particularly difficult for young people aged 15-29.

At 33.5 per cent, their unemployment rate is almost twice as high as that of adults (17.7 percent).

Funded by Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), the ILO-UNDP project supported so-called Territorial Employment Pacts (TEPs) in three northern regions, Shkodër, Lezha and Kukës, which are among the poorest in Albania.

The Pacts established a contractual partnership and cooperation between different actors at the local level to help them address key issues in their communities in a more coordinated and participatory manner.

“The project raised the capacities at the local level to recognize and address youth unemployment as an issue, while at the same time giving practical examples how this can be done,” says Teuta Zejno, the ILO National Project Coordinator.


Tackling youth unemployment

The establishment of Regional Employment Boards has been key to the fight against youth unemployment.

ILO expertise helped us build the decision-making bodies to address the unemployment problem.”

Andrea Jakova, Regional Employment Board, Shkodra Regional Council

“ILO expertise helped us build the decision-making bodies to address the unemployment problem,” says Andrea Jakova, a member of the Regional Employment Board, representing Shkodra Regional Council. “This way, we can attract more funds and could even benefit from EU social cohesion funds in the future.”

The project has created 420 jobs for youth in the private sector, while 166 trainees were self-employed. These promising results are illustrative of the ILO’s new fair migration agenda, which includes as one strategic pillar the need to create more decent work opportunities in countries of origin in order to make migration an option rather than an obligation.

Fair migration also recognizes that protection of migrant workers can result in significantly larger gains for migrants in both origin and destination countries. This is particularly important for youth migrants who are working to build their skills.

“We identified tourism and agriculture as priority sectors and then drafted the Territorial Employment Pact for Lezha, which comprised several measures to promote youth employment and reduce the incidence of informal employment,” explains Jak Gjini, local coordinator of the project in Lezha.

Meanwhile, Jorilda and Edi Pepa are expanding their farming activities.

“Next year we also want to plant lavender and start a small bee colony,” says Jorilda.


High tech where you’re not expecting it

In Kukës, a mountainous area on the border with Kosovo*, arable land does not come easy.

Ingrid Shyti and Gentian Guska

While some returnees also plant sage like Jorilda and Edi Pepa, Ingrid Shyti had another idea. He graduated in economics at the University of Tirana, but his real passion is web technology.

When he returned to his home town, he teamed up with his friend Gentian Guska to train local youth in web development – with support from the ILO-UNDP project.

“The plan was that I do tech support for clients in Tirana, while Gentian and the crew back in Kukeës will manage the web pages,” he explains.

They finally won the competition “Generating ideas for sustainable entrepreneurship,” launched in the framework of the Territorial Employment Pact for Youth in Kukës.

Based on the business plan submitted, the project provided Shyti with funding that would cover one year of rent and the costs to buy several computers for their office, helping him to start a high-tech company and transfer his know-how to a place where nobody would have expected to find it.

* As defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1244′