Livelihood options for poor urban youth

According to the International Labour Organization, over 70 million young people worldwide are unemployed. This issue is particularly prevalent in the Global South, where youth are twice as likely to be unemployed or trapped in low-quality jobs, limiting development and social mobility. Governments and NGOs have responded with educational initiatives, skills-training projects, confidence-building programs, and a fund to encourage entrepreneurship.

Read on to learn about four successful approaches in Cali, Nairobi, Bangalore, and Rio de Janeiro, and then join the conversation in the comments below.

Rio de Janeiro
Jorge Bela

Luchando contra el desempleo juvenil mediante programas de formación

Jorge Bela, Gestor Comunitario de Cali


El desempleo juvenil es un problema especialmente grave en Cali. Las tasas de acercan al 33 por ciento, la más alta de las principales ciudades del país (la media nacional en este sector demográfico es del 17 por ciento). Si bien es cierto que la tasa general de desempleo en la capital del Cauca es también superior a la nacional (13 por ciento frente al 9 por ciento), los jóvenes caleños sufren este problema de forma desproporcionada. Aunque las causas del desempleo son complejas, cabe destacar un periodo de recesión económica que duró 10 años, de 1995 a 2005, que coincidió con la llegada de fuertes flujos migratorios. Aunque a partir de 2006 la economía ha crecido, no lo ha hecho en tasas suficientes para absorber la bolsa de desempleo y los nuevos flujos migratorios. La falta de cualificación para los nuevos trabajos que van surgiendo es otra barrera para que los jóvenes obtengan empleo.

Para mitigar este grave problema, existen varias iniciativas tanto públicas como privadas destinadas a mejorar la preparación de los jóvenes. Jóvenes en Acción, un programa de ámbito nacional, prestará asistencia financiera para que puedan completar estudios a unos 4 000 jóvenes caleños. La formación debe ser en carreras técnicas o tecnológicas, aunque también se cubren cursos de capacitación y emprendimiento. El programa está destinado a jóvenes entre 16 y 24 años, que hayan culminado el bachillerato, y que pertenezcan a la Red Unidos, sean víctimas del conflicto armado y/o desplazamiento o beneficiarios de Familias en Acción (Red Unidos y Familias en Acción son programas destinados a ayudar a familias en situación de pobreza). La ayuda económica consiste en un estipendio bimensual de 200.000 COP (unos 100 US$), y se les exige estar bancarizados, algo que también redunda positivamente en su integración en el mercado de trabajo.

Otra iniciativa interesante es el Centro de Desarrollo Productivo, impulsado por la Fundación Carvajal y cofinanciado por algunos aliados tanto internacionales como locales. Esta iniciativa busca formar en oficios tradicionales a jóvenes en los estratos económicos mas bajos y/o en riesgo de exclusión social. En el año 2012 2,727 jóvenes, tanto de Cali como de zonas rurales del Valle del Cauca, recibieron formación como técnicos en el sector alimentario. Es importante que los programas no se circunscriban al término municipal de Cali, pues mejorando la situación de empleo en las zonas rurales próximas se previenen los movimientos migratorios que a su vez fomentan el crecimiento desordenado de la ciudad.

Los programas formativos, buscan mejorar la capacidad de los alumnos de generar ingresos y mejorar la competitividad de sus microempresas. A los microempresarios se les ofrece también formación en técnicas gerenciales y de la normativa a aplicar en el sector alimentario. En 2011 se implementaron ocho nuevos cursos de formación técnica en diferentes oficios (electricidad básica, confecciones, carpintería de aluminio, soldadura, impulsadoras y mercadeo, call center, sistemas básicos, arreglo de computadores y celulares). Cabe destacar que los cursos son impartidos en colaboración con el Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje, una entidad pública. Sin duda la colaboración público-privada resulta imprescindible a la hora de resolver los problemas del desempleo.

Foto: SENA



Carlin Carr's picture

Catalina, what struck me about your article is that this issue of unemployed and under-educated youth is plaguing all of the cities featured, but Rio has actually taken the step to actually identify them. I actually think it is quite a big step to put a name such as "NEETs" to these youth, because that suggests a recognition of the issue. Only then can steps be taken to solve it.

