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Interview with Empleando Futuros Chief of Party, Paul Teeple

Originally published by Making Cents International.

Transcription of interview conducted by Maria Brindlmayer [shown as MB below], Senior Knowledge Management Specialist for USAID YouthPower Learning at Making Cents International, and Paul Teeple [shown as PT below], Chief of Party for the Honduras Workforce Development Activity, Empleando Futuros.

MB: Empleando Futuros is a youth workforce development project in Honduras. Can you tell us what the objectives of the project are and when it started?

PT: Sure. This is a five-year project that started at the end of June 2016. It is a project that has three results or areas of focus that USAID wants us to work on.

  • The first one is that we will provide comprehensive workforce development training to at least 7,500 at-risk youth who live in the most violent communities of the five most – of the five municipalities that have the highest crime rates. This means that 7,500 need to complete the comprehensive training. Of those 7,500, 50% or 3,750, need to have a new or improved employment 12 months after the completion of the training. And I’ll come back to some of the specifics of who we work with and what we do a little later.
  • Our second result is that we work with the Honduran National Vocational Training Institute. (They’re called INFOP.) And we help them improve their services by better aligning their services with the demands of the market.
  • And our third result is to provide comprehensive job training for at least 400 youth who have been in conflict with the law. They can be ex-gang members, have some sort of legal issues, have been in conflict maybe formally or informally with the law. We classify them typically as in the tertiary prevention category[1]. And of those, 400 need to complete the comprehensive program, and 12 months afterward, 160 or 40% of those youth need to have new or improved employment or livelihood. And, of course, that livelihood needs to be a legal livelihood.

At a higher level, we are trying to improve economic conditions in the country and, at the same time, by focusing on employment for at-risk youth, we’re trying to improve the safety situation in the country – descrease violence. We focus on the protection factors of our target youth. In short, our theory of change is that if we provide comprehensive workforce development training to those most vulnerable youth, we can both improve economic conditions in the country and have a positive impact on reducing violence in the country or improving safety.

MB: When you say that the youth also has to be employed, does that mean that you will also be working on the job “supply side” in terms of increasing job opportunities in those municipalities?

PT: Our focus is on supplying highly-qualified candidates to the businesses. We expect that most of the youth in the program will most likely go through an employment track. They’ll all get employment training and it is more likely that they will end up with a job than starting their own business. However, at the same time, we will be supporting entrepreneurs – micro-entrepreneurs – as part of this process.

MB: Are you providing this support through training?

PT: Yes, through training. We have set up a comprehensive training system that includes life skills, basic labor competencies, cognitive behavioral therapy. It includes the more traditional vocational training and has been refined to reflect the current and future needs of the market. It includes what we’re calling a “Capstone” program which is kind of a bridge program where youth learn their rights and responsibilities in the workplace, they focus on improving their interviewing techniques and presentation techniques. Once they complete those five phases of the training parts of the program, then they can go into an entrepreneurship track, an internship track, or an attachment – this is where you go into a very individualized attention that bridges them from training into employment of some sort.

MB: And are you working throughout this process with employers to identify what kind of jobs they are offering or what kind of skills they are looking for? Did you do some labor market needs assessment?

PT: Yes, absolutely. All of our activities need to be market-driven and all of our activities are based on what our surveys with businesses and experiences of other programs have indicated as needs. Employers are telling us that they are not just looking for technical skills. They say I need someone who has teamwork skills, who communicates well, who can resolve issues, work well with his or her colleagues, which comes through the life skills training. And they also need technical skills, i.e., someone who can perform math and read at certain levels and perform the basic functions of this job.

We just started a large and comprehensive labor market assessment focused on job opportunities for at-risk youth. We are having lots of conversations and forming working groups based on different sectors of the market to be in touch with employers and understand what their needs are. We are not looking for jobs that require a masters in computer science. We are looking for jobs for which someone can get training in a relatively short amount of time and can start making money for their family. That’s a really different type of labor market study and I think will be a great gift to the field once it’s done.

