Wanting to earn a steady income that could help support his family, Rommel Bonifacio enrolled in an automotive repair workshop offered through EDC’s Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS2) project.
“We went [to a workshop], and I saw other youth my age,” says Rommel. “I was curious. I didn’t know anything about what they were doing. I said to myself, ‘There’s no harm in trying.’ I signed up there and then.”
Rommel is one of thousands of youth who seized upon the opportunities offered in the project. In fact, as of the project’s close in December 2011, EDC’s Alejandra Bonifaz and a team of local staff had coordinated 43,960 workforce development trainings for out-of-school youth in the Mindanao region of the Philippines.
The work of the EQuALLS2 project focuses on one simple goal: give youths better livelihood opportunities, no matter their level of formal education. While some workshops last for five days, others continue for three months and include a practicum with a local business. The trainings cover a wide range of skills, from carpentry to agriculture, and most are aligned with standards set by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the Filipino agency that governs the country’s technical education programs.
Bonifaz says that the relatively short time frame of the workshops is appealing to many young people because they can quickly learn a new, marketable skill without abandoning existing financial obligations or domestic responsibilities. “Requiring these youths to attend something too lengthy would make it similar to being in school,” she says. “And one of the reasons they dropped out of school in the first place is that they were unable to meet the required time commitment.”
Added together, though, these trainings can be transformative experiences for young people like Rommel.
Workshops were conducted by instructors from local nongovernmental organizations and academic institutions. EDC’s EQuALLS2 staff worked with these instructors to improve their work with out-of-school youth, focusing on differentiating their lessons and conduct one-on-one follow-ups.
The trainings emphasized a hands-on approach. In one recent workshop, over 50 participants took turns trimming goat hooves and administering antibacterial medicines as they learned the basics of goat husbandry. Goat production is an attractive option for many young entrepreneurs in the Philippines because the required capital is low, and goats are easier to raise and manage than cows.
Mindanao is one of the most conflict-heavy regions in the country. Ongoing violence, poverty, and limited infrastructure all conspire to keep many youths out of school—where their opportunities for a good education are limited anyway.
“Many young people in Mindanao do not always consider education as their best option,” says Gustavo Payan, who also works on the project. “They think of it more as a luxury, given the pressing needs of their families.” For this and other reasons, the number of out-of-school youth are very high in Mindanao.
But this population also represents a huge untapped resource. By learning microenterprise and trade skills, young people with limited formal schooling can enter the local labor force with marketable talents. This is especially important in a country such as the Philippines where a significant number of young people readily emigrate to pursue labor-intensive careers in the Middle East and Africa.
“For some youths,” says Payan, “their employment options are collecting shells or moving to find work overseas.” Learning trade and work readiness skills can give them another option. At the same time, it helps supply the local labor market with workers with in-demand skills, ensuring that youth will be able to profit from their training.
Over the past few months, Bonifaz has surveyed many of the youths who participated in the trainings. Preliminary results show that over half of them are in the workforce and a sizable percentage have gone back to school. Bonifaz believes that one of the major successes of the EQuALLS2 program has been equipping out-of-school youth with transferrable skills that can help them succeed in multiple industries.
Self-confidence is one of those skills, and one that Rommel credits EQuALLS2 with helping him learn. “After the program, I had the guts to try new challenges,” he says. “To do new work, to make a living.”
Originally published on January 24, 2012