Chapter 1. Policy context for employment and skills in Turkey

This chapter provides an overview of the employment and skills system in Turkey. The chapter also provides a description of the main government department actors at the national level in Turkey. Following the global financial crisis, Turkey’s economy has shown favourable signs of robustness but a number of significant labour market challenges may hold back its growth potential. These include strong disparities across regions on education and employment outcomes as well as gender gaps in wages and labour force participation.


Economic and labour market trends

As with other OECD countries, the financial crisis in 2009 had an unfavourable economic impact on Turkey; however, the economy has rebounded in subsequent years and shows favourable signs of robustness. Turkey’s strong growth over the past decade has paved the way for convergence in living standards with higher-income OECD countries (OECD, 2016a). Following a strong recovery in 2010 and 2011, the Turkish economy grew at an average annual rate of 6.1% between 2012 and 2015 (see Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1. GDP Growth rate (%), 2007-15

Source: OECD (2016b).

Despite enjoying rapid growth following the economic crisis, the Turkish economy is having a difficult time generating quality employment opportunities for all members of the labour market. While employment rates consistently rose during and after the crisis, 43.9% of all 15-64 year olds were still outside of the labour force in 2015 (Turkstat, 2016a). This is in part due to widespread participation in the informal economy, which amounted to 30.6% of the Turkish labour force in 2009 (ILO, 2012).

Furthermore, there remain significant gaps between Turkey and other OECD countries on a number of key economic and social indicators. At USD 24 000 in 2016 (constant prices, 2010 PPP), Turkey’s GDP per capita was the fourth lowest among OECD countries. While absolute poverty, measured as the share of people living below the national poverty line, dropped between 2006 and 2014 from 13.3% to 1.6%, relative poverty has increased; 15% of the Turkish population earned less than 50% of the median income in 2014, compared to an OECD average of 11%. This is in spite of workers putting in very long hours; Turkish employees in the formal economy work an average of 47.7 hours per week, compared to a European Union average of 37.4 hours (Eurostat, 2015). In addition, gender gaps between men and women in wage levels and labour force participation are more pronounced than in other OECD countries (OECD, 2016a).

Turkey also has strong disparities across its regions on a number of key economic and labour market indicators. One can see strong regional variations in GDP per capita (see Figure 1.2) and disposable income levels. In 2011, income was highest in Istanbul, at almost USD 27 000 per capita, with Ankara and Izmir showing similarly high rates. GDP per capita was lowest in the Eastern, North-eastern and South-eastern Anatolian regions of the country, all of which featured figures ranging from USD 7 000-13 000 (OECD, 2013). As a result of their relatively lower economic performance, these were also the provinces with the highest net internal migration outflows.

Figure 1.2. Regional GDP per capita (USD PPP, base year 2010, current prices), Turkish TL2 regions, 2011

Source: OECD (2012).

In response, the government has launched a series of programmes that are designed to reduce disparities between regions, including a comprehensive incentive structure involving tax cuts, tax breaks and write-offs designed to promote investment and employment generation in relatively less developed regions. In addition to these incentives, overseen primarily by the Ministry of Economy, there are various programmes supported by regional development agencies, such as the Regional Competitiveness Operational Programme run by the Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology. These programmes are partly funded through the European Union (EU)’s Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) and they focus both on increasing the competitiveness of the Turkish economy and supporting its convergence with those of EU countries as well as on reducing regional socio-economic disparities. The programme includes support for transition and institution building, regional and cross-border co-operation, and regional, rural and human resources development. It focuses on the 43 provinces where income per capita is 75% below the Turkish national average.

Labour market indicators

In spite of high growth and significant improvements in its labour market performance in recent years, Turkey faces important challenges in the form of large regional and gender gaps in labour outcomes as well as limited participation in the formal economy. Indeed, evidence suggests that there is a high presence of informal employment throughout Turkey. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), nearly 5 million people (3.7 million men and 1.1 million women) were in informal occupations in Turkey in 2009. Informal employment is especially high in the construction sector, where 55% of all individuals employed worked informally in 2009 (ILO, 2012).

