I recently had the privilege of witnessing over 50 young men and women graduate from Build It’s Training into Work programme in Zambia.
It was an emotional day – for many, it marked the first time their achievements had been recognised. With their new skills come new chances to find decent work, and the ability to start saving and dream of what the future could hold.
Tackling youth unemployment and underemployment is a major global challenge. On World Youth Skills Day we mark the importance of equipping young people with the skills they need for their personal development, and to support both their communities and countries.
Building brighter futures in Zambia
Build It International has been working in Zambia since 2007, where 64% of the population lives below the poverty line. Our Training into Work programme aims to empower young, disadvantaged men and women with practical skills that are in demand. We have developed a programme of high-quality, construction trades skills courses shaped by the needs of local employers.
Around 65% of Zambia’s population is under 24, and of these around 29% are not in education, employment or training. Inadequate access to education and skill-development opportunities means that young people are too often trapped in a cycle of poverty. They are being let down.
Technical and vocational education and training
Vocational skills training has been out of fashion across much of Africa since the mid-1970s. Post-secondary education expenditure has often been skewed towards academic, university education rather than vocational skills. Well-established trade schools have been starved of resources and have failed to keep pace with changes in the labour market. The cost to the trainee is often prohibitive, leaving the majority of school leavers unable to obtain the skills or experience that employers look for.
But vocational skills training is starting to attract increased interest from governments and donors, which is encouraging.
At Build It we started training through our community construction projects, recruiting small groups of young people to help us build new education and health facilities across Zambia. The benefits are twofold, bringing essential services to disadvantaged communities, while also supporting trainees with new skills and work experience to help them into employment.
This has been a very successful approach and remains a key pillar of our work. But we wanted to train more young people, and in 2016 we launched our Training into Work programme.
Skills for success
With technical assistance from commercial training and engineering partners, we have designed and built a training centre, our “Centre for Excellence”, on the northern edge of Lusaka. The Centre has become our main hub, providing a focal point for delivering training but also for learning and collaboration with others.
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We have worked closely with the construction sector to develop six entry-level trades courses that include:
- Life skills training: Increasing confidence and improving key skills around decision-making, problem solving and teamwork.
- Trade skill: Courses respond to the needs of employers, such as being familiar with current building materials preferences. There is regular review and feedback from employers who participate in the programme, and some even assist with training delivery.
- Work experience: A minimum of three-month work placements give trainees real-life experience and insight into working in the construction sector, as well as valuable connections for future employment opportunities.
And it’s not just about ensuring young people are ready for work, but also that employers are ready for young people. What can we do to help more employers develop a genuine interest and commitment to skills development, and for young people to grow? Facilitating this discussion remains a key area of work for us.
Our training courses are endorsed by the international awarding body National Open College Network Group (NOCN) and build on close links with the Zambian awarding organisation TEVETA. This gives us confidence in the quality and robustness of delivery and standards. Our annual impact study tells us that our training supports young people out of poverty.
Greater access to quality training
Developing effective partnerships and collaboration can unlock big benefits for young people. Youth unemployment can’t be tackled by NGOs alone, but we do have an important role to play. Not only as a training deliverer but also in terms of influencing the bigger picture.
Quality vocational training is hugely effective, but the world of work is changing rapidly and training offers need to keep pace with employers’ needs. There is enormous scope to promote learning, sharing and collaboration between training providers, employers and regulatory bodies to improve curriculum content and trainer competence. Openness to continual improvement is essential.
Critically, we need to improve access. Too many young adults don’t have the opportunity to learn. More investment is needed to fund training places. In Zambia, this is starting to happen with the recent TEVET Youth Skills Empowerment Programme and Irish Aid’s work but more bursaries for the most disadvantaged are essential.
We need to invest in improving opportunities for young women, who face significantly more barriers to training and employment than their male counterparts. This is challenging in the construction sector but not impossible.
Partnerships and collaboration between different organisations help maximise complementary strengths. We have recently completed a three-year project partnership with human rights NGO UP Zambia to deliver our training courses to young men at Katombora Reformatory School in Zambia. With funding from the European Union, the project provided various support services to this vulnerable group.
A pro-active approach from the Government of Zambia and training organisations would help facilitate collaboration to support more young adults’ transition from learning to earning.
On World Youth Skills Day we encourage you to explore opportunities for collaboration and drive forward the widescale changes needed to help every young person realise their potential.