"It's not easy because there's not a tradition of apprenticeship here and people feel threatened that, if they have a good student, they will suffer from competition later on," said Daniel Kahn, Head of World ORT's International Cooperation office in Geneva, who has spent the past week in and around the Malian capital, Bamako, meeting with partners.
World ORT has brought in three experts from Canada, Benin and Burkina Faso to join two local specialists whose task it is to prepare questionnaires to be taken to the nearly 700 candidates personally to assess their skills, way of life and aptitude. They will be accompanied by support staff for the interviews. The project will see the institution of standardised, recognised vocational qualifications.
"Based on the information gathered we need to prepare 50 definitions of professions and develop the training accordingly," Mr Kahn said. "This is pedagogical training, teaching a range of skilled people - including blacksmiths, carpenters, farmers, electricians, computer technicians - how to train others. It will change the whole approach to the employment of youth and of preparing the next generation."
Later this year, World ORT hopes to follow up with a further project to train 51 national supervisors to oversee the performance of the new cadre of "master craftsmen" and who would, as Mr Kahn put it, continue the training of trainers of trainers.
The project is being implemented in Segou, which is 200 kilometres from Bamako up the Niger River in the direction of the historic city of Timbuktu, and Yorosso, about 300km south-east of the capital.
The need to develop practical measures to help the mainly Muslim country is obvious. Some 80 per cent of Mali's labour force works in agriculture and economic activity is largely confined to the area irrigated by the Niger River, with most of the country classified as desert or semi-desert. The former French colony has an unemployment rate of about 30 per cent and more than one-third of its 3.2 million people live below the poverty line.
World ORT's project is an important part of PAFIP, a five-year national development programme, and Mr Kahn is optimistic about the contribution it will make.
"Everyone is involved in highly motivated," he said. "We're dealing with professionals and that's encouraging. We definitely feel that we are accomplishing something important here. It's a region of very old traditions, very few services and very poor people and we feel that this project will bring positive change."