Written by Elena Arias-Ortiz and João Marcelo Borges
With the energy of an 18-year old, Valeria Ferreira Moreira wakes up at 5 a.m. everyday to go to the gym. By 8 a.m., she arrives to her office at a real estate firm where she is working her first job. “I am really happy! Before, I had to go my internship in the morning, then I had school in the afternoon followed by my business administration course through the Apprentice Program (Programa Aprendiz). After 12 months, I was promoted to my current position and signed a real contract, which gives me access to formal employment and benefits.”
Now, Valeria works as site manager and, together with her supervisor, helps manage construction sites, development of new projects, building blueprints, and a team of 20 employees.
Unfortunately, Valeria’s story is not very reflective of the reality of youth in Latin America. In the region, one of the key challenges is to ensure young men and women have access to quality jobs. According to the World Labor Organization, youth in Latin America and the Caribbean faced an urban unemployment rate close to 13.3% in 2014 (a figure three times higher than that for adults). On top of that, 6 out 10 young people that actually find a job do so in the informal economy, this due in large measure to the frustration and discouragement that results from the lack of opportunities in the labor market.
Valeria knows she is lucky, as her case is an exception to the rule. In her country, Brazil, the recent economic downturn has pushed young Brazilians into an even more vulnerable position in the labor market. According to data from the National Household Survey, the unemployment rate for Brazilians aged 18 to 24 reached 18.6% in 2014. In Ceará state, where Valeria lives, the crisis has had a bigger impact: since the last quarter of 2014, the unemployment rate among young people has increased more than 5 percentage points, having reached 21.2% by the end of 2015.
Beyond the dynamics of labor markets, a recent publication from the IDB points to a specific factor that plays a role in further disadvantaging young people’s employability. Surveyed companies in Chile, Brazil, and Argentina reported that strong socioemotional abilities are hard to find among candidates from the young labor force. Despite the fact that these abilities (such as self-esteem, self-control, and responsibility) are key in determining success in the labor market, we still lack models that cultivate these abilities through the education system.
The Ceará state in Brazil has been a pioneer in the implementation of programs aimed at developing socioemotional abilities in secondary school. The philosophy behind these programs has been to promote “student protagonism” during the 3 final years of mandatory schooling through a more personalized curriculum. “The classes at Nucleo were my favorite. They allowed us to discover ourselves, understand who we are, how we are, to establish goals, give our dreams wings and identify if our actions are putting us in the path to achieve them” said Valeria.
Valeria is referring to the Núcleo de Trabalho, Pesquisa e Práticas Sociais (NTPPS) (roughly translated as the Center for Social Work, Research, and Practices), an initiative from the Secretary of Education of Ceará and Instituto Aliança com Adolescente, an NGO. This innovative program seeks to develop socioemotional abilities through an additional course incorporated into the students’ regular course load. Professors at NTPPS attend monthly trainings and meet regularly to exchange experiences. The program also includes specific didactic materials, lesson plans and a learning trajectory — centered on the individual, the family, the community, and the labor market — that is defined by a unique research methodology and project-based, multidisciplinary learning. Today, almost 25% of secondary schools in Ceará have implemented this program.
The Education Division of the IDB is carrying out an experimental evaluation of this program across 72 schools in Ceará. The preliminary results suggest that the program has been successful in retaining youth in risk of dropping out of school: those older than most of their peers, with lower academic performance and with low levels of self-esteem. The program has also found positive effects in the occupational aspirations of participants, who reported more frequently that they aspired to reach management or high responsibility positions.
“I want to learn more about engineering before enrolling in a course in higher education. It is tiring to work and study everyday, but it is my job which has allowed me to continue the technical course on buildings”. Valeria dreams of pursuing a career in engineering: “The two most important things I’ve learnt through NTTPS, the Apprentice Program and, now, at work are: never stop dreaming and never stop studying; I want to know more, learn more; I know there are obstacles — can you imagine a 18-year old woman managing a team of 20 male workers? But I know my strengths and am sure I can overcome the challenges ahead.”