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Youth employment: two ideas that work

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Multilateral Investment Fund uses sports and culture to teach life skills in youth training programs

Youth unemployment is an important development challenge for Latin America and the Caribbean. There are unmet needs on both sides of the youth employment equation.

On the one hand, the region’s young people need jobs—the unemployment rate among young people is 13 percent, nearly three times that of adults, and 32 million youth neither work nor are in school. On the other hand, the region’s private sector needs skilled workers—half of the 40,000 companies surveyed in a recent Manpower study reported difficulty in finding qualified employees. So what kind of bridge will connect these two sides?

For nearly two decades, the IDB’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) has invested heavily in youth employment training and entrepreneurship programs, working with 200,000 young people in 120 training programs in 22 countries. Lessons learnt from these projects can help answer the question.

The key seems to be integrated multi-approach models that engage young people, train them in skills that are in demand in the market, help them develop “life skills” such as teamwork, communication, and responsibility that will allow them to succeed in the workplace, and then place them in internship and entry-level job programs.

Attracting young people to these training programs in the first place can be a challenge. Several of the MIF’s most successful projects use activities such as sports or arts to draw in youth. Some of these projects will be discussed during the IDB annual meeting in Montevideo this week.

For example, the A Ganar model, developed in partnership with the a non-governmental organization called Partners of the Americas, uses soccer, baseball, and other popular sports. Not only do the young participants have fun and make new friends, they also learn important skills such as team work and leadership on the field. They also receive job-readiness training, and 70 percent of program graduates go on to either find work, return to school, or start their own businesses. The MIF and Partners of the Americas have carried out A Ganar projects in 13 countries so far. The all-female “Vencedoras” chapter in Brazil became part of the Nike Foundation’s “Girl Effect” campaign.

In Rio de Janeiro, the Galpão Aplauso program uses the performing arts to reach out to disadvantaged youth from the city’s favelas. At its facility young people dance, sing, play instruments, learn circus acrobatics, and express themselves in other creative ways. The most talented participants go on to jobs in Rio’s entertainment industry, while others are trained to work in fast-growing fields like construction and retail management.