3. Fostering participation in adult learning of all forms in Kazakhstan

Participation in adult learning of all forms (see Box 3.1) has significant benefits for individuals, employers and society as a whole. For individuals, participation in formal adult education and training can lead to better employability prospects, higher wages and upward social mobility (Midtsundstad, 2019[1]). For employers, formal and non-formal training leads to higher productivity growth and is often a complement to innovation in the workplace (Acemoglu, 1998[2]; Dearden, Reed and Van Reenen, 2006[3]; Konings and Vanormelingen, 2015[4]). Participation in adult learning can also generate strong social benefits. Higher skilled adults typically report better health, feel more included in political processes and trust others more than low-skilled adults. Adult learning opportunities can help individuals achieve these higher levels of skills (OECD, 2016[5]).

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has posed major challenges to Kazakhstan’s skills system since early 2020, when social distancing measures were introduced (see Chapter 1). Throughout the OECD Skills Strategy project, the OECD team has provided support on how the supply of adult learning opportunities can be adjusted to meet the immediate needs of Kazakhstan during the crisis. As the economy starts recovering, strengthening adult learning can help Kazakhstan transition away from a low-skilled equilibrium. This is a situation characterised by a majority of firms employing poorly trained managers and workers, while exhibiting low productivity and/or producing low specification (or quality) goods and services. Kazakhstan exhibits the characteristics of a country in a low-skill equilibrium (see Figure 3.1), as it shows comparatively low levels of participation in adult learning of all forms and low productivity, in line with some other upper middle income countries, such as Mexico, Peru and the Russian Federation1 (hereafter “Russia”). Moving towards high-productivity, high-skill activities will increase the adaptability of the Kazakhstani economy and support current efforts to diversify the economy away from exploiting natural resources (see Chapter 1), making Kazakhstan’s economy and society more resilient to the impact of megatrends.

Kazakhstan has already introduced several measures to build a stronger adult learning system. For example, Kazakhstan has launched the State Programme of Productive Employment and Mass Entrepreneurship Development 2017-2021 (Enbek) to provide short-term modular vocational education and training (VET) courses to unemployed, under-employed and low-skill individuals. Kazakhstan has also introduced legislation to officially recognise non-formal education and training outcomes and organisations providing non-formal education.

This chapter begins with an overview of current practices and performance indicators for further developing participation in adult learning of all forms in Kazakhstan. It then describes three opportunities for building a stronger adult learning system, focusing on improving the supply and quality of adult learning opportunities, increasing motivation and removing barriers to participation.

Kazakhstan provides adult learning in many ways, comprising formal and non-formal adult learning opportunities, across VET colleges, higher education (HE) institutions, private training providers and professional development centres. Large enterprises, which account for a large share of total employment and are frequently state-owned, often establish their own training centres. As in OECD countries and other countries, several ministries play a role in the adult learning system. In the case of Kazakhstan, these include the Ministry of Education and Science (MOES), the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population (MLSPP) and the Ministry of National Economy (MNE). Ministries have introduced a range of state programmes to improve participation in adult learning of all forms, such as the Enbek programme, the Digital Kazakhstan State Programme 2018-2022 (Digital Kazakhstan) and The State Programme for the Development of Education and Science 2020-2025.

In Kazakhstan, formal education opportunities for individuals are mainly offered by over 800 VET colleges and 131 HE institutions. These numbers are relatively large given the size of the country. As of 2019, 43% of VET and 43% of HE institutions are private and have a narrow specialisation. Most of these private institutions were opened during the 1990s and the 2000s, when it was relatively easy to obtain a license. Access to HE institutions is contingent on passing an entrance exam, the Unified National Test (UNT), which is based on the secondary school curriculum. Non-formal education opportunities are generally offered by private training providers and professional development centres. The number of these centres increased dramatically between 2000 and 2015, but Kazakhstan only introduced the concept of non-formal education in legislation in 2019. Given this rapidly evolving setting, the quality of non-formal learning opportunities varies significantly across training providers and centres, as there is not a robust quality assurance system in place (see Opportunity 1 for further details).

As in OECD countries and other countries, companies are responsible for organising their own training depending on the size and capacity of their business. According to information provided by stakeholders consulted throughout the OECD Skills Strategy project, smaller employers frequently struggle in funding and organising their own training opportunities. Conversely, large firms that dominate the country's economic sectors, such as oil and gas, mining, and infrastructure, often establish their own training centres. For example, the sovereign wealth fund Samruk Kazyna, which owns the national rail and postal services and various national resources companies, has established its own corporate university to provide analytical and human resources support to its portfolio companies. Other examples of independent training centres are Kazakhstan Railway Company's Transport Technology Centre (http://edutransport.kz/) and Kazakhtelecom's Training Centre (https://learning.telecom.kz/mira/).

Several ministries and actors play a role in the adult learning system in Kazakhstan. The MOES plays a leading role in the formulation of the national policy for education and training, including the development of curricula, setting arrangements for ex ante and ex post quality assurance, and supporting the implementation of education policy by national universities and colleges. Local government authorities (akimats) are responsible for providing funding to VET colleges and local universities, and monitoring policy implementation on the ground.

