Finding and holding down a job involves more than mastering a technical skill that is in high demand, say job-training experts. Equally important, they say, is having “soft” skills — the habits and social behaviors that make an employee a valuable part of the team.
Around the globe, in small programs and large, private groups are working to solve the youth unemployment problem, and helping young people develop soft skills is a big part of that campaign.
Two widely heralded approaches that have been the most effective are Entra21 — developed by the Baltimore-based International Youth Foundation (IYF), a worldwide youth development organization — and the smaller, Washington-based Education for Employment program.
With support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank, both based in Washington, D.C., Entra21 has provided 20,000 young people with employment training and job placement services through 35 pilot projects in Latin America. The program targets “out-of-school, out-of-work teenagers,” most of whom have attended school for only six or seven years, says William Reese, IYF president and CEO.
The youths receive 400-500 hours of training, including technical skills for jobs that are in high demand in the local community. Teens also receive training in life and professional skills, such as punctuality, working in teams and taking the initiative in problem-solving. The final stage is an internship with a company.
Initially, the World Bank and IDB thought teaching technical skills was the most important component of the program, Reese says. But employer surveys indicated that “all those softer things that are harder to put your finger on … were absolutely essential,” he says.
The World Bank had hoped that at least 40 percent of the graduates would still be employed six months after graduating from the program. Instead, 55 percent were still employed and another 25 percent had gone back to school to get more training. “The bank was thrilled,” Reese says.
Education for Employment, which has had similar results, operates on a smaller scale in the Middle East and targets “young people from very poor incomes and backgrounds,” says Jamie McAuliffe, president and CEO. An applicant must have been out of work for six months and considered unlikely to find a job without the program.
Founded by Ron Bruder — a U.S. entrepreneur who became concerned about the lack of jobs for young Arabs after the 9/11 attacks — Education for Employment designs training courses for mostly mid-sized to larger private employers in the Middle East.
The program first started in Jordan in 2002 and now operates in six countries in the region. “We've graduated 2,500 young people and placed roughly 80 percent in jobs,” says McAuliffe.
He attributes the program's success to the close working relationships the group has developed with potential employers, who commit to hiring acceptable trainees. As with Entra21, developing soft skills often turns out to be the “most critical and transformational” part of the program, McAuliffe says. “Time and time again our partners come back to us to say, ‘We've just seen a real difference in the way your graduates are able to present themselves and operate in a business environment.’”
Education for Employment hopes to scale up its program in the next couple of years. McAuliffe says working with local partners has been critical for both financing and establishing credibility. And success depends on finding participants willing to be flexible about their future employment, he adds.
Economists debate the effectiveness of job-training programs, and critics say they show little long-term effectiveness. But Reese says he has found that the components of a successful youth jobs program include:
Training in both professional and personal, or soft, skills,
Providing the latest technical training based on local employer needs,
Helping participants gain real-world experience through internships, and
Providing job placement services.
“We know what works,” says Reese. “What's missing is the political and financial commitment to take these things to scale.”
— Reed Karaim