Two Serbian youths find happiness in hospitality

Stories From The Field E2E Milen And Stefan Banner IMG 9771

The E2E programme has transformed the lives of countless others across Serbia, having trained and given career guidance to thousands of youths. Today, 77% of trained youths are currently employed like Milena and Stefan.

From Education to Employment (E2E) is giving hard-to-place youths in Serbia a renewed chance at a career. This is the story of two young people who found jobs and fulfilment in the service sector thanks to the long-running on-the-job training programme.

Milena Đorđević was going through a trial-and-error phase in her career. Professionally trained in shoemaking, the 20-year-old Serbian, a local of Knjaževac, had been moving from one employer to the next, in search of a good working environment. 

Some 120 miles away in Kragujevac, Stefan Popović was experiencing a similar issue – even though he had graduated from a programme for legal technicians, he knew he wanted to find a job in a profession that would help him hone his communication skills. 

Despite their distance, the two would end up being bound by another common thread as appreciative participants in the Swiss-funded From Education to Employment (E2E) programme that placed them in new jobs in the hospitality sector.

Stories From The Field E2E Milena IMG 9765
Milena Đorđević in the middle of preparing food for the Mali Predah in Knjaževac, Serbia

Through E2E’s on-the-job training programme, Milena made her way to Mali Predah, a hotel where she works in food preparation. “My work with my mentor and the owners [now] is great. They are here to explain anything I do not understand. I also have excellent cooperation with my co-workers who have been working at the hotel for several years already,” Milena says. 

Stefan feels the same way. He mentions having learned a variety of skills on the job thanks to the help of his colleagues and his mentor Mateja Rakić’s support. Even though Stefan had been a warehouse worker in the past and had set his sights initially on a legal career, he loves his current position as a waiter.  

“I learnt to put away and prepare dishes, napkins, and sort the cutlery,” he says, who works at the restaurant Regent in Kragujevac. “Everything suits me fine.” 

The E2E programme has transformed the lives of countless others across Serbia, having trained and given career guidance to thousands of youths. E2E participants have landed jobs in construction, manufacturing, IT and of course hospitality, not only finding career opportunities but also fulfilment and job satisfaction.

Stories From The Field E2E Stefan IMG 9763
Stefan Popović is about to serve customers at a restaurant called Regent in Kragujevac, Serbia

Milena’s boss, Mali Predah owner Dragana Jevtić, is happy to work alongside the budding professional. “Milena is a very hard-working young woman,” she says. “As a trainee, she has fit in wonderfully on our team, and I believe that we will have a place for her should she want one.” 

Dragana recalls her own experience starting out in the hospitality sector, sharing she had learned primarily by doing hands-on, practical work given there are no schools in the city that provided the necessary training. “[That] is why I believe that programmes such as the Education to Employment programme which, along with theory, involve many hours of practical work, are very good and useful for youth,” she adds. 

As for Predrag Rakić, the owner of Regent, he revealed how difficult it is to find staff during peak season, especially since many potential employees leave the country around that time. He also notes that, in general, there is an increasing shortage of waiters and barmen. But because of the E2E, this problem has become much more manageable.

Stories From The Field E2E Milena Boss IMG 9767
Dragana Jevtić, owner of the Mali Predah, shares what it is like to work with Milena

“Our experience with the Education to Employment project is wonderful,” he adds. “It is always useful to get workers who will prepare for the job in our environment and adapt to the specific work position in our restaurant." 

Today, E2E continues to train individuals according to market demands and send them out to various businesses, thanks to the Swiss and Serbian governments and the project management team. But reaching capable youths in need of work would have been difficult without partner organisations designated in each participant city, namely Kruševac, Kragujevac, Knjaževac, Novi Pazar, Pirot, Nis, Sabac, Pozega, Smederevo and Kraljevo.

It was through Timok Club that Milena got in touch with E2E. She had responded to an announcement calling for aspiring hospitality workers, leading her to Mali Predah. “We have a very good cooperation with the Timok Club,” Dragana says.

Stories From The Field E2E Stefan IMG 9771
In photo: Stefan Popović in the middle of work. “Our experience with the Education to Employment project is wonderful,” Predrag Rakić, the owner of Regent, says.

However sometimes, opportunities like the E2E happen serendipitously, as in the case of Stefan. “A friend of mine, whose father keeps a restaurant, told me about the Education to Employment training and explained all its advantages and opportunities it offers to me,” Stefan says, highlighting the growing influence of the project across cities. 

With the help of E2E and its partners, a total of 77% trained participant youths are currently employed like Milena and Stefan, a figure that is sure to grow in the years to come.

Learn more about E2E on the project website here

Oliver Streit

Oliver Streit

Sector Lead Education, Skills & Employment

Stuttgart, Germany