Weak participation in the formal economy is reflected in the labour force participation rate (i.e. the share of people aged 15-64 that are economically active). Even though it increased from 49.8% in 2006 to 56.1% in 2015, the figure remains well below the OECD average of 71.3% (OECD, 2016a). In addition, there are prominent regional disparities in terms of labour force participation. In 2015, labour force participation was highest in the Thrace region (63.9%), the Western Black Sea – Middle and East region (62.4%), and in the Mediterranean – West region (61.1%). The three most populated provinces – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – had participation rates between 56% and 60%. In contrast, the lowest participation rates were observed in South-eastern Anatolia – West (46.6%) and South-eastern Anatolia – East (41%) (Eurostat, 2015).

Turkey also features very large differences in labour force participation between genders. Nationally, labour force participation was 77% for males in 2015, compared to 35% for females (see Figure 1.3). This gap is significantly larger than the OECD average, where labour force participation was 79.7% for males and 63% for females. Nonetheless, Turkey has made some progress towards reducing gender differences, as the female participation rate improved by roughly 10 percentage points between 2007 and 2015, while the increase for males was of only 2.6 percentage points over the same period.

Figure 1.3. Labour force participation rate by sex (15-64 year olds), 2007 and 2015

Source: OECD (2016d).

Employment rates in Turkey show signs of improvement, although further advances will be necessary to attain convergence with other OECD countries. While average annual employment growth reached 4% between 2009 and 2014, only half of the working age population (15-64 year olds) was employed in 2014 (OECD, 2016a). This rate was 16 percentage points lower than the OECD average of 66%, but 5 percentage points higher than in 2007 (OECD, 2016a).

Similarly to labour force participation figures, significant disparities exist across Turkish regions in terms of employment rates. In 2014, employment rates were highest in the Western Black Sea – Middle and East region (58%) and in North-eastern Anatolia – East (57%) (see Figure 1.4). On the other hand, they were lowest in the East and Middle areas of South-eastern Anatolia at 30% and 37% respectively (OECD, 2016e).

Gender gaps are also large. On average, female employment rates amount to just two‐thirds of the total employment rate, but the difference can be even greater in less-developed regions. For example, in the eastern part of South-eastern Anatolia, the female employment rate is merely 11% in comparison to the overall rate of 30%.

Figure 1.4. Employment rates (total vs. female rates), Turkish regions, 2014

Source: OECD (2016e).

When looking at employment distribution by sector in Turkey in 2014 (see Figure 1.5), the largest share of total employment was within the distributive trade, repairs, transport, accommodation and food service activities sector (23%). The share of employment in agriculture, forestry and fishing (21%) was also high, particularly in comparison to other OECD countries. Public administration and other public employment occupied 14% of the total (OECD, 2016e).

Figure 1.5. Employment by industry (% of total employment), Turkey, 2014

1. All categories add up to 100.

2. The label “distributive trades” includes distributive trade, repairs, transport, accommodation and food service activities. The label “public administration” includes public administration, compulsory social security, education and human health.

Source: OECD (2016c).

With regards to unemployment, the national rate fluctuated around 10% over the period between 2007 and 2014, with the exception of 2009 when it reached 14%. In comparison, the OECD average increased from 5.8% to 7.6% within the same period (OECD, 2016b). Nonetheless, patterns over time diverged across the different Turkish regions. For instance, while the unemployment rate in the sub-region of Izmir increased by 4.5 percentage points between 2007 and 2014, the South-eastern Anatolia – West decreased by nearly 9 percentage points over the same period. In contrast, many regions such as Thrace or the Northern Aegean regions remained unchanged or witnessed minor changes (OECD, 2016e).

Figure 1.6 summarises unemployment within Turkish regions in 2014. Unemployment varied between 3.4% in South-eastern Anatolia – East and 24.1% in North-eastern Anatolia – East, while the youth unemployment rate varied between 5.9% and 33.2% in the same two regions. In most Turkish regions, youth unemployment doubled the general unemployment rate, although there are some outliers. For example, youth unemployment was 18.4% in the Eastern Black Sea region, in comparison to a national unemployment rate of just 6.2% (OECD, 2016e). Conversely, general and youth unemployment rates were similar in the Middle South-eastern Anatolia region (17.5% and 19.4% respectively). In 2014, long-term unemployment was highest in South-eastern Anatolia – East region at 5.7%, while it was lowest in North-eastern Anatolia – East at 0.3%.

