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European Social Fund Plus

From refinery to railway: reskilling workers for a greener future

Two trains in the Porto station
© Markus Mainka -

When the oil refinery in Matosinhos, in Northern Portugal, was shut down in May 2021, 140 workers were left without employment and low prospects of finding jobs of the same quality in the region.

For Ricardo Pinto, who worked in the refinery for 18 years, the challenge was not just to find a new job, but to find one good enough to maintain a similar standard of living and where he could utilise his skills set.

Ricardo’s story is not unique. Some workers spent up to two years unable to find quality employment. Now, thanks to the EU’s Just Transition Fund (JTF), a new training programme has been launched in the region to help these workers find new jobs in the green economy. 

The IEFP (Instituto do Emprego e Formação Profissional) – the organisation responsible for vocational training and active employment policies in Portugal – is using the funds to design tailor-made training courses that harness the skills of the former workers to fill occupations that are in high demand in the region, such as railway drivers.

Ricardo sees this course as a great opportunity: ‘We believe this course can bring us professional stability. There is a great need for train drivers in our country, and we are motivated to fill these positions.’

This initiative allows workers to transfer their expertise in maintenance, safety and quality assurance to a new occupation without having to start over from scratch. The course lasts 7 months, and combines theory with hands-on practical learning, providing trainees with the skills needed to drive trains and maintain them. 

The design of this training course was innovative, involving former workers, the IEFP, and local authorities from the outset. As Ricardo explains, ‘Several options were considered, together with IEFP and the local authorities, to find a solution that would offer us guarantees and professional stability.’ The early involvement of the former workers was crucial to the operation's success, enabling it to address their specific needs and professional requalification expectations.

This training course for train drivers is just one aspect of a wider operation that aims to requalify all the former workers from the Matosinhos refinery still seeking employment or that want to move careers or create their own businesses. Other sectors on offer include maritime transport and renewable energy.

By investing in such training programmes, the JTF supports workers and helps to build a sustainable and resilient economy, aligned with national and EU policies. This initiative highlights the importance of ensuring that the shift to green energy is inclusive and leaves no one behind.

Project details

Project name
Curso de Iniciação a Maquinista
IEFP, I.P. – Institute for Employment and Vocational Training (PES)
Project start
Project end
Total budget
EUR 592 594.40
EU Budget contribution
EUR 697 169.88