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Filling the IT skills gap with Latin American youth

When visiting any Latin American city, it is hard to ignore the people selling t-shirts, toys, food and anything else imaginable in sidewalk markets, on street corners and the sides of highways. This type of livelihood in the informal sector has become a reality for millions of people in the region, a reflection of the lack of quality jobs and high levels of unemployment plaguing the region. What then are the prospects for disadvantaged young people attempting to enter the job market?

One hopeful alternative to this bleak scenario are new opportunities for employment that have gradually emerged across the region in information technology (IT). However, there has not been a parallel increase in the supply of skilled workers to fill these positions. Entra 21, a $27 million grant matching program created by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the IDB’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), is attempting to respond to this market demand for IT skills.

Entra 21 provides grants and technical assistance to local NGOs focusing on youth employability in Latin America, particularly those NGOs that provide relevant IT training, life and job-seeking skills and job placement services to young people ages 16-29.

In general, Entra 21 participants possess varying degrees of technical knowledge, and most have high school educations or some college experience. All those selected to participate in the program come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are recruited from neighborhoods or income brackets targeted by each project.

An integral component of Entra 21 is the creation of partnerships between businesses, governments and NGOs, with the end goal of creating an IT training program specific to  local labor market demands, thus providing businesses with skilled workers and the trainees with internship and job possibilities.

For example, a project organized by the Agency for the Economic Development of the City of Córdoba (ADEC) in Argentina, has identified some dynamic productive sectors, such as furniture and fixture manufacturing, electronics, and the vegetable oil and organic products sector, that are using new IT and gradually creating entry level jobs.

Together with area businesses, technical institutes, the municipal and provincial governments and local NGOs, ADEC has created a comprehensive two-year training program for 400 young people between the ages of 18 and 25, incorporating the expressed needs of the businesses involved. The program includes a technical training component, life skills training and invaluable internships. Tutors accompany the youths throughout the program and a monthly stipend is also provided. The goal is to help place 240 of the trainees in jobs at the end of the program.  

Since the end goal of Entra 21 is to help graduates get jobs, have the projects been successful? While results vary between countries, and Entra 21 has funded 35 projects in 20 countries, overall, the answer is yes. More than 16,000 young people have been trained with marketable IT skills region wide and over 40 percent of them have gotten jobs.

Additionally, Entra 21 continues to monitor graduates after program completion, in order to track their progress, and follows up with both graduates and employers to evaluate satisfaction with the program’s results. Overwhelmingly, the responses have been positive, with around 75 percent of employers expressing satisfaction with the Entra 21 interns they hosted. An unintended outcome of the project has been an increase in school reenrollment rates among graduates. For example, 23 percent of trainees in El Salvador and 48 percent in Panama went back to school after the program.

In the end, whether the Entra 21 program has provided a young person with a stable job or has given him or her the impetus to return to school, graduates are taking away a set of marketable skills and a sense of hope for the future.