While improving school systems is a necessary step in providing an engaging learning environment to keep kids in school, the situation is quite challenging here. I visited a "Teach for India" classroom recently in one of the public schools, and saw firsthand the various challenges of these highly qualified and well-trained teachers. It was Parents' Day, and the teacher had a sign-in sheet that none of the mothers could sign, because not one of them could read or write. That means that kids are left to do homework and studying without any guidance at home, and in large classes--with 30+ students--teachers can't attend to every student's level. I think one solution would be community centers that offer free, daily tutoring to kids, similar to a YMCA in the US. The YMCAs operate youth sports programs in tough neighborhoods, drawing the kids in that way and then working with them on the education side, too.

And while teenage pregnancy is not an issue here in the same way as it is in Rio, getting girls to attend and stay in school is. Girls often leave school even before the boys to help with household chores, etc. Ensuring equal education and skills training for girls needs to be a priority; after all, they are 50% of the potential workforce, and imagine what these cities could be like if all youth--male or female--could actively participate. However, to do so, not only do there need to be these basics in place, but providing meaningful and fulfilling work is also a huge element. This will truly be the challenge.

Hi Carlin, I agree with you that is pivotal that countries and cities identify the unemployed and under-educated youth in order to understand their needs and better define mechanisms to support them. As you point out, the ways to support this youth require good quality education. Additional support could include reproductive health information and counseling services and access to youth centers where vulnerable adolescents can interact with peers in a safe environment and get practical training. At least for the Brazilian youth, the most pressing issue is to learn skills so they can improve their chances of getting a job that allows them to make a living.

Katy Fentress's picture

Carlin I'm intrigued by the approach that the Promise Foundation is spearheading. It seems such an obvious premise that youth should be able to gain confidence in themselves and that such an approach would necessarily compliment any skills training they undertake.

I'm interested to know more about the reach of the program. Is it a country-wide initiative or does it only exist in Bangalore? What kind of schools qualify to take part in it? Also do attendees get some formal recognition for having participated (a certificate maybe) and does this help them when applying for jobs?

Katy Fentress
URB.IM - Nairobi Community Manager

Jorge Bela's picture

I also would like to know more about the Promise Foundation and its programs. How does it relate with the larger government-sponsored program? Is it through that program that it gets its funds?

Carlin Carr's picture

Katy, you bring up a really good point here, and one thought of myself while researching this. Why is it so important to make a program that specifically targets confidence in its larger skill-building plan? Isn't this obvious? Actually, I think "soft skills" are overlooked in many parts of the education system here, and so what might seem simple to us, in fact needs to play a bigger role in these situations. These kids often have few role models and few ideas for the future. This lack of direction and guidance plays out in many ways--dropping out of school, taking menial work and getting involved in nefarious things. When young people get involved in skill-building programs, they need to develop the confidence to know they can have a different future. I think there's room for metholodogical development here, but I think the idea is important to hold on to.

Jorge Bela's picture

Hi Katy,

Although the program you describe is very interesting, it does rise some red flags. After all, the funds come from a political campaign by a winning candidate, and they are administered by the administration he presides over. In addition to the risk of corruption and mismanagement that you point out, I can see some chance of political manipulation. Let us hope this is not the case.

The need to complete a course before even applying for the grant also caught my attention. I am not familiar with other cases in which this requirement is imposed. Perhaps some one in the network can provide for similar cases.

Please keep us posted! 70mUS$ can make a big different for a lot of people if wisely administered.

Katy Fentress's picture

Hi Jorge,

I understand your concerns although feel that the political manipulation aspect may not be entirely relevant in this case.

After looking over my article I realised that there is in fact a mistake there. Following the election this year, Kenya began to function under the new devolved system. As such former provinces were done away and in their place 47 counties were set up. These counties function as independent administrative units under the control of a county government.

The fear with the Uwezo fund, is that MPs will succeed in coopting it by putting people close to them on the boards responsible for funds allocation. The danger here is not political manipulation but simply appropriation. I'm not quite sure what you meant by political manipulation but this being Kenya it's simply a question of there being a big pool of cash, people trying to find the best ways to get there hands on it and whether the central government has succeeded in putting up enough obstacles in place to make sure the money goes where it should and doesn't become a free for all for local level county MPs.

Katy Fentress
URB.IM - Nairobi Community Manager

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