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July 25, 2013
In Liberia, out-of-school youth are learning literacy and numeracy skills so they may qualify for better-paying jobs. Youth in Guyana who are involved in the juvenile justice system are getting a second chance through life skills training and job coaching. And in Rwanda, youth are receiving work readiness training and support, which may lead to on-the-job training and self-employment.
These young men and women are all enrolled in EDC’s international youth and workforce development projects, which reach out to youth and young adults who have fallen outside formal education systems or joined gangs, particularly in conflict-affected areas. These programs, underway for nine years, are known as EQUIP3* and reached an estimated 200,000 youth in 26 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia. EDC’s Nancy Taggart, formerly the EQUIP3 deputy director and now EDC’s youth team director, reflects on lessons learned.
Taggart: We want to train youth specifically for the jobs that are available or emerging in their region. So EDC assesses the community needs and market opportunities in every project country, and we adapt our approach to meet those needs. We emphasize entrepreneurship skills training and technical/vocational training, but it is all the other things in between that we think really makes a difference. We couple all of our skills building with life coaching, career counseling, access to financing, and job placement—what we call bridging strategies. The Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) Project in Guyana is one example where coaches and mentors work one-on-one with youth to develop career plans and help place them in internships and jobs.
Taggart: Mentors are important in changing mindsets for youth and their families. For example, jobs may be available in a certain sector, say construction, but some families may feel those jobs are “beneath” their children; other jobs might be seen as inappropriate for young women. We see this in the agricultural sector, which many young people don’t consider because they associate it with manual labor. Or it might be what their parents did for work, and they want to do something different or better.
As a result, we put forward youth who have had successful agriculture-based businesses as role models to raise awareness of jobs in those fields. By engaging with people who are successful in business, they might see for themselves that, “Hey, that’s a viable business and that person is really prosperous.”
Taggart: Getting private and public enterprises involved in designing trainings and participating in the projects is critical, as they know what skills are needed most within the workplace, and they can help place youth in internships or jobs. Educating employers on their responsibilities when hiring or mentoring young people is equally important and yet is often neglected in workforce development projects.
Taggart: We summarize EDC’s approach to youth development as the “three Es:” youth engagement, youth education, and youth earning.
For example, the Garissa Youth Project—now called the Yes Youth Can! North Eastern Province Project—in Kenya promotes all three. The youth participants lead efforts to build tolerance and peaceful coexistence among diverse communities through youth-led organizations that launch and implement development projects. This complements the education and workforce training activities, as it gives them an awareness of the needs of own their communities—and what it means for them to get involved. It’s a first step along the pathway to earning and engaging in citizenship.
*The projects mentioned are ongoing programs that originated as associate awards under the USAID-funded Educational Quality Improvement Program 3 (EQUIP3), a global program from 2003–2012 that prepared out-of-school youth to participate in work, civil society, and family life.