Figure 1.6. Comparing total unemployment, youth unemployment and long-term unemployment in Turkish regions, 2014

Source: OECD (2016e).

Regional disparities in unemployment can be better understood when looking at the provincial level map of Turkey. Figure 1.7 shows the unemployment trends across Turkey’s provinces in 2013. Most provinces’ figures were lower than 10%: 35 provinces had a rate of less than 7%, while the remaining 25 had rates between 7-10%. 14 provinces were in the medium-high range between 10-15%, including the provinces of Ankara and Istanbul, while 7 provinces had an unemployment rate higher than 15%, including Izmir with 15.4% (Turkstat, 2016a).

Figure 1.7. Unemployment across Turkish provinces, 2013

Source: Turkstat (2016a).

Considering unemployment rates by gender (see Figure 1.8), the gap between male and female figures in Turkey is significantly higher than the OECD average. In 2015, 12.9% of female aged 15-64 were unemployed, an increase of over one percentage point since 2007. Unemployment among males decreased in the same period by less than one percentage point to reach 9.4% in 2014. The OECD average was close to 7% both for males and females in the same year (OECD, 2016d).

Figure 1.8. Unemployment rate by sex, 2007 and 2015

Source: OECD (2016d).

The NEET rate (share of youth that are not in employment, education or training), which stands at around 35% at the national level, is the highest among OECD countries, and shows an average gender gap of about 30 percentage points (OECD, 2013 and 2015).1 Part of the reason underlying the high NEET rate is the mismatch between skills demanded by employers and those acquired by the workforce. Nonetheless, Turkey has seen important improvements in this regard over the past years: its NEET rate saw the second sharpest decline among all OECD countries between 2005 and 2014 (OECD, 2015).

Level of skills in Turkey

According to the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), the proficiency of Turkish adults in both literacy and numeracy is, on average, significantly lower than that of adults in other OECD countries, with the exception of Chile (see Figure 1.9). In addition, they show limited proficiency, on average, in problem solving in technology-rich environments (OECD, 2016g). These results reflect the fact that educational attainment among the Turkish population tends to be relatively low. However, literacy levels are improving: the literacy gap between Turkey and the OECD average is smaller for younger generations than it is among older age groups.

Figure 1.9. Mean literacy and numeracy scores, OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), selected OECD countries and OECD average

Source: OECD (2017a).

A significant gender gap can be observed in Turkey in terms of the proficiency in information-processing skills, with men scoring higher than women in all of the three domains assessed (OECD, 2016g). This gender difference, which is particularly pronounced among older adults, reflects the fact that Turkish women tend to have lower educational attainment than men. Nevertheless, contrary to most other OECD countries, higher educational attainment or skills proficiency are not necessarily associated with better employment outcomes, although there is a strong impact of education on wage levels (OECD, 2016g).

In terms of tertiary educational attainment, Turkey performs worse than the average OECD country: 18% of the adult population in Turkey has a tertiary degree compared to an OECD average of 35%. The differences are particularly large as regards the percentage of adults with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees (see Figure 1.10)

Figure 1.10. Share of tertiary educated adults, Turkey versus OECD, 2015

Source: OECD (2017b).

However, these gaps in educational attainment are not as pronounced in Turkey’s most important cities. In 2014, the highest share of people with tertiary education was found in the Western part of the country and in the three most populated regions in Turkey: the capital city Ankara (20%), Izmir (16%) and Istanbul (16%) (see Figure 1.11). Tertiary educational attainment was lowest in the Eastern parts of Anatolia (around 8%). Female tertiary education rates show similar trends, albeit with slightly lower values than for the total population (see Figure 1.12).

Figure 1.11. Tertiary educational attainment and illiteracy (% of total population), Turkish regions, 2013

Source: Turkstat (2016b).

Figure 1.12. Female tertiary educational attainment vs illiteracy as % of total female population, TL2 regions, 2014

Source: Turkstat (2016b).

The level of illiteracy is still a pressing concern in Turkey. In several regions, the share of illiterate people nears the percentage of people with tertiary education – and, in Southeastern Anatolia – East and Middle, Northeastern Anatolia – East, and Eastern Anatolia – East, it even exceeds it. Female illiteracy rates are significantly higher than average, and reach around 20% of the total female population in the previously mentioned regions.

