September 7, 2016

Literacy: The Ultimate Job Skill

In Guyana, young people are working to develop the reading and writing skills they need to find jobs

Kevon Lynch (left) talks with members of EDC’s SKYE team outside his barbershop.

Business is good for Kevon Lynch. His barbershop, stationed on a main road in Stanleytown, Guyana, is a popular one. He makes enough money to support himself and his family, and he has real job security, too. Styles may change, but people will always need haircuts.

It’s a big change from his life only a few years ago. A struggling student who could barely read or write, Lynch dropped out of school in 10th grade and worked construction jobs when they were available. It was a life he soon grew tired of.

Without basic reading and writing skills, he realized there was little else he could do. But EDC’s USAID-funded Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) project presented Kevon with another option—the opportunity to acquire basic work readiness skills and the ability to read.

“I feel very proud of myself and how far I have come,” he says. “My mother is proud too, and my friends show a lot of respect for me.”

EDC’s Fiona Wills, chief of party for SKYE, says that Kevon’s story is not unique. Approximately 40 percent of youth in Guyana are unemployed. Those who do work are often mired in labor-intensive jobs that offer little financial security and few prospects for upward mobility. For many, like Kevon, attempts to find work are hampered by having little to no literacy.

“When we were canvassing communities to find youth who would be interested in SKYE, we found that some youths’ literacy levels were at the point where they were not functional,” says Wills. “So we needed to create a curriculum to meet those needs because our workforce development curriculum assumes basic literacy.”

In fact, literacy levels among youth varied so widely that Wills and her EDC colleagues built not one but three new curricula, all of which are currently being used by SKYE trainers.

  • Work Ready Plus is intended for youth who are able to read and write at a middle school level. This program embeds literacy tasks within the larger goal of teaching work readiness skills and even confers a work readiness certificate on youth who complete the course.
  • Pre-Work Ready is for youth who are able to read and write at a primary school level. In this curriculum, literacy skills—recognizing sight words, basic reading comprehension, and writing practice—are front and center.
  • Ready to Read is an intensive, face-to-face curriculum, which presumes no prior formal instruction in English. It is currently being piloted with a small group of youth in Region 4 of Guyana and will soon be used by the New Opportunity Corps, one of the country’s youth detention centers.

Through their participation in these curricula, youth learn the reading and writing skills they need to succeed in EDC’s Work Ready Now!—SKYE’s core curriculum.

Kevon’s own path to literacy began with the Pre-Work Ready class. Then he moved onto Work Ready Plus, which he passed, graduating with a work credential and, even more importantly, the ability to read.

“Literacy skills will serve these young people for the rest of their lives,” says Wills. “So while our short-term goal is to prepare them for Work Ready Now!, these literacy programs really have life-changing consequences.”

Photo: Kevon Lynch (left) talks with members of EDC’s SKYE team outside his barbershop.