Vocational training in the Palestinian Territories

Sweet Vocation

The story of a confectionary worker shows how GIZ improves young people’s prospects in the Palestinian territories by vocational training.

Susanne Knaul
Naftali Hilger

The halawi croissant is where East meets West. The sweet halwa filling made with sesame seeds and wrapped in flaky filo pastry is a speciality of Omar’s bakery in the centre of Hebron. Baking here starts at seven o’clock in the morning. The croissants filled with strawberry jam and chocolate are already finished, the caramel biscuits are just missing a sprinkling of coconut chips. The business is run by Omar Sider, whose confectionery products add a new twist to the traditional pastries on offer in Hebron, where Arabic baklavas are the norm. Even his shop is a little unusual by the standards of this conservative city, situated just 30 kilometres south of Jerusalem. Opened just a few months ago, the glass-fronted confectionery shop is decked out with bright green shelves and tables. 27-year-old Renal Qawasmeh has been a part of the enterprise from the outset. She works upstairs, cutting out biscuits before baking, filling and decorating them. She is the professional heart of the business – and the only woman in a team of four.

Right choice: after completinga degree in graphic design, renal Qawasmeh retrained to become a pastry chef. Not only does she now enjoy her job, she also takes home more pay.
Right choice: after completinga degree in graphic design, renal Qawasmeh retrained to become a pastry chef. Not only does she now enjoy her job, she also takes home more pay.

Qawasmeh is one of the first female pastry chefs in this city of over 200,000 inhabitants. She wears an apron over her dress and a black-and-red headscarf. Her bakery is spotless: plastic containers filled with coloured candy sprinkles, chopped nuts and chocolate chips are lined up ready and waiting. It is a job the young woman clearly enjoys. Just now she is testing the consistency of a white chocolate mousse slowly warming on a stove; at the same time, she instructs a colleague to take a finished tray-load down to the shop. You would never guess she was a newcomer to the confectionery trade. Her oven produces up to 30 kilograms of biscuits a day – not to mention a wide range of tarts, cakes and special orders. ‘I love to work with my hands,’ says Qawasmeh.

Vocational training college housed in a partially converted orphanage

A short while later Qawasmeh pays a visit to her former training college. She belongs to the third class of students to have graduated from the training course for pastry chefs. Part of an initiative to promote job opportunities in the Palestinian territories, the course is implemented by GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The vocational training college, which also offers a range of other courses, is housed in a partially converted orphanage. Next door to Qawasmeh’s former classroom, where confectionery skills are being taught to a new generation of pastry chefs, a second group of young Palestinians is learning the art of cookery, while a third is acquiring the skills needed to wait tables.

Learning by doing – teacher and former student pass on their skills to the new intake of would-be pastry chefs.Renal Qawasmeh works in the bakery upstairs.Teacher Rania al-Musleman  Picture gallery: Training in Omar’s bakery.

Rania al-Musleman gives her former student a warm welcome when she enters the kitchen. Just over a year ago, Qawasmeh was still practising her baking skills here. The teacher wears a baker’s cap embroidered with a red letter ‘R’ over her headscarf. The cap confers additional authority on a woman already bursting with charisma. ‘Come on, give me a hand,’ she urges Qawasmeh. The younger woman borrows an apron and together the pair demonstrates how sugar water is ladled onto freshly baked baklava. By the time they take their examination, the trainees will have mastered both traditional Arabic confectionery and western-style pastry skills. In addition, they will have learned about hygiene and nutrition.

Job prospects for academics are poor

Divided up by gender, the classes of would-be pastry chefs, cooks and waiting staff are still undersubscribed. This has nothing to do with course fees, however. Trainees pay a token amount for the entire course, equivalent to around 300 euros. ‘Working in the service industry just isn’t considered an attractive career,’ explains teacher Islam Abu Alfilat with a sigh. Service is his area of responsibility. ‘Most people don’t consider waiting tables a profession.’ In terms of manual jobs, Hebron is better known for glassblowing, handmade ceramics and leather products. And those who can scrape enough money together in Hebron prefer to send their children to study at a university, despite the fact that job prospects for academics are poor.

Good for business: Omar’s bakery is on a busy street in Hebron.
Good for business: Omar’s bakery is on a busy street in Hebron.

This attitude has much to do with Hebron’s character, which is more conservative – less western-influenced – than cities such as neighbouring Bethlehem, just 20 kilometres away. But the service industry is generating lots of new jobs, for as Abu Alfilat explains: ‘New restaurants are opening up all the time. More and more tourists are coming to the city these days.’ And Palestinian cooking – which is comparatively cheap in Hebron – is becoming increasingly popular among Israel’s Arab population. Around 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs, who have freedom of movement in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. But for Palestinians, the end of the road is the checkpoint outside Jerusalem.

Vocational training also prevents conflict

This restricted movement obstructs economic development and is one of the factors that accounts for the high rate of unemployment. According to the International Labour Organization, unemployment in 2013 was at 24.5%. Moreover, as one of the strongholds of the Islamist Hamas organisation, the city is a theatre of regular violent conflict. Hebron is a sacred site, venerated by both Jews and Muslims as the burial place of their forefather Abraham or Ibrahim. Central Hebron is home to a few hundred radical Israeli settlers, who live under heavy surveillance by the occupying forces and provoke violent confrontation on a regular basis. Conversely, Palestinian demonstrations against the occupation often escalate into stone throwing aimed at the settlers and the soldiers stationed there to protect them. For GIZ, there is a direct correlation between vocational education and conflict mitigation. ‘The lack of prospects quickly leads to violence,’ explains GIZ Country Director Rudolf Rogg. For this reason, young people are always a focus for joint activities with Palestinian partner ministries in the Palestinian territories.

The case of Renal Qawasmeh shows what can be achieved through vocational education and training. In addition to the manual skills trainees acquire, the support measures aim to improve both opportunities for course graduates on the labour market and their wage prospects. Qawasmeh, for example, had already completed a degree course in graphic design before she decided to retrain as a pastry chef. ‘Even after two-and-a-half years working as a graphic designer, I was still only taking home around 1,000 shekels (about 230 euros),’ she says. At Omar’s bakery her starting salary is 1,500 shekels per month. ‘And I’ve had other job offers as a pastry chef,’ she says proudly. ‘Society is slowly beginning to respect and appreciate professionalism.’

In the months between graduating and starting work, she baked at home and sold her produce at bazaars or to her neighbours. ‘Word soon got around,’ she laughs. Then one day, one of her neighbours told Omar Sider about her confectionery. Her boss is full of praise: ‘She is amazing.’ And Qawasmeh has hopes of owning her own shop one day. ‘Then I will only employ trained pastry chefs.’

> Contact: Andreas König andreas.koenig@giz.de

published in akzente 2/15


Egypt map


Project: Promoting vocational training and the labour market
Country: Palestinian territories
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
Lead executing agencies: Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Palestinian Ministry of Labour
Term: 2011 to 2015

GIZ is improving vocational opportunities for young people in the Palestinian territories. It receives additional financial support from the European Union and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. GIZ is responsible for implementing measures that promote vocational education and training and for coordination with the Palestinian ministries involved. Objectives include the development of new curricula and training programmes, as well as the higher-level qualifications to which these lead. For example, GIZ provides young Palestinians between the ages of 17 and 30 with courses that enable them to acquire basic skills in a trade. In the West Bank these courses range from agricultural production, animal husbandry and motor mechanics to fashion design, carpentry, service provision and food processing. In the last four completed classes, 282 out of 558 graduates found employment right after completing the course.