In the context of labour market policies, the MLSPP oversees the provision of training to unemployed workers in the informal economy and socially vulnerable groups, including through employment centres located regionally. As well as helping inactive workers in their job search (see Chapter 2), employment centres co-operate with employers to provide short-term training (up to six months) at education institutions or training centres. The MNE leads and co-ordinates policies to foster industrial development, including strategies to support the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), measures to promote Kazakhstani exports and initiatives to encourage technological innovation across all enterprises. As part of its mandate to support the growth of SMEs, the MNE offers some incentives to promote continuous workforce training in SMEs (see Opportunity 3 for further details). The National Chamber of Entrepreneurs (NCE or Atameken) facilitates interactions between enterprises and ministries.

Kazakhstan’s ministries have introduced a range of programmes to foster participation in adult learning of all forms. Although there is limited information on participation rates and their effectiveness, it is possible to describe them at a high level, combining information in the public domain with evidence gathered during the OECD’s consultations with stakeholders.

Since 2017, the MLSPP has been running the Enbek programme, which consists of four pillars: 1) strengthening technical and vocational education and short-term vocational training; 2) developing entrepreneurship skills and providing microloans/grants for entrepreneurs; 3) supporting employment promotion and labour force mobility; and 4) supporting youth entrepreneurship (see Chapter 2 for a detailed description). Under the first pillar, free short-term vocational training courses are available to the unemployed, workers younger than 29, the self-employed and individuals with no formal education. Employers can also enrol their employees in the programme but are required to pay for the training unless their employees are about to be laid off. In this case, 50% of the cost would be paid for by the MLSPP.

The Ministry of Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industry (MDDIAI) is responsible for the Digital Kazakhstan programme, which has been running since 2018 (see Chapter 1). One of the five directions of the programme aims to foster the development of information and communication technology (ICT) skills by providing online training courses. The Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development leads on the delivery of the State Programme of Industrial-Innovation Development 2020-2025, which aims to improve economic diversification by promoting exports and increasing participation in higher value-added and innovation activities. To succeed in this respect, the programme foresees the need to develop training opportunities linked to Industry 4.0 activities.

OECD and World Bank evidence suggests that Kazakhstan has comparatively low levels of participation in adult learning of all forms. According to the recently released Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the participation rate in adult learning is lower in Kazakhstan than all OECD countries and other upper middle income countries, such as Peru and Russia. Participation is lower across all demographic groups. Even highly skilled individuals in Kazakhstan participate only a few percentage points above the average for low-skilled adults in OECD countries. In part, this reflects comparatively low participation in job-related training by enterprises, across both large firms and SMEs. Training provision is concentrated highly unevenly across the country with rural, poorer regions falling behind urban centres such as Almaty and resource-rich regions, such as Atyrau.

OECD PIAAC data show that Kazakhstan has a comparatively low participation rate in adult learning: just 17% of adults participated in formal and/or non-formal learning in 2018 (see Figure 3.2). This participation rate is significantly below top-performing countries such as New Zealand (67%) and Finland (65%) and is considerably lower than the OECD average (47%). Kazakhstan also underperforms compared to other upper middle income countries such as Mexico (30%), Turkey (22%) and Russia (19%). In line with other countries, the majority of adults in Kazakhstan participate solely in non-formal learning opportunities (13.4%) with very few participating in just formal learning opportunities (1.5%) or a combination of the two (2.1%).

Participation rates in adult learning in Kazakhstan are consistently lower than in OECD countries across socio-demographic characteristics, defined by gender, age, and education level (see Figure 3.3). For example, both individuals with and without tertiary education significantly under participate in adult learning, compared to the average across OECD countries. Strikingly, individuals with tertiary education in Kazakhstan are as likely to participate in adult learning as individuals in OECD countries with less than upper secondary education.

In Kazakhstan, as in other countries, employers play an important role in encouraging participation in adult learning by providing training opportunities (see Figure 3.4). Of the total 15% of adults engaged in non-formal training, 13% participate in job-related education, with just 2% participating in other types of non-formal education. Participation in job-related education is in line with other upper middle income countries, such as Turkey (17%) and Russia (16%). However, the total percentage of adults participating in job-related education in Kazakhstan is still much lower than the OECD average (37%).

The under-provision of job-related training extends to both large firms and SMEs (see Figure 3.5). The proportion of workers that participate in job-related education in large firms is lower than all OECD countries and all upper middle income countries covered by the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), except Russia (see Figure 3.5). This relative under-provision in large firms is particularly problematic because large firms play a prominent role in Kazakhstan’s economy: large firms in Kazakhstan account for 68% of formal employment, a larger proportion than any OECD country (the OECD average is just 31%), and contribute 75% to value added to the national economy (OECD, 2018[9]).

Across all countries, SMEs are generally less likely to provide job-related training, because they have fewer resources than large firms to overcome a range of informational and financial barriers, such as assessing their own training needs, identifying the right training programmes and liquidity constraints (International Labour Organization, 2017[10]). However, SMEs in Kazakhstan seem to be more exposed to these barriers, as they train fewer workers than all OECD countries and all upper middle income countries covered by the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), except Russia (see Figure 3.5). This is concerning, because investment in training could help SMEs to better integrate into global value chains (GVCs), contributing to the diversification of the economy away from the exploitation of natural resources.

Regional dynamics are also important in explaining variation in training propensity across Kazakhstan (see Figure 3.6). Training provision by firms is concentrated highly unevenly across the country, with rural, poorer regions falling behind urban centres such as Almaty and resource-rich regions such as Atyrau. In several rural regions, such as Karaganda, the proportion of enterprises providing training is below 10%.