National policy context and policy actions

To address the country’s labour market and skills challenges, the Turkish Government initiated a series of reforms and long-term commitments as set out in various laws, strategic documents, action plans and programmes, all of which have recognised the critical importance of employment and skills policies. For example, the Strengthening Vocational and Technical Education and Training (SVET) project, conducted between 2002 and 2007, aimed to address “the mismatch between education/training programmes and the needs of the labour market,” starting with a review of existing practices and policies which paved the way to set new standards for vocational education and training (VET). Launched for the same purpose, the Modernisation of Vocational Education and Training (MVET) project included initiatives “to improve VET teacher quality, such as the introduction of VET teacher competencies and quality assurance based on the European Network System” (World Bank, 2014).

In parallel, efforts have been undertaken to align employment and skills policies at the local level. An early step in that direction came in 2002 when the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) issued a regulation to facilitate the creation of a suitable environment for better vocational and technical education across Turkey. The regulation stipulated that the “Provincial Boards of Vocational Education” (PVEBs – or IMEKs) scattered across Turkey would serve as platforms for stakeholder engagement. While this represented a step in the right direction to create a more labour market-friendly vocational education system, the need for complementary action was evident.

Many of these actions required collaboration between different ministries and agencies, as well as co-operation from stakeholders. To co-ordinate such collaboration and co‐operation at the local level, Provincial Boards of Vocational Education (IMEKs) were converted into Provincial Boards of Employment and Vocational Education (PEVTBs or IIMEKs) in 2006. This reform required that the provincial network of the Turkish Public Employment Service (PES – or İŞKUR) join forces with PVEBs to create a larger stakeholder platform with the aim of identifying local courses of action and finding the right balance between demands of employers and capabilities of the central government in each province.

Founded by Law No. 4904, İŞKUR is the primary agency in charge of reducing unemployment and facilitating better matches between supply and demand in the labour market. It is a financially and administratively autonomous public entity operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. Its operations are subject to civil law. İŞKUR is comprised of a General Board, the Executive Board and the General Directorate. PEVTBs are considered bodies that are accountable to İŞKUR. Provincial İŞKUR directors report to the General Directorate in Ankara.

Active labour market programmes (ALMP) were limited until İŞKUR was established (ILO, 2003). During the 2000s, the focus of labour market policies has gradually shifted away from the protection of jobs towards active labour market programmes (World Bank, 2006). The number of unemployed people that benefited from employment support services such as vocational training has expanded significantly between 2008 (30 000 trainees) and 2012 (464 000 trainees, representing around 20% of the registered unemployed) (World Bank, 2013).

İŞKUR itself has expanded considerably in recent years: its staff almost doubled and its budget was raised sufficiently to allow for a five-fold increase in resources allocated to active labour market programmes. In addition to provincial offices, İŞKUR has 73 service centres scattered across Turkey. İŞKUR currently employs about 600 full time staff in the General Directorate and about 7 500 full time staff in provincial offices and local service centres (İŞKUR, 2015).

The General Board of İŞKUR is an advisory board that is expected to contribute to the development of employment policies and make suggestions to the General Directorate based on their assessment of progress towards various labour market policy goals. The Executive Board manages the “Unemployment Insurance Fund”, decides on the agency’s budget and approves contracts involving spending above USD 150 000. It also discusses various operational and policy proposals made by the General Director or members of the Executive Board.

The General Directorate runs İŞKUR and its provincial network, including local service centres. The creation of PEVTBs in 2008 significantly increased the effectiveness and outreach of İŞKUR at the local level. PEVTBs serve not just as a platform for stakeholder engagement in the area of employment but also in vocational training and lifelong learning. Opportunities for continuing education and training for all groups, including workers, jobseekers and disadvantaged individuals, are created and implemented through collaboration between different stakeholders under the PEVTB umbrella. Financing from national sources and EU funds are used to implement joint skills development initiatives and effective matching schemes, based on better labour market information and the identification of employers’ needs.