And the Honduran government has a program called the 2020 Plan. This is one of the major initiatives of the current president to create 675,000 jobs by the year 2020. That program has mapped out sectors of importance to the Honduran government. We’re meeting with the different sectoral leaders to find opportunities for cooperation and be supportive of what the major efforts of the government are.

MB: I know that the El Salvador YouthPower project and other USAID funded projects in the region have  some similar approaches and objectives. Are the projects in the region working together?

PT: Yes, we attended a workshop with all of the workforce development programs for Central America in late March. We learned a lot about the different programs and found that while there are some critical and significant differences, there are also a lot of similarities, particularly with El Salvador.  So, for example, a major challenge throughout the region is overcoming the stigma related to your neighborhood. We are talking with the team in El Salvador about how we can work together to maybe create some type of a campaign or activities to address that issue.

And now our monitoring evaluation specialists are in contact to share information and benefit from lessons learned and share techniques for gathering information. Those are some very concrete and positive things that came out of that workshop in Guatemala.

MB: Do you have some priority sectors that you are focusing on?

PT: We  are trying to stay open to see where the market takes us, but there are some sectors we’ve already identified because they have a lot of potential or they are very important sectors for the government. One is in tourism. And the government is very interested in manufacturing. We try to take a little broader approach to manufacturing. We don’t exclude jobs in maquiladoras, but we don’t prepare only for those types of jobs. We will look at manufacturing for small- and medium-sized businesses and look at repair jobs. Throughout Central America, there has been a huge growth in the motorcycle market resulting in a growth in motorcycle repair. While that’s not a true manufacturing job, it is related. Those types of mechanical skills are very important. These jobs offer opportunities for youth to have jobs closer to their community because the motorcycle repair shop can be anywhere in the city and does not need to be in the heart of the city.

Here, as throughout most of Central America, there are a lot of jobs in the sort of food service which can be related to tourism. We have found this sector to offer good gateway jobs for young people – something that one can train in a relatively short amount of time, and there’s some upward mobility in those jobs. We have some very good private sector partners. We are helping them – the retail businesses, department stores and so on – to meet some of their needs. A lot of their work is cyclical which offers opportunities for young people to get in the door. If they perform well this can lead to longer term employment. We have found some very good partners and are continuing to work with some of the restaurants and department stores that have worked with USAID programs in the past.

MB: Where in Honduras is your project being implemented?

PT: One of the interesting aspects of this project is that USAID in Honduras follows a ‘place-based strategy’ – which means that USAID is trying to focus a number of its programs in specific communities. USAID has identified the five municipalities that have very high crime rates, including Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. We are zeroing in on specific communities within those municipalities.  Our work is focused at the neighborhood level, recognizing that a large community that has several thousand residents might be controlled by different gangs, or different sectors of the neighborhood are controlled by different gangs. So we’re going to provide training in different parts of that neighborhood so that more people can have access to it.

MB: Are you also planning to provide transportation assistance for the youth?

PT: Right now we plan to provide it on an ‘as-needed’ basis. This is where our program may differ from other vocational programs. We’ve divided it into three phases. Our first phase takes about two months. That includes the life skills training, basic labor competencies, and cognitive behavioral therapy. For these first two months of the program our goal is to have training where youth can walk and not require any kind of transportation support. We are currently in the final stages of identifying the organizations that will be hosting that training inside those communities.

Then, after they complete phase one of the program, they’ll move into the second phase which is the vocational training and the Capstone. That training will be located at the vocational centers which have the equipment that’s needed to train on motorcycle repair or where youth can learn how to use a cash register or use a welding torch or acquire IT skills. IT is another area we want to focus on. At that point in the training, there will be some transportation needs and we will make sure that they can get to class every day.

MB: What is the role of the National Training center, INFOP? Are they providing the vocational training?