These results are likely driven by low participation in training by rural SMEs, which cannot afford to establish their own training centres and may face prohibitive costs in working with distant training providers. Combined, these findings point to a dual policy challenge for fostering participation in job-related training in Kazakhstan: increasing access to training among SMEs, especially in rural areas, while ensuring that large firms also expand their training offering.

This section describes three opportunities to foster participation in adult learning of all forms. The selection is based on input from literature, desk research, discussions with Kazakhstan’s national project team, discussions with stakeholders in workshops in Nur-Sultan and Almaty, as well as virtual meetings involving more than 100 stakeholders. In light of this evidence, the following opportunities are considered to be the most relevant for the specific context in Kazakhstan to foster participation in adult learning of all forms:

  • Opportunity 1: Strengthening the supply and quality of adult learning opportunities

  • Opportunity 2: Increasing motivation to engage in adult learning

  • Opportunity 3: Removing barriers to participation in adult learning.

High levels of participation in adult learning require an adequate supply of opportunities tailored to the needs of individuals and employers. Adult learning opportunities should be flexible in format (e.g. part-time, on line), design (e.g. modular, credit-based courses) and location (e.g. the workplace) (OECD, 2019[12]). Adult learning opportunities also need to be of high quality to ensure that they result in real skills gains for individuals (OECD, 2019[12]). However, stakeholders consulted throughout the OECD Skills Strategy project considered that there were gaps in the supply of adult learning opportunities in Kazakhstan and that there is not yet a well-developed system of quality assurance for non-formal learning opportunities.

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, stakeholders also expressed concerns about the capacity of educational institutions to deal with the pandemic. Consequently, throughout the OECD Skills Strateg project, the OECD team has provided insights into how Kazakhstan can adapt the supply of adult learning opportunities to better cope with the COVID-19 crisis, drawing on experiences from OECD countries (Box 3.2).

As a new normal emerges, the policy focus will need to shift to strengthening the adult learning system so that Kazakhstan can benefit from the transformations induced by megatrends. In line with insights from stakeholders, this opportunity first considers how to strengthen the supply and quality of adult learning opportunities of all forms. Then, it explores how to improve the quality assurance system for non-formal adult learning opportunities.

A systematic assessment of the supply of adult learning opportunities in Kazakhstan is currently not possible, due to the lack of comprehensive data on the number of programmes delivered and the quality of learning outcomes. Kazakhstan should consider gathering more detailed data on adult learning opportunities and labour market needs to strengthen provision (see Chapter 4) and use the information to conduct a systematic evaluation of different programmes (see Chapter 5). The evidence gathered by the OECD team does allow, however, for some high-level recommendations on current gaps in the supply of adult learning opportunities for individuals.

As foreshadowed in the current arrangements section, Kazakhstan has made some progress in expanding access to adult learning opportunities to vulnerable individuals, with the introduction of the Enbek programme. However, some stakeholders have expressed reservations about the quality of learning opportunities offered within Enbek. Currently, very few impact evaluations of skills policies take place, meaning Kazakhstan should take steps to build a stronger impact evaluation culture (see Chapter 2) and strengthen the quality assurance system (see the section below).

More broadly, evidence from PIAAC data and stakeholders consulted during the mission suggest two areas where it is possible to strengthen the supply of adult learning opportunities.

First, it might be beneficial to expand the supply of foundational skills courses for literacy, numeracy and ICT, especially in rural areas. According to the recent OECD PIAAC data, the proportion of individuals with low digital skills is relatively high in both rural and urban areas of Kazakhstan (see Figure 3.7, Panel C).

Approximately 81% of individuals in rural areas and 72% of those in urban areas performed below Level 2 (implying that they could, at best, complete simple tasks involving familiar technology applications); failed the ICT core test (implying that they could not use a mouse or keyboard); or had no computer experience in the test assessing skills required to solve problems in technology-rich environments (see Figure 3.7, Panel C). Kazakhstani adults perform relatively better in literacy and numeracy, but in rural areas, approximately one-third of adults performed below Level 2, implying that they could, at best, compute basic mathematical operations or extract key messages from a short text (see Figure 3.7, Panels A and B).

As a result, Kazakhstan will need to strengthen efforts to improve foundational skills courses. Kazakhstan has started to make some progress in this respect, through the Digital Kazakhstan initiative. As part of the programme, over 1 million individuals and 860 000 employees have already received digital literacy training, through online courses in e-services, e-commerce, basic digital skills, information security and open government. However, some stakeholders believe that delivering courses on line still fails to foster participation among more vulnerable individuals outside of major urban areas. This is consistent with international evidence, showing that in-person delivery still plays a crucial role in the dissemination of digital skills. Online delivery can only be effective once digital literacy skills are already in place. Older individuals in particular may require tailored support that is best delivered face-to-face. Kazakhstan could potentially leverage the Conecta Joven project in Spain to make further progress in the delivery of digital skills, particularly for older individuals (see Box 3.3).

More broadly, Kazakhstan should consider integrating foundational literacy, numeracy and digital modules within the Enbek programme and within training programmes organised by large employers, which according to stakeholders, currently focus mostly on technical skills. Kazakhstan could take inspiration from Australia’s Skills for Education and Employment programme to understand how to co-ordinate basic skills interventions over a large and heterogonous territory (see Box 3.3).

