Bridging the gap between Roma youth and business – unlocking the hidden potential for the labor market

The notion that Roma do not work has long been disproved by the trends in the labor market in Bulgaria. The data for this is there: between 2011 and 2019, the share of working Roma has doubled. This is shown by a nationally representative study from 2019 ocommissioned by the Trust for a Social Achievement, dedicated to educational achievements in the Roma community.

Having said that, unemployment remains a huge problem, affecting one in five people in the community and one in three young people between the ages of 19 and 25. Observations and practice show that there is a large gap between disadvantaged communities and the business sector (from small to large multinational companies) – both sides speak different languages ​​and need a common ground to meet and find points of intersection. This requires the support and assistance of a third party to help them communicate with understanding.

Driven by the mission to fill this gap in the labor market in Bulgaria, since 2018 TSA has been focusing efforts on providing a service through which employers and people from vulnerable communities have greater opportunities for meetings and joint activities. Within the framework of the “Earning by Learning” project, implemented with partner organizations from Hungary, Romania, Spain and Bulgaria, TSA provides career guidance for young people from underprivileged groups up to 29 years of age as well as motivation, soft and hard skills training, personal development, mentoring, workplace support and networking events. The main goal of the project is to support young people by ensuring that their skills match the needs of employers in Bulgaria. In addition to this, a network of business and educational partners is being created, with whom TSA is working to create a more diverse and inclusive work and school environment in Bulgaria. The individual approach to the needs of each young participant guarantees better preparation, greater confidence, higher motivation and overall better chances for a successful career. The long-term mentoring support provided to the young people is decisive – it continues even after they are placed at work, it helps them to better adapt and solve various cases they encounter in the workplace. As a result, they value highly the long-term contribution of the project to their professional development.

Discrimination is a topic that is still high on the employment agenda for vulnerable groups. To this day, the challenges they face in this regard in our country are complex and difficult to solve. In terms of the workplace, discriminatory attitudes still play a leading role and are a major barrier that members of disadvantaged communities face as applicants for and participants in the labor market. This is a problem that the companies TSA works with are increasingly aware of and are increasingly looking for ways to solve. In order to support the process for both parties, within the framework of “Earning by Learning”, TSA started with specialized diversity training. Through it, the participants go through an assessment of their value system in order to undergo a personal transformation, which is aimed at stimulating the creation of a work environment based on respect and excluding prejudice in the longer term.

The goal TSA works towards is to offer tools and programs that improve corporate cultures, help overcome prejudice and create real opportunities for development and prosperity for people from underprivileged communities.

Such an opportunity is needed by 22-year-old Ivan Borisov, who is of Roma origin and is one of the young people involved in the project.

The boy graduated from the Vocational High School of Textiles and Leather Products, where he strived to excel and achieve good results. At school, Ivan discovered not only his professional vocation, but also his great love. He was 17  thenand she was only 16, and unlike most young people their age, they got married. “I had to stop school and take responsibility for the household, my family and my wife. I was only in the 9th grade when we got married.” Their daughter was born very soon. That’s how Ivan started working hard and enrolled in night school. For 3 years, he worked, came home after at 11 p.m. every night to start on his lessons and textbooks, studying until early morning. The next day, after only a few hours of sleep, he would go back to work – and so on until the 12th grade.

“I had a thousand reasons to quit and give up, but I didn’t. Because I knew exactly what I was doing and what I wanted to achieve, what I owed to myself and my family. A very large part of my classmates dropped out of class and stopped going to school at a very early age, because they were not literate enough and did not know the Bulgarian language well. That was the main reason they didn’t continue, they just didn’t understand the lessons. And I wanted to continue, I had already come this far. At the end, when I saw the diploma in my hands, I cried with happiness, it was just amazing and at the same time – even more motivating to continue my education”, says Ivan.

Soon after graduation, the young man sees an advert for free English classes that TSA offers through Earning by Learning. At first, Ivan decided that this cannot be true, but decided to submit the necessary documents anyway and got approved. “I was very happy because I saw my dreams come true one by one, I also successfully completed level A1 – and I decided that if the courses continued with higher levels, I would definitely join,” says Ivan. While learning English, he does not forget to pass on what he has learned to others so meanwhile, he teaches children from the church near his home.

Now Ivan works as a cook, but very soon he will graduate as a psychologist. And what he wishes is to continue to not give up.

“Throughout my journey, I have felt the support of my parents. But I am also very grateful to the foundation (TSA), and especially to Olya Georgieva. When you fail or lose motivation, it is very important that someone listens to you and gives you the necessary strength to continue, to believe that you can do more.”

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More about the project, as well as useful resources for representatives of business:

The “Earning by Learning” project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway within the EEA and Norway Grants for Youth Employment program.

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