World ORT's International Cooperation Department (ORT IC) has teamed up with the local organisation ID-Sahel to create what is planned to be a modern, self-sustaining training capacity for a nation which is among the 25 poorest in the world.
Since February, ORT IC has been in the mainly Muslim West African country identifying 500 artisans to be trained as "master craftsmen". These master craftsmen will provide training in 50 trades - from carpentry to auto-mechanics - at centres set up by the Government and through apprenticeships.
And in a complementary 12-month project, which started in August, ORT IC has been training a team of 41 Ministry of Professional Training staff to be inspectors who will oversee the quality of the master craftsmen's training and help them to acquire new training skills.
"We've set the ball rolling," said ORT IC Project Manager Jeroen Beukers in Geneva. "Once we've finished it will have its own momentum and continue to help people without us, in line with ORT's philosophy of helping people to help themselves."
Less than half Mali's 14 million people are literate, one sign of why the country suffers cripplingly high levels of unemployment.
"There are insufficient educational opportunities for young people so our project will increase their chances of finding work and setting up their own businesses," Mr Beukers said.
But it also explains why the master craftsmen themselves need training in order to be efficient and effective trainers.
"Once we found our 500 we had to assess their own training needs, see their strengths and weaknesses, and formulate programmes accordingly," he said. "The result is fully skilled trainers who will be able to make a good living by teaching full-time in training centres or who can stay in business and develop it with the help of apprentices."
Recognised as one of Africa's strongest democracies, Mali has stuck to economic reforms which have resulted in impressive economic growth over the past 14 years and attracted foreign investment. But according to 2004 figures, which are the latest available, nearly one-third of the population is unemployed and more than one-third lives below the poverty line.
"The training we've provided for the master craftsmen has greatly improved their teaching and training techniques, which, in turn, will help more than 13,000 young apprentices. It's clear that this will significantly reduce poverty in Mali, in particular by getting young people into work," said Bernard Duprat, who leads the ORT IC's 13-strong team of local, African and Canadian experts. "All the feedback I have received from trainees in our classes in Segou and Yorosso points to the programme being a success."
The upgrading of the Ministry staff's skills means that they will not only supervise the training provided by the master craftsmen but will also update their training and develop new training programmes to suit changing circumstances.
"Traditionally, knowledge and expertise have been handed down from generation to generation by mimicry meaning that the evolution of knowledge and techniques is slow," Mr Beukers said. "But Mali has shown that it has the potential to grow and the development of modern, professional training methods will encourage the exploitation of new opportunities."
These projects are the latest in a series which World ORT has undertaken in Mali, starting in 1962 with a USAID-supported programme training mechanics and laboratory technicians.
Since then, ORT IC - supported by organisations including the African Development Bank, World Bank, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and USAID - has established re-training programmes for government employees, trained trainers in public and private industry, trained maintenance personnel in a veterinary laboratory producing vaccine for the livestock industry, and provided managerial and research expertise for the successful implementation of other projects.