Second, higher education needs to become more accessible for adults. Access to formal higher education qualifications for adults in Kazakhstan is generally difficult, especially if they have not enrolled in university after completing their secondary qualifications. In 2019, the possibility of taking the UNT entrance exam was expanded to four times a year (exams are now held in January, March, June and August) to improve access to higher education. However, according to information from the MOES, HE institutions still do not generally offer part-time formal education qualifications. Part-time degrees are only available in some private international universities, which adopt the US model, such as the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research (KIMEP) in Almaty. Adults can engage in distance education in approximately 70 HE institutions, but only if they are studying from abroad, have a disability, are serving criminal sentences or are pursuing a second tertiary qualification. Distance education can be provided through online or offline resources, depending on the subject, and universities have the autonomy to decide on the format of exams and midterms. Kazakhstan also has a small offering of massive open online courses (MOOCs). The National Platform of Open Education is only operating as a pilot, featuring a limited number of programmes, mostly in theoretical subjects. MOOCs could be a particularly attractive option for individuals who already have tertiary education and would like to reskill and update their knowledge.

The MOES has recently launched the “Silver Universities” programme to strengthen the offering of non-formal higher education opportunities for older individuals. Under the initiative, all HE institutions need to provide adults aged 50 and above with opportunities to acquire new skills, retrain and remain intellectually active, but the details are not yet fully developed.

Kazakhstan needs to make further progress in expanding access to formal HE opportunities to all adults and improving the offering of MOOCs. Expanding access to formal HE opportunities could involve introducing part-time degrees and modular formal education qualifications, which could enable individuals to better combine study with work and family responsibilities. To improve the offering of MOOCs, Kazakhstan could further develop the National Platform of Open Education, leveraging lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis. To succeed in this respect, Kazakhstan could take inspiration or form partnerships with other platforms offering courses in Russian, such as the Russian National Open Education platform (see Box 3.3).

Poor quality learning programmes can contribute to lower participation in adult learning because they reduce the benefits of undertaking adult learning opportunities for individuals and employers (OECD, 2019[12]). To ensure high-quality adult learning programmes, it is important to establish a strong quality assurance system (OECD, 2019[12]). Quality assurance mechanisms such as monitoring and evaluation procedures remain underdeveloped across the skills system in Kazakhstan (see Chapter 5). Chapter 5 provides recommendations on how to develop common standards for the quality assurance of education and training providers. When it comes to adult learning, as shown in the performance section, non-formal opportunities account for a substantial share of total participation. Hence, this section will focus on providing specific recommendations on how to improve the quality assurance system for non-formal learning opportunities.

Across OECD countries, quality assurance of non-formal learning opportunities involves a combination of: 1) ex ante recognition/certification of providers; 2) ex post monitoring and evaluation of providers; and 3) ex post monitoring and evaluation of learning outcomes (see Box 3.4). Ex ante recognition/certification and ex post monitoring/evaluation of providers help ensure that providers operate according to robust standards in designing and delivering adult learning opportunities (see Box 3.4). Ex post monitoring of learning outcomes makes sure that programmes result in measurable skills gains for the participants (see Box 3.4). The quality assurance system should also be complemented by clear guidance to training providers on how to implement quality standards, for instance, through good practice examples or self-evaluation tools (OECD, 2019[12]).

According to several stakeholders consulted during the OECD Skills Strategy project, non-formal education providers in Kazakhstan are not subject to any ex ante or ex post quality checks. As foreshadowed in the description of current arrangements, the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan "On Education" only introduced the concept of non-formal education in 2019. According to the law, non-formal training centres do not need formal or non-formal approval from MOES to operate. The law allows the MOES to create a list of recognised organisations that provide non-formal education, but registration is voluntary. Moreover, the conditions to join the list do not create a strong foundation for effective ex ante regulation. Providers are only required to submit legal documents confirming the establishment of the education institution, the availability of training rooms and the contracts of training staff. Little information on the quality of learning offered is contained in these legal documents. Similarly, non-formal education providers do not receive guidance on how to implement good quality standards. There is also no substantial ex post monitoring and evaluation of learning outcomes due to the lack of comprehensive labour market data (see Chapter 4).

In the future, Kazakhstan should tighten the rules for ex ante recognition/certification of providers and conduct ex post monitoring and evaluation of providers. Kazakhstan could build on the experience of other countries, such as Romania or Slovenia (see Box 3.4). Following reforms to the quality assurance regime, Kazakhstan should provide clear guidance and training to providers on how to adopt the quality standards. In the future, as better labour market data become available (see Chapter 4), Kazakhstan should develop a set of indicators to monitor and evaluate learning outcomes.

Strengthening the supply and quality of adult learning opportunities will likely be insufficient on its own to raise participation. Individuals and employers need to be strongly motivated to engage in adult learning. For individuals, motivation is considered key for successful adult education engagement (Carr and Claxton, 2002[21]), and is an even more significant factor than socio-economic background (White, 2012[22]). Strong levels of motivation among employers also help ensure that they organise firm-level training for their workforce and that they are more inclined to allow their employees to take time off to pursue other forms of formal and non-formal education.

