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FHI 360 and R4D release report on how to make youth more employable

October 13, 2016

FHI 360 and Results for Development (R4D) have released a new report that explores current trends in the school-to-work transition in Latin America and the Caribbean and offers recommendations for policymakers and stakeholders on how to bridge the skills gap. Funded by the FHI Foundation, Bridging the Skills Gap: Insights from Employers, Educators, and Youth in Latin America and the Caribbean draws on data collected in Colombia, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. The report explores the skills needed for employability, skills that are acquired through formal education systems and innovative delivery models that promote youth employability in the region.

group discussionThe report’s authors respond to the region’s current employment and education landscape, where high youth unemployment is juxtaposed against unfilled job vacancies. While the region has made great strides recently in increasing access to secondary education, 20 percent of youth (about 20 million people ages 15–24) are neither working nor in school. This reality, along with the rising demand for secondary education and the changing needs of the labor market, presents a prime opportunity to identify and engage in innovative ways of preparing youth for the workforce.

“Previous discussions on closing the skills gap have focused too narrowly on the demand side of the gap — employer interests and innovation — and de-emphasized the supply side — the influence of educators,” says Ana Florez, Director of Education Projects for Latin America and the Caribbean at FHI 360. Bridging the Skills Gap goes farther, addressing both the supply and demand side of the skills gap.”

This report examines how the private sector and formal school systems understand and respond to the skills gap. The authors synthetized findings from three rigorous country case study reports that were developed by FHI 360 over the course of 10 months, which ensured that the Caribbean, Central America and South America were all represented. The report is based on input and reflections from more than 300 students, educators, employers and public officials, highlighting factors, trends and insights into the region’s skills gap.

One key conclusion of the report is how important it is to integrate contextual factors, such as education level and economic sector, to determine the particular skills that youth in the region need. In addition, socioemotional skills need to be defined at both the employer and school levels so that both sides are “speaking the same language,” agree on which skills are priorities and find ways to assess those skills. Lastly, policymakers and other stakeholders need to consider the view of many educators and employers that secondary education alone is not enough and poses a challenge to employability. Efforts that connect general academic offerings with technical and vocational apprenticeships, along with models that bridge upper secondary and higher education, can help meet that challenge.

Making these investments to close the skills gap will help ensure that more students move successfully through the education cycle, the quality of education continues to improve and youth can effectively contribute to the region’s growth and prosperity.

Photo credit: Education for Children and Youth USAID/El Salvador