March 21, 2013

Mapping the Way to a Better Future

Jermaine is a young man in Guyana, South America, who got caught up in the juvenile justice system. Growing up with limited education and few options for employment, Jermaine often turned to petty crime as a means of survival.

However, Jermaine was given a choice. The courts would waive detention and sentencing if he took part in the Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) Project and engage in mandatory counseling through the Probation Department within the Ministry of Labor, Human Services, and Social Security. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and managed by EDC, SKYE works to provide court-involved juveniles in Guyana with employment coaching and work readiness skills training.

Jermaine was among the first group of youth to benefit from alternative sentencing championed by the SKYE Project. “I was in captivity, I didn’t like it”, he said. “Now that I am back home, I tell all my friends behaving bad is not worth it. I tell them to be good and do the right things.”

Between now and August 2015, SKYE will provide 1,500 at-risk youth, ages 15 to 24, with training that will improve their ability to transition into the workforce. And in the coming months, Jermaine will work with a SKYE employment coach to map out his path to sustained employment and reintegration into his community.

Coaches help youth stay on track

This past summer, SKYE recruited 21 employment coaches to work with at-risk youth. Many of the coaches are seasoned social workers familiar with the struggles Guyanese youth face growing up in depressed communities. In addition to their regular duties, three employment coaches were chosen to be the core coaches working with youth diverted from the juvenile justice system.

Coaches and youth together develop a plan that maps out the steps from program graduation to finding and sustaining employment. Coaches track the youths’ progress, making sure they meet their goals and stay on the right track. Without this type of support and guidance from their employment coaches, youth who don’t find jobs right away may backslide into a life of vagrancy and crime.

“The employment coaching provided by the SKYE Project is a critical tool for keeping youths engaged and committed to the process of crossing the bridge to sustained employment once they have completed training in their desired fields,” says EDC’s Jan Karpowicz. “The project’s employment coaches provide essential encouragement and assistance to youths who for the greater part have little other support.”

Rollin Tappin is a SKYE employment coach who works with program participant Kester, a youth expelled from school for suspected criminal behavior. Together, Kester and Tappin track Kester’s progress using his employment plan, with Tappin ensuring Kester meets his goals and stays on the right track.

“Being an employment coach gives me firsthand knowledge of the issues affecting our youths’ growth and development,” says Tappin. “It gives me great satisfaction that with continuous work our youths can gain meaningful employment and contribute to their personal development as well as the country as a whole.”

Ready for work in developing markets

SKYE participants receive training in skills such as communications, personal development, local labor laws, and financial literacy to help them find jobs in sectors that have been identified as having available employment. “Work-ready” youth stand a better chance of finding entry-level positions, where they can then receive additional on-the-job training.

“Work readiness and interpersonal skills are much more important to me than technical skills,” said Clinton Urling, chairman of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and a restaurant owner, who spoke at this summer’s training for SKYE coaches. “I can easily teach someone how to do the job, but it is readiness and maturity for the work environment that’s the key for employment at my business.”