Stakeholders involved in consultations throughout the OECD Skills Strategy project reported that adults and employers in Kazakhstan typically have low levels of motivation to engage in learning. These insights are consistent with international evidence. According to OECD PIAAC data (see Figure 3.8), many adults in Kazakhstan lack the motivation to participate in adult learning: 95% of adults did not want to participate in adult learning in 2018, including both individuals who did not participate and did not want to participate (81%) and individuals who participated but did not want to participate (14%). This rate is higher than the OECD average (77%) and than rates in other upper middle income countries, such as Mexico (75%).

This opportunity describes two policy directions to make progress in this respect. First, it explores how Kazakhstan can create a consensus among stakeholders and individuals about the importance of adult learning. Then, it considers how Kazakhstan can increase the commitment of large employers to engage in adult learning. Importantly, increasing the motivation of individuals to undertake adult learning opportunities will also depend on the progress in developing a consolidated platform to provide comprehensive information on learning opportunities, access to career guidance, and information on skills in high demand, which is discussed in Chapter 4.

To some extent, low motivation to engage in learning might reflect the lack of consensus among government ministries and stakeholders about the importance of adult learning.

Adult learning is not a common concept for policy makers, stakeholders and individuals in Kazakhstan. The idea of lifelong learning only became an objective of Soviet educational systems in 1987, just a few years before the fall of the Soviet Union, whereas in several European countries and the United States, the concept of lifelong education has been evolving since the 1970s (Faure et al., 1972[23]; Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union, 1987[24]). This implies that many working-age adults are not familiar with the idea of adult learning. As shown in the overview of current arrangements, since its independence, Kazakhstan has made some progress in establishing an adult learning system. However, as suggested by several stakeholders during the OECD Skills Strategy project, a shared understanding of the importance and the benefits of adult learning is still lacking. For instance, programmes like Enbek and Digital Kazakhstan do not explicitly mention the importance of engaging in adult learning but link the opportunities to more immediate benefits, such as promoting active employment of the population and improving human capital through better digital competencies. In part, this also reflects the lack of effective co-ordination and co-operation arrangements among different ministries, such as the MOES and MLSPP, and between different stakeholders (see Chapter 5).

To help build a consensus around the importance of adult learning, Kazakhstan could develop a shared vision that describes the different forms of adult learning and their benefits, in line with several OECD countries, such as Estonia (see Box 3.5). The shared vision should involve different government ministries and stakeholders, such as education institutions, local government and trade unions. In the case of Kazakhstan, it could also be important to involve large employers.

Building on comments from stakeholders, the shared vision should emphasise the importance of learning throughout the life course, potentially building on the framework developed by the OECD Centre for Skills (see Figure 3.9). Under this framework, traditionally front-loaded education systems that see individuals develop and then activate their skills are transformed to encourage the development of skills throughout an individual’s working life. This concept of lifelong learning enables countries to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world, which will require individuals to reskill and upskill multiple times throughout their careers in response to megatrends affecting Kazakhstan (see Chapter 1). By developing a strong supply of skills, countries also create incentives for firms to redesign their business models and practices to make greater use of the skills available to them.

On the back of this vision, as in Estonia (see Box 3.5), Kazakhstan could launch a strategy on adult learning that clearly outlines priorities for the development of adult education and sets precise targets for participation across different cohorts of learners. This strategy could form the basis for closer co-operation between the MOES, the MLSPP and other relevant ministries on the subject of adult learning, which, as for other skills policy areas, has been challenging so far (see Chapter 5).

The vision and strategy should not only exist on paper, however. Kazakhstan should actively raise awareness about adult learning among individuals through a series of co-ordinated initiatives. Several stakeholders suggested that Kazakhstan should promote potential learning opportunities and benefits to individuals through a variety of channels, such as traditional media, the Internet, social partners and career guidance counsellors. This insight is consistent with international best practice. An in-depth analysis of adult learning policies by the European Commission has identified providing information on adult learning benefits and opportunities through online portals, awareness campaigns and career guidance counsellors as effective policy levers for raising participation in adult learning (European Commission, 2015[26]).

Other chapters in this report provide recommendations on how to make progress in these respects. Chapter 4 discusses in depth how Kazakhstan can better disseminate information on adult learning opportunities and benefits through a consolidated portal and how Kazakhstan can improve career guidance to adults. Chapter 2 discusses how Kazakhstan could increase engagement in adult learning among vulnerable individuals such as those not in education, employment or training (NEETs), individuals at risk of displacement and workers employed in the informal economy. Another area where Kazakhstan could make further progress is awareness-raising campaigns and events. Previous experience suggests that these initiatives need to be tailored to the needs and motivations of different learners, rather than adopting overly general messages and framing (OECD, 2019[12]). Kazakhstan could take inspiration from initiatives in Slovenia and Estonia (see Box 3.5).

Kazakhstan’s high proportion of large employers means that any effort to increase participation in adult learning across the country will depend on motivating large firms to strengthen their commitment to adult learning. Creating a consensus about the importance of adult learning will be an important first step, but additional measures will be needed to make further progress.

As foreshadowed in the performance section, large employers play an important role in the economy, but they seem to be under-investing in job-related training for their workforce, compared to other OECD countries. It is currently difficult to systematically assess the reasons for this under-investment, because, as discussed in Opportunity 1 above and Chapter 4, there is currently a lack of data on the available adult learning opportunities in Kazakhstan. However, the evidence gathered from stakeholders during the OECD Skills Strategy project makes it possible to gain a high-level understanding of the main drivers.