New procedures and tools were introduced to better understand the dynamics of local labour markets and measure the magnitude of demand for various types of skills. Active labour market policies (ALMP) with a strong focus on upgrading skills (training, entrepreneurship, on-the-job training and placement) were adopted and made increasingly sensitive to the needs of particular groups. İŞKUR’s capacity to provide career counselling and guidance has also been significantly improved, thanks to greater co-operation with schools, municipalities, the private sector and other stakeholders, as well as the expansion of its human resources. More than 4 000 job and vocational counsellors have been hired and are expected to stay in continuous touch with local employers while providing counselling and guidance to local jobseekers.

Box 1.1. Provincial Boards of Employment and Vocational Education (PEVTBs)

PEVTBs are important instruments of social dialogue and local inter-institutional collaboration that produce solutions for local problems by mobilising local facilities and resources to tackle unemployment and skills gaps. This includes identifying, monitoring and formulating training solutions to meet the skills needs of local labour markets and to prevent employment losses.

PEVTBs meet quarterly to decide on employment policies and strategies and prepare local action plans and monitor their implementation. A sub-committee produces the action plans for the implementation of the decisions taken and determines the party (or parties) in charge. Secretariat duties are carried out jointly by the Provincial İŞKUR Directorate and the Provincial Directorate of the Ministry of National Education. The Executive Committee follows up on the decisions taken and surveys the local labour market.

These local boards enable partnerships with the private sector in assessing and meeting VET needs in general and in the context of active labour market programmes developed to improve skill levels of different groups (workers, jobseekers, disadvantaged individuals). No formal assessment or evaluation of PEVTBs performance has been carried out.

Management of vocational education and training policies

The issue of access to VET programmes arises from the need to accommodate a young population that continues to increase relatively rapidly, but also from regional disparities. The 10th Development Plan of Turkey (Ministry of Development, 2014a) for instance, explicitly refers to the need to broaden the access to VET programmes in light of disparities in regional development.2 Having a more accessible VET system is a precondition for Turkish firms to move up the value chain, benefit from productivity gains, and thus be more competitive in international markets. It is also crucial for providing individuals with career opportunities, creating quality jobs, and thus moving towards a more inclusive economic model.

In Turkey, various educational degrees (or diplomas) and training programmes are offered by public and private sector organisations (including NGOs) in order for individuals to acquire the skills needed by the labour market, generate employment and promote social inclusion. The structure of the education system in Turkey offers a choice between vocational and general education at secondary and tertiary levels, following the completion of primary education (which was recently set to last four years) and lower-secondary or middle school education. The vocational education offered at the upper-secondary and university level can be complemented with a variety of training programmes, which range from in-company on-the-job training programmes to training courses for the un(der)employed or for individuals who simply wish to acquire new skills.

The national authorities in charge of education, training, employment, social inclusion, science and technology, and regional development, as well as universities and research institutes, training providers, chambers and employers’ associations, trade unions, municipalities, and NGOs make up the actors of the vocational education and training (VET) system. These actors work together to identify the ways and means of making the whole VET system more responsive to the medium- to long-term human resource needs of the country and local labour markets, while improving competitiveness as well as social inclusion.

The VET system in Turkey is made up of two types of institutional actors: those that offer educational degree programmes (leading to a diploma) and those that offer training courses (that may or may not lead to a nationally recognised certificate of completion). The major actors offering degree programmes are: 1) vocational high schools at the upper-secondary level (grades 9th through 12th) and apprenticeship schools, and 2) vocational schools at the tertiary level that offer 2-year or 4-year post-secondary degrees (see Figure 1.13).3 In both cases, programmes offered by private institutions contribute to or complement publicly provided VET schemes.

The Ministry of National Education (MoNE) is the chief institution responsible for co-ordinating VET education at the upper-secondary level, including apprenticeship programmes. The Basic Law of National Education puts the MoNE in charge of the whole education system except for the tertiary level. In line with Turkey’s centralised public administration system, the ministry hires and appoints teachers and other personnel working at public schools, funds the schools, and decides on the curricula and approves textbooks. At the national level, General Directorates in charge of different levels or types of education, such as pre-school education, primary education, secondary education and vocational education, are responsible for ensuring that all education activities are in compliance with the relevant laws, regulations and policies. The ministry also has a local area network made up of Provincial Directorates which oversee the day-to-day conduct of schools in the 81 provinces and their districts across the country.

Figure 1.13. Turkish Education System

Source: Turkey’s VET Strategy: 2014-2018.

