A donor-supported project in three Central Asian countries used rural vocational education and training (VET) schools of the formal education system to promote income generation for adults. These schools are responsible for initial VET and not for non-formal skills training of adults. They received capacity building support from local experts to cope with the new tasks. They acquired, through additional peer learning events, competencies to design and conduct demand-driven training for rural workers. Meanwhile, the schools are performing well, and the beneficiaries of the programmes increased their income. Schools are no longer isolated educational institutions but an important networking part in rural development. The project's experience is discussed in the context of the international discussion. Conclusions for interventions and international VET cooperation are drawn: the existing (VET) resources should be used more systematically in community development approaches accompanied by capacity building for school staff. The intervention required simultaneously a policy dialogue with the line ministries. The dialogue is based on the evidence of best practice. This is a precondition for ownership-driven policies to reform VET systems in Central Asia towards demand driven training for adults. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.