Some stakeholders consulted during the project mentioned that the under-provision of training in large enterprises might reflect the lack of motivation to engage employees in professional development. This is a plausible explanation because unlike SMEs, large employers are likely to have the human and monetary resources to overcome informational and financial barriers to providing training to their staff. Low motivation among large firms could reflect the legacy of the Soviet Union where the culture of large companies providing training was almost non-existent. Stakeholders also indicated that some large companies are still unconvinced that training can lead to productivity and employment gains, perhaps reflecting previous low-quality training options. However, according to stakeholders, the commitment to adult learning varies greatly across different enterprises. Some large enterprises with a foreign presence, such as Air Astana and Kazakh Telecom, have a stronger commitment to continuous training and adopt international best practices, such as individual training plans for each employee. However, large state-owned firms, which account for about one-third of total employment, often have less well-developed training plans and provide training every two to three years, focusing on technical skills.

Kazakhstan could strengthen large employers’ commitment to adult learning in two ways. First, Kazakhstan could launch a review of training plans in state-owned enterprises. The plans could be strengthened to ensure that they focus more heavily on the development of foundational (see Opportunity 1) and soft skills. Kazakhstan could potentially take inspiration from Philips’ Vocational Qualification Programme (VQP) to make progress in this respect (see Box 3.6). Second, Kazakhstan could strengthen social dialogue between workers and employers. As remarked in the 2019 OECD Employment Outlook, social dialogue is an important tool to ensure that workers actively engage in adult learning (OECD, 2019[32]). Social dialogue includes all kind of negotiation, consultation or, simply, exchange of information at any level between employers and workers. Social dialogue can encourage adult learning because it allows workers to signal to employers their training needs and bargain more effectively for their training rights (OECD, 2019[32]). According to stakeholders, social dialogue on adult learning opportunities in Kazakhstan is at the initial stage of development. There are currently no institutional mechanisms for meaningful social dialogue to ensure that adult learning takes place and that working arrangements optimise productivity. Going forward, Kazakhstan could draw on the experiences of Germany to foster social dialogue, especially among large enterprises, through the introduction of work councils (see Box 3.6). These bodies represent the employees of a specific company, as opposed to one or more entire sectors, as is the case with trade unions.

More broadly, the introduction of a training levy, which is discussed at length in Chapter 5, can increase large employers’ commitment to adult learning, by earmarking some expenditures for training purposes.

Even when individuals and employers are motivated to participate in adult learning, they frequently face barriers that prevent them from transitioning from an interest to active participation (OECD, 2017[36]). Minimising these barriers is crucial to raising participation in adult learning. For adults, the key barriers are generally related to cost and time. Adult learning opportunities are often too expensive or difficult to combine with family and work responsibilities. People with disabilities might also face physical and psychological barriers that prevent them from accessing education and training facilities. Among employers, as foreshadowed in the performance section, SMEs might lack sufficient knowledge, time and financial resources to organise training opportunities (International Labour Organization, 2017[10]). Stakeholders consulted throughout the OECD Skills Strategy project stressed the importance of minimising barriers both for individuals and for SMEs. Building on their feedback and on the international evidence, this opportunity first discusses how Kazakhstan can remove physical, financial and time-related barriers for individuals. Then, it considers how Kazakhstan can minimise informational and financial barriers for SMEs.

In Kazakhstan, adult learners are exposed to a range of financial and time-related barriers. Further, people with disabilities face additional challenges in accessing adult learning opportunities. This requires a series of co-ordinated policy interventions.

A previous study by the OECD suggests that there are more than 630 000 people with disabilities in Kazakhstan, equivalent to approximately 3.5% of the total population (OECD, 2017[37]). The OECD study identified a series of barriers to the employability of people with disabilities in Kazakhstan, including outdated language and comparatively weak anti-discrimination laws (OECD, 2017[37]). According to stakeholders consulted during the OECD Skills Strateg project, people with disabilities in Kazakhstan also struggle to access adult learning opportunities and educational opportunities more generally. Data and academic research seem to confirm these insights. About 45% of people with disabilities in Kazakhstan have no education and less than 1% of all people with disabilities study in higher education institutions in the country (Cherevyk, 2016[38]). This is likely driven by both infrastructural and cultural barriers: educational institutions struggle to organise a barrier-free environment, and there is resistance in society to the idea of inclusive education (Cherevyk, 2016[38]).

A recent Human Rights Watch report has highlighted that Kazakhstan needs to make substantial progress in improving the quality and accessibility of compulsory education for individuals with disabilities (Human Rights Watch, 2019[39]). When it comes to educational institutions responsible for adult learning provision, some progress is already underway. In July 2020, the MOES updated regulations for VET and HE institutions to improve physical infrastructure. According to the new regulations, approximately 70% of VET and HE institutions should have a barrier-free environment for individuals with disabilities, up from the current threshold of 40%. However, Kazakhstan should take bolder steps to improve the accessibility of learning opportunities to adults with disabilities in two ways.

First, Kazakhstan could improve the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in non-formal education institutions. Current legislation specifies that people with disabilities should not be discriminated against, but, according to stakeholders, there is little monitoring to ensure that the law is observed. Respecting the anti-discrimination laws could become one of the criteria of the newly introduced quality assurance process (see Opportunity 1). Second, Kazakhstan should introduce a series of measures to increase incentives and support for adults with disabilities who intend to undertake adult learning opportunities. To make progress in these respects, Kazakhstan could take inspiration from national and international examples (see Box 3.7).

