Perspectives Ethiopia

Forging a new path

Ethiopia is breaking new ground in vocational training for refugees and Ethiopians. They learn together and put what they have learned into practice. Four people share their story, showing how the training reform supported by GIZ is bearing fruit.

Text und Fotos
Simon Marks

‘The unique thing about this training is that classes are mixed.’

 Melesse Yigzaw (45), Dean of the Nefas Silk Polytechnic College in Addis Ababa

We make sure that refugees have opportunities on Ethiopia’s labour market by offering them vocational training. The unique thing about our training is that we don’t have a separate curriculum for refugees but have mixed classes. We encourage students with different backgrounds to help one another. Some of the refugees have experienced dramatic events in their lives. We provide our teachers with the psychological support and conflict management skills that they need to offer refugees comprehensive assistance. We work with private companies to make sure that our trainees have the best-possible preparation for the labour market. We prepare people who do not join a company to set up their own business. Each year, we organise a competition where participants draw up a business plan. The winner receives assistance for his or her start-up from our college and GIZ. We have been very successful in integrating refugees so far and have trained more than 200 people altogether. Training people together also enhances our teaching methods. People come here with very different life experiences and social backgrounds. The unique thing about our school is that people help one another, sometimes even though they don’t speak the same language. We overcome language barriers by having multilingual students help others as language coaches. I’m really excited about our success and our partnership with GIZ, which is supporting us in this training mission. We’re now offering training and expertise in many different areas, from food preparation to vehicle construction. We had to suspend classes during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, but we’ve managed to arrange employment for our graduates despite this crisis. That’s a huge success.’


‘I would have been lost during the pandemic had it not been for my job.’

Yonas Hailemariam (33), an Eritrean refugee, graduate of the Nefas Silk Polytechnic College and employee of Tom E-Bike, an electric vehicle company

‘After leaving Eritrea, I lived in a refugee camp in northern Ethiopia for a long time. Last year, I joined the integrated training programme at Nefas Silk Polytechnic College in Addis Ababa and specialised in welding. I don’t feel like a stranger or an outsider anymore because I trained with people from different countries and Ethiopians and now work alongside them. I’m now friends with my colleagues. We eat and learn together. To find a job as a refugee, it’s essential to have a positive attitude towards your environment. I experienced extremely challenging situations in the past and have previously received support from non-governmental organisations. But the experience that I had during this training was completely different – because I found a job thanks to the programme. Things have become even more difficult for us refugees on the whole during the coronavirus pandemic. So I’m even more grateful that I’ve been able to keep working during this period. I would have been lost had it not been for my job. I’m very pleased with the training I received because it was really practical. Working at Tom E-Bike gives me the chance to contribute to the country’s green economy. Working with electric engines is something new in Ethiopia, and demand is growing. That offers us solid job prospects.’


‘I want to set up my own company and encourage other women.’

Emamey Wenduante (20), Ethiopian, graduate of the Nefas Silk Polytechnic College and Tom E-Bike employee

‘After finishing school, I went to Nefas Silk Polytechnic College to complete a three-year training programme to become a mechatronics engineer. I’ve been working at Tom E-Bike since graduating in January 2020. I gained a lot of technical knowledge during my course. I’m putting what I learned into practice at Tom E-Bike. Now I assemble electric vehicles. I know the entire process from the engine to the electrical systems to the chassis. It’s really great that I found a job after graduating from the college. Many young people in Ethiopia go to school or university but then have a hard time finding a job. I managed to overcome this hurdle thanks to the direct link between the training centre and the business. It’s a huge advantage. In the future, my goal is to set up my own company and work as a self-employed entrepreneur. I’m proud to be one of the few women working in automotive mechanics. I want to encourage other women to follow in my footsteps. At first, I thought working in this sector and this environment would be really hard. But now I realise that it’s not that challenging. Any woman can do it.’


‘I know what it’s like to be a refugee.’

Thomas Meskel (50), Managing Director of Tom E-Bike in Addis Ababa"

‘I was a refugee myself and a migrant worker in 11 African countries before emigrating to the US. I ultimately decided to return home. I want to do something to battle poverty in Ethiopia. Working and helping refugees is something I would never have dared dream of. I can only hire a few refugees at the moment, but I want to give more of them jobs in the future. I know what it’s like to be a refugee. We’re already making excellent progress with electric vehicle assembly. We’re a small company and don’t have a lot of room in our workshop, but we still work together with Nefas Silk Polytechnic College and GIZ. And I can train and hire refugees by doing so. Fifteen of my 55 employees are refugees. I am proof that it can work. We respect one another. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Fifteen or twenty years ago, Ethiopians and Eritreans were enemies. Today, we’re a team and speak each other’s language in my workshop. Sometimes we get together and celebrate together. I’m optimistic about the future for my company. Electric vehicles will be a massive market in the future so there are bright prospects for my employees. I have to say that refugees are excellent learners and ambitious. When I started this business five years ago, I realised that I had to help to raise the level of the workforce in Ethiopia. Until now, there have been lots of workers, but not enough importance has been attached to vocational training. But things are changing. In the future, I want to expand and promote teamwork. The partnership with Nefas Silk Polytechnic College is an excellent way to make that happen. Students there are young and energetic – their training is directly geared towards the labour market.’

‘Our project has reached 1,200 people so far, with this number set to rise to 6,500 by mid-2023.’


Home to approximately 800,000 refugees, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s largest host countries. It faces major challenges connected to finding jobs and opportunities for refugees. At the same time, thousands of young Ethiopians are looking for employment each year. Working on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ is supporting Ethiopian efforts to integrate refugees into the vocational training system and train them for the job market together with Ethiopians. Cofinanced by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the project contributes towards the BMZ Special Initiative Tackling the Root Causes of Displacement, Reintegrating Refugees. Working in partnership with the Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the project has overhauled curriculums and stepped up the involvement of companies. The Nefas Silk Polytechnic College in Addis Ababa is a pioneer. More than 200 refugees and Ethiopians have already completed the reformed training programme there. Similar programmes are under way in four other regions of Ethiopia and will benefit 6,500 people in the medium term.


Tobias Erbert, GIZ project manager. Read the full interview exclusively here

published in akzente 3/20