August 6, 2012

Giving At-Risk Youth a Chance

In Guyana, a new project helps youth in trouble get back on the right track.

In the South American country of Guyana, where the high school drop-out rate and crime rate are high, youth who lack job skills have few options to survive. Some turn to petty crimes, such as pickpocketing and non-violent robbery, which can lead down a darker path to violent criminal activity, including drug trafficking. And once youth enter the juvenile justice system, there are few roads leading permanently out.

Now a new youth program aims to give young Guyanese youth who are vulnerable to crime and violence or have committed minor crimes a chance to turn their lives around. The Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) Guyana project is providing 805 at-risk youth ages 15 to 24 with training in market-driven skills, and improve their ability to transition into the workforce. Community partners are preparing youth for the workplace by providing training in skills such as communications, personal development, local labor laws, and financial literacy—areas that have been identified as priorities by the private sector in Guyana.

“If these youth don’t have the maturity and skills needed to maintain employment, they won’t be able to keep a job,” says EDC’s Kevin Corbin. “Our goal is to reduce youth crime by providing at-risk youth with employment coaches and relevant work readiness training, all driven by labor market data and locally available youth services.”

The SKYE Project is part of President Obama’s Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which seeks to strengthen legitimate economic opportunities in neighboring countries to the south of the United States. The project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and managed by EDC, working with Catholic Relief Services, government ministries, community agencies, NGOs, and private sector partners.

Participating youth will be given the opportunity to avoid entering or re-entering the juvenile justice system by taking part in SKYE’s activities. SKYE will support these youth to reach their goals and a chance to become productive members of their communities—before their lives are lost to crime, violence, and incarceration.

“Police pick up minor offenders and place them in holding centers to wait for the next phase of prosecution,” Corbin says. “We hope to work with magistrates to leverage existing policies that allow diversion or alternatives to sentencing, and hope the justice system will see SKYE, and other opportunities in communities we hope to facilitate, as preferred options to detention centers for youth.”

Employment coaches will be key to the project’s success. EDC is recruiting and training 22 employment coaches (mostly credentialed social workers that focus on youth) to work with young participants in four regions throughout Guyana.

“It isn’t difficult to train youth to be carpenters or construction workers,” Corbin says. “But when training ends and job seeking begins, youth are in danger of vulnerability if they don’t get a job right away. Our employment coaches are there to provide support and guidance to transition youth to real jobs in their communities.”

SKYE concludes in August 2013 and is designed to scale up. “We’re assessing the labor market needs so youth are positioned for employment opportunities and success,” says Corbin. “We’re providing curricula and training to build local capacities, so communities can use these materials in the future.”