As well as improving incentives and support for people with disabilities, Kazakhstan should take action to minimise time-related and financial barriers for all individuals. According to the recently published PIAAC data, adults in Kazakhstan identify being too busy at work and courses being too expensive as the main obstacles to participation in adult learning (see Figure 3.10). These obstacles are similar to those observed in OECD countries on average. However, a substantially larger share of individuals in Kazakhstan report courses being too expensive as a barrier to participation in adult learning (25% in Kazakhstan with respect to 16% on average across OECD countries).

Financial incentives can play a crucial role in reducing barriers for individuals. A variety of schemes can be used (see Table 3.1), but the majority of incentive schemes come in the form of subsidies and loans (OECD, 2017[36]). Tax incentives and training leave measures are available in most countries, but their take-up and effectiveness vary substantially (OECD, 2017[36]). Individual learning accounts (ILAs) have remained relatively uncommon, possibly because they can be costly to administer, frequently only provide limited financial support and are disproportionately used by highly skilled individuals (OECD, 2017[36]).

Kazakhstan has so far made limited use of financial incentives for individuals. According to information from the MOES and the MLSPP, the most important financial incentives are those available within the Enbek programme. As described in the section on current arrangements, some vulnerable workers can receive free provision for short-term vocational training courses. In addition, according to information provided by the MLSPP, the unemployed receive a stipend to cover living and transportation expenses. Combining free provision of training courses with supplementary financial incentives, as in the case of Enbek, can be relatively attractive to reduce barriers to participation among vulnerable adults. Other financial incentive schemes, such as vouchers or tax incentives, may result in lower take-up because they generally imply more complex administrative and application procedures, which can prove burdensome for vulnerable adults (OECD, 2017[36]). However, as discussed in Chapter 4, the provision of training courses provided through Enbek can still be more effectively aligned with labour market needs.

To further reduce financial and time barriers, Kazakhstan could strengthen the offering of financial incentives beyond vulnerable groups and introduce training leave arrangements.

Strengthening financial incentives could also be useful to reduce financial barriers for higher-skilled adults. Adults with a secondary education qualification and above currently receive no financial support for adult learning opportunities. Kazakhstan could consider introducing a combination of subsidies and loans to increase uptake of formal and non-formal learning opportunities among higher-skilled adults.

Introducing training leave legislation could be useful to address time-related barriers related to “being too busy at work”, at least for workers employed in large enterprises. Large employers generally find it less difficult than SMEs to cope with staff absences, because they can draw on a larger pool of employees to distribute the absent employee's workload (OECD, 2017[36]). Given the substantial percentage of large employers in Kazakhstan’s economy, introducing training leave legislation could be a practical solution to free up people’s time to undertake learning opportunities. However, to encourage the uptake of training leave, Kazakhstan should also introduce compensatory mechanisms for learners and employers, in line with several OECD countries, by paying workers while on their training leave. The amount of financial support provided could amount to the worker’s full wage or consist of an allowance, which in other countries is often equivalent to the level of unemployment benefit (see Box 3.7) (OECD, 2019[12]). In most cases, this allowance is paid directly to the worker, but in some cases, the employer continues to pay the workers wage and claims back the expenses (OECD, 2017[36]). To implement compensatory mechanisms, Kazakhstan could draw on the experiences of several OECD countries (see Box 3.7).

Lastly, to minimise time-related and financial barriers, Kazakhstan should make further progress in developing a system for the recognition of prior learning (RPL). Developing an effective RPL system can help address both financial and time-related barriers by reducing the duration of learning time (OECD, 2019[12]). Since 2016, the World Bank has been involved in the project “Development of labour skills and stimulation of jobs”, which is expected to implement an independent qualification assessment and certification system as a last stage of the development of the National Qualification System (NQS). According to information from stakeholders, pilot projects have been conducted to develop certification centres in tourism, oil and gas and metallurgy, but further developments have stalled, due to financial constraints and lack of clarity in implementation mechanisms. Going forward, Kazakhstan should further develop the RPL system in the context of revamping the process for developing the National Qualification System (see Chapter 5).

As foreshadowed in the performance section, SMEs are more likely to be exposed to informational and financial barriers in organising and funding training opportunities. Organising training opportunities requires enterprises to have knowledge about their own training needs and the advantages and disadvantages of alternative options (International Labour Organization, 2017[10]). Acquiring this knowledge for SMEs can be problematic because unlike large firms, they often do not have a dedicated human resources unit and can have little time to spare among existing staff (International Labour Organization, 2017[10]). Even if SMEs have adequate information about their own needs and the available options, they may still find it difficult to fund training opportunities, because they can face higher unit cost per worker and they are more likely than large firms to be liquidity constrained (International Labour Organization, 2017[10]). In the case of Kazakhstan, these financial barriers are likely to be especially important for rural SMEs, which, unlike large firms in rural areas, cannot afford to establish their own training centres, and may face prohibitive costs in working with distant training providers.

For these reasons, governments frequently offer tailored support and design financial incentives to increase participation in training among SMEs. Many governments provide free or subsidised skills and training needs assessments that help SMEs identify skills gaps in their workforce and develop training plans accordingly (Johanson, 2009[42]; OECD, 2019[43]).