The same rules apply to private high schools that offer vocational education diplomas. These have to be accredited by the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) and follow ministry-approved curricula. In addition to vocational high schools that are run for profit, there is a noteworthy public-private partnership (PPP) initiative in vocational education at the secondary level. Recent legislation allows Organised Industrial Zone (OIZ) administrations that build and run vocational high schools within the OIZ to receive funding from the government for each student enrolled in the school. The amount of funding paid per student varies depending on the field of concentration, and can be as high as 150% of the average cost to the state of each student enrolled in a public vocational high school. The curriculum to be followed at these schools is jointly prepared by teachers, academics and sector representatives based on workforce needs analysis, professional standards and national competencies, and approved by the MoNE.

Vocational (or “Applied”) schools at the tertiary level are attended by graduates of high schools who seek two-year or four-year degrees. These schools of tertiary education operate as part of a university and offer their degrees under the seal of that university. For almost all practical purposes, a degree obtained from a four-year vocational school attended after high school is seen as equivalent to a regular university degree, as it is accredited by the Council of Higher Education, the institution that oversees all universities in Turkey (public and private4). Degrees from two-year applied schools attended after high school are treated as associate degrees.

Non-degree training programmes, on the other hand, are offered by a wider spectrum of actors ranging from the Ministry of National Education, which operates a large network of adult (or continuous) education centres scattered around Turkey, to training courses offered by private companies or non-profit foundations, municipalities, chambers and employers’ associations or other NGOs.

Concerning the training programmes provided by the public sector, Ministry of National Education’s nationwide network of “Public Education Centres” is overseen by the General Directorate for Life-Long Learning and provides continuing vocational training for adults as well as other skills-enhancing courses. İŞKUR also conducts training programmes as part of its suite of active labour market programmes. Offered in two categories to promote the acquisition or enhancement of skills and entrepreneurship, these programmes differ from formal vocational education in terms of the diversity of age groups and education levels, and often target the unemployed. The broader goal of the training courses provided by İŞKUR is to integrate various segments of the population into the labour market and to increase labour market participation. Some of the training courses present employment guarantees in the case of successful completion. Municipalities are also among the public providers of training courses that promote skills enhancement and entrepreneurship.

Within the private sector, for-profit institutions offering VET courses by charging a tuition fee must be registered and accredited by the Ministry of National Education. Similarly, İŞKUR purchases the delivery of many of the training courses that follow pre-approved curricula from sub-contractors or companies. Free or subsidised vocational training or skill-enhancing programmes are also offered by non-profit foundations, chambers and employers’ associations and other NGOs, often through social responsibility initiatives. Some of these initiatives, however, are not co-ordinated and offer training based on non-standard curricula, sometimes taught by unaccredited trainers.

There are also examples of co-operation between private sector or non-profits and the public sector in the provision of vocational training courses for such purposes as reducing skill shortages, combatting unemployment, or facilitating the integration of young people, women and disadvantaged groups into the labour market. Such public-private partnerships enable people to acquire and supply the skills most needed in the labour market, thus reducing unemployment and promoting social inclusion (ETF, 2015). Notable examples include social responsibility initiatives backed by large industrial groups such as the Koç Group or Elginkan Group, various sectoral initiatives – or initiatives involving the local chambers – such as the BUTGEM project or ÖZİMEK project, and the UMEM project involving the Turkish Union of the Chambers and Exchanges (TOBB).

Among these initiatives, the Koç Group (the largest industrial group in Turkey) has launched a programme in co-operation with the Ministry of National Education that aims to increase the popularity of vocational high schools among young and successful students by offering scholarships and providing mentorship and guidance, as well as attractive internship and career opportunities.5 The initiative also supports awareness-raising activities to promote vocational high schools and funds infrastructure improvement projects at public vocational schools. The Elginkan Group’s social responsibility initiative is funded by the affiliated Foundation, which runs technical and vocational training centres in three different cities (Bolu, İzmit and Manisa), where a wide range of ministry-certified courses are taught by public vocational school teachers and instructors.

A similar initiative is the non-profit training centre, BUTGEM, funded and run by the Bursa Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Like Elginkan, BUTGEM offers a wide range of technical and vocational training courses in collaboration with the Ministry of National Education without charging the trainees. Other initiatives involving a local chamber include training courses offered within the framework of the ÖZİMEK project carried out in İstanbul jointly by the Gubernatorial Fund Administration and the Chamber of Commerce, in collaboration with the local İŞKUR and Ministry of National Education branches. More than 5 000 people were trained annually during the nearly six years this programme was implemented. Besides these diversified training programmes above, there are initiatives with a sectoral focus such as the one taken by Sütaş, one of the largest dairy companies in Turkey.6

Perhaps the most notable and systematic of all these co-operative schemes is the UMEM (or “Skills ’10”) project that is being carried out nationally by a joint public-private consortium made up of TOBB, İŞKUR, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Ministry of National Education. When the UMEM (or Specialised Occupational Development Centres) project was first introduced in 2010, there were about 2.7 million unemployed in the country but many manufacturing job openings posted by employers were staying unfilled because jobseekers did not have the necessary skills. The project aimed to reduce the severity of these skills shortages by allowing the unemployed to acquire such skills through training courses offered in selected public vocational high schools outside regular class hours. Infrastructure and educational facilities at these schools were considerably improved through an initial investment of about USD 100 million.

Unemployed people registered with İŞKUR could enrol in these courses, which also covered certain service industry jobs free of charge. Individuals received a pre-determined amount for their per diem expenses and are provided health and accident insurance coverage during the training period. The project was funded by İŞKUR and ended on 8 May 2016. The programme combined both theoretical, in-class training, and workplace training – typically at plants or establishments with reported skills shortages, which allowed them to be seriously considered for employment at the same company. If a trainee was employed after successful completion of both the in-class and workplace components of the training, the company that employs her/him received tax and social security benefits (which lasted longer if the trainee employed was younger than 29 or a woman). Within the scope of UMEM, 225 000 people were trained and approximately 75% of them were employed.

Provincial Course Management Boards have been established by the UMEM project, which included the Provincial Directors of İŞKUR and the MoNE, along with principals of vocational high schools that served as project training centres in the province, and the secretary general of the local chamber of industry, who was typically the chairperson of the board. Demand for workers with the skills most needed by local employers was collected through the local chamber, and the board quickly decided which training courses to open based on this information. The UMEM Provincial Course Management Boards have generally been more flexible than PEVTBs and have managed to overcome many bureaucratic obstacles, with the help and support of the national Executive Committee for the project. They have also contributed to the development of “a culture of institutional collaboration that can form the backbone of integrated inclusive growth policies at regional and local levels” (ETF, 2015: 35).

Building on the experience of the UMEM project, the Vocational Training and Employment Mobilisation Protocol will be carried out, which involves co-operation between Turkish Employment Agency (İŞKUR) and Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) to prepare the supply of labour for the jobs of the future in Turkey. The Protocol aims to facilitate stronger employment outcomes for job seekers through organised counselling, training, and job placement opportunities. Under this protocol, in addition to the provincial directorates and service centres of İŞKUR, the number of “İŞKUR Service Points” established within municipalities, social welfare institutions and other institutions and organisations will be increased by opening new İŞKUR Service Points.

Those who complete the courses and programmes with success will receive a certificate at the end of the course/programme and daily allowance and premiums of Insurance of Occupational Accidents and Professional Diseases and General Insurance will be paid by İŞKUR during the course/programme period. Within the scope of the protocol, it is also planned to deliver course for employees who do not have Professional Competence Certificate.

Stakeholder engagement and governance in the VET system

While the Ministry of National Education is the main overseer of the pre-tertiary vocational education, it regularly consults with stakeholders and other bodies that contribute to shaping up skills policies, through the following channels:

  • the National Advisory Council of Education, which brings together a large number of policy makers and stakeholders every four years to discuss educational policy issues and to provide policy advice to the MoNE;

  • the Board of Training and Education, which develops curricula, syllabi and learning objectives, and approves textbooks; and

  • the Vocational Education Council (VEC), which decides on planning and development of VET programmes together with representatives from relevant ministries, trade and employers’ unions and other key social partners (ETF, 2015). The VEC is the main high-level body of the government in VET area. It was established through the Law (No. 3308) on Vocational Education.