The vast majority of financial incentives for SMEs come in the form of subsidies (OECD, 2017[36]). Tax incentives have remained relatively uncommon, possibly because they are associated with a higher deadweight loss (OECD, 2017[36]). The last few years have also seen a proliferation of government-backed training networks, which organise and co-ordinate training activities at the sector or local level (OECD, 2017[36]; International Labour Organization, 2017[10]). Training networks can reduce financial barriers for SMEs because they allow them to pool employees into the same training programme and benefit from reduced costs through economies of scale (Johanson, 2009[42]; OECD, 2019[43]). Training networks are frequently financed through training levies, specific taxes that pool resources from employers and earmark them for expenditure on training, which is discussed at length in Chapter 5 (OECD, 2017[36]).

As with the supply of adult learning in Opportunity 1, a systematic assessment of the importance of the different barriers to training in Kazakhstan is difficult, due to the lack of comprehensive employer-level data. As a result, Kazakhstan should improve existing employer-level surveys to gather more comprehensive information on factors driving the propensity to train (see Chapter 4). The available evidence still enables the formulation of some high-level recommendations on policy initiatives to minimise informational and financial barriers faced by SMEs.

The OECD undertook a detailed review of SME and entrepreneurship policy in Kazakhstan in 2018, which relied on extensive consultations with government ministries and employer representatives to minimise the evidence gaps (OECD, 2018[9]). The review concluded that there is only limited public support for continuous workforce training in SMEs in Kazakhstan (OECD, 2018[9]). The main support available to SMEs identified by the review was the Enterprise Competence Enhancement Component within the State Programme of Industrial-Innovation Development 2014-2019, which allowed SMEs in priority sectors to receive a partial reimbursement (40%) of the costs for training, for no more than 15 staff.

To increase support and incentives for SMEs, the review recommended introducing local training networks where SMEs could co-operate on organising training initiatives, as well as co-operation efforts with VET institutions (OECD, 2018[9]) Within the training networks, training facilitators could then help members assess their training needs and help them develop joint training plans (OECD, 2018[9]). According to the review, the creation of training networks and the support in developing the training plans could also be complemented by grants to SMEs to expand their training efforts (OECD, 2018[9]).

Recent initiatives do not seem to have made substantial improvements in the incentives and support framework offered to SMEs. The recently launched State Programme of Industrial Innovation Development 2020-2025 does not include any practical steps to strengthen support and incentives to SMEs. According to stakeholders consulted during the mission, the Enbek programme has not managed to develop an offering of training opportunities aligned with regional needs and attractive to SMEs, because it does not sufficiently involve employers in the design of the training opportunities. However, one promising initiative is the SME Competitiveness Project implemented in co-operation with the World Bank, which is ongoing (see Box 3.8). Kazakhstan will need to sustain the momentum generated by this project to create a permanent infrastructure to facilitate training for SMEs.

Going forward, developing training networks could be an attractive option for Kazakhstan for at least two reasons. First, they ensure a substantial degree of employer involvement, which can result in a better alignment of training opportunities with the needs of employers (Johanson, 2009[42]). This is particularly important in Kazakhstan, given the limited information on labour market and skill needs (see Chapter 4). Second, training networks could be especially valuable to reduce financial barriers in rural areas, because they would enable SMEs to set up joint training centres or to more easily attract external training providers. Training facilitators are also important to help SMEs develop their training plans. Comparing the experiences of Ireland and Korea suggests that tailored advice can be valuable in enabling SMEs to fully engage in the services offered by the networks (see Box 3.8).

To some extent, the lack of progress in the implementation of these recommendations might be related to low levels of funding for skills policies (see Chapter 5). To increase available funding, Chapter 5 discusses the possibility of introducing a training levy with larger contributions from big enterprises, and details how this can work in practice. Some of the money raised through the training levy could be used to establish the training networks and pay towards the facilitators. In the case of Kazakhstan, given the high percentage of large enterprises, the set-up of the training networks could encourage co-operation between large employers and SMEs operating in their supply chain. This could happen, for instance, if large enterprises are required to contribute to the training levy, but are then allowed to transfer some of the levy credits to their suppliers. This would also increase the benefits that large enterprises derive from the levy, as increasing training intensity among their suppliers might result in higher quality inputs and/or lower input prices.

The introduction of the training networks and the facilitators could also be complemented by grants or loans for SMEs that would like to upskill their workforce to meet the requirements of Industry 4.0. The State Programme of Industrial Innovation Development 2020-2025 aims to make progress in this respect, but it does not introduce any concrete initiatives. The grants or loans could be part of a wider plan of workplace transformation, involving the adoption of new technologies and production processes. To make progress in this respect, Kazakhstan could take inspiration from Italy (see Box 3.8).

Table 3.2 summarises the recommendations for this chapter. Based on feedback from stakeholders and from the national project team, three recommendations have been selected that could be considered to have the highest priority based on potential impact and relevance in the current Kazakhstan context. To foster participation in adult learning of all forms, the OECD recommends that Kazakhstan should:

  • Introduce a strong certification and monitoring system to certify the quality of non-formal adult learning opportunities (Recommendation 2.3).

  • Develop a shared vision on the importance of adult learning based on extensive consultations with stakeholders (Recommendation 2.5).

  • Review training plans in state-owned enterprises to ensure that they enable all employees to develop a broad set of technical, foundational and soft skills (Recommendation 2.8).


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