In addition, the Vocational Qualifications Authority (VQA) plays a critical role as the institution that is in charge of aligning VET qualifications with professional standards. However, the body has not delivered its full potential, as the process of defining qualifications for hundreds of occupations is still in progress.

Regional economic development actors

Turkey has a long tradition of development planning, going as far back as the introduction of five-year plans in the statist era of the 1930s. First, the outbreak of the Second World War and the political and economic developments in its aftermath interrupted planning exercises until the adoption of the new constitution in 1961. This constitution required governments to prepare development plans to inform and guide the private sector by making the development priorities and plans for public investments in infrastructure, mining, manufacturing, education, health and other spheres of social development publically known . The State Planning Organisation (SPO) was established for this purpose in 1961 and it was put in charge of preparing long-term and annual plans, following up on their implementation and advising on economic policy. The SPO reports directly to the Prime Minister’s Office and the course of its actions and activities is set by the Supreme Planning Council, which is made up of relevant ministers and chaired by the Prime Minister.

Development plans include macroeconomic targets, social goals, and policy recommendations for individual subsectors of the economy. The targets set in plans are somewhat binding for the ministries and other public agencies but are only suggestive for private enterprises. Wide regional disparities between the eastern/south-eastern regions and the rest of the country have required the inclusion of regional issues in nationwide plans, making Turkey one of the first countries to develop regional planning.

The increasing complexity and diversification of the Turkish economy eventually necessitated the statutory reorganisation of the SPO into the Ministry of Development in 2011. The Ministry is an expert-based organisation which plans and guides Turkey’s development process and focuses on the coordination of policies and strategy development. For this purpose, the Ministry carries out a number of tasks, including steps to develop and implement policies and strategies for regional development, and to promote local actions by improving the policy-making capacity of regional and local actors.

When the SPO was converted into the Ministry of Development in 2011, legal grounds for the establishment of regional development agencies in all 26 NUTS2 regions had already been laid and a number of agencies had already begun their operations under the auspices of the organisation. Regional development agencies now operate in association with the Ministry of Development but each agency has its own legal entity and is liable to the provisions of civil law. There is also a common law that sets the mandates of all agencies. National co-ordination is handled by the Ministry of Development, which aims, among other things, to promote policies to reduce regional disparities.

The Ministry of Development monitors the activities of individual agencies, including planning, programming and allocation of grants to regional development projects. The main mission of regional agencies is to support, co-ordinate and guide the initiatives of regional actors to promote regional development; to identify sectoral development priorities; to serve as regional investment promotion agencies; and to mobilise regional resources and potentials while improving collaboration between actors in civil society and the public and private sectors.

Regional Development Boards guide the activities of regional development agencies and are made up of government officials serving in provinces covered in the mandate area, representatives of local municipalities, academics from regional universities, and private sector and NGO representatives. Day to day operations are handled by agency staff headed by a Secretary General appointed by the Ministry of Development. Development agencies are represented in PEVTBs and are expected to provide input to provincial skill development initiatives in accordance with provincial and regional development priorities.


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← 1. For instance, in 2014, 46% of Turkish women between the ages of 15 and 29 were not engaged in employment or in any kind of training or educational pursuit. The corresponding percentage for males was just 17.2%.

← 2. Similar ideas are also echoed in the national strategy document for regional development covering 2014-2023 (Ministry of Development, 2014b).

← 3. The exact translation of “high school” in the Turkish language (and educational system) refers to a vocational school offering tertiary degrees under the administrative umbrella of a (public or private) university. The Turkish equivalent of what is called a “high school” in English is “lise” or lycée but in the rest of the document, the term “high school” will be used to refer to these upper-secondary schools or lycées, as in English.

← 4. The current law allows for the establishment and operation of privately funded universities only if they agree to be non-profit institutions of higher learning and bans them from seeking profits. All privately funded universities currently active in Turkey are non-profits and their tuition and other revenues are complemented by funding provided regularly by a foundation or endowment created by the founders.

← 5. The initiative is commonly referred to as the MLMM Project after (the acronym for) its motto which reads “Vocational Education: A Crucial Matter for the Nation” in Turkish.

← 6. In addition to training livestock farmers and others taking part in the supply chain in its training centre, Sütaş supportsvocational education at the tertiary level through its co-operation agreements with Uludağ and Aksaray Universities.