PT: Yes, they will provide some training: we will do the vocational training through them; in other cases, it will be provided by other organizations, based on their abilities. Furthermore, in our work with INFOP we will aim that their courses – all of their courses — improve their connection to the market, not just those courses that are aligned with Empleando Futuros.

MB: Are you also developing any kind of special certification or leveraging what already exists?

PT: We will do both. Our basic labor competencies program has a certification. In the past, youth that have gone through the training, would have their skills certified through ACT. We’re now working through INFOP to develop a national-level certification for the course. This will show where they are on the reading and math scale – which is something that they can present to an employer and hopefully improve their employability through the certification.

The ‘hard-skill’ courses are typically certified through INFOP.

For our cognitive behavioral therapy work, we are working with a university so that the course that we’re providing has a certification. Furthermore, in our work within INFOP, we’re designing a leadership course and that course will be certified by a local university.

Wherever we can we’re trying to increase the value of the service we provide which makes those services more valuable in the market.

MB: Are you already recruiting youth for your program?

PT: Yes, we’re in the recruitment phase right now. We are developing agreements with other USAID programs that have community presence, working through their outreach people to reach out to family members or neighbors of other program beneficiaries that would qualify for Empleando Futuros.

This past Saturday we participated in an event with over 200 youth who have been in different USAID programs and we’re asking them to help us recruit because they live in the communities where we work.

We’re also working with churches and community organizations. We have a recruitment selection specialist for the two major geographic areas of the country that we’re focusing on whose job is to get out into the communities and get the word out.

Our target youth are 16 to 30. They have to have completed primary school but they shouldn’t have more than a secondary diploma and they shouldn’t be studying or working at the moment. We’re aiming to have 60 to 65% of our participants be males because males are statistically more likely to be victims and perpetrators of violence.

MB: How are you taking into account the gender perspectives on the program?

PT: We have a full-time gender specialist and we are taking extra efforts to make sure that everything we do is inclusive. And we want to make sure that if a young woman is in the program and her group of 20 to 25 youth is 60 to 65% male, that she’s treated respectfully and given opportunities to participate fully and that the class serves her needs equally well as it serves the males’.

We believe that in the end it’s not just about reaching the gender numbers in the program but it’s about making sure that young men and young women know how to work successfully with others. And any young man who wants to be successful in the job market needs to be able to work in an environment where his colleagues are female or his supervisor is female. And any young woman who wants to be successful also needs to develop the skills to work successfully with men. We hope that with a strong gender inclusion, young people are able to develop those skills which will enable them to be successful.

Furthermore, there’s a big issue with gender-based violence (GBV) in the country. We are including GBV prevention activities and discussions in our program so that young people understand their roles and what they can do about this. We have also done some very specific outreach to the LGBTI community and we are optimistic that we’ll be able to work with some organizations that focus on the LGBTI community here.

MB: Great! That is wonderful. Let me switch to a different topic: so far, what have been your biggest challenges?

PT: Starting up is always taking longer than expected. The big challenges going forward are working in and around violent communities and dealing with the stigma that businesses assign to youth from these communities. Sometimes when youth say in an interview that they are from Chamelecón, they see the look on the face of the interviewer and they know that the interview is over. So that’s a big challenge to overcome. However, we are finding some champions who are willing to give at-risk youth from the worst communities a chance.

Another challenge is introducing major changes at INFOP, a government organization. We have tremendous cooperation with them but it will take time to implement changes.

Furthermore, it is also difficult to get youth to believe that they have a future – that they have an opportunity – and that this investment in themselves will pay off. There’s no guarantee, even for the best youth, that when he or she does everything right, they will get a job.  The gang and violence situation is holding back the economy.

MB: Are there a lot of unfilled jobs or is it likely that the youth that gets the training will just displace other people that didn’t get the training?

PT: That could be a concern. There are not a lot of unfilled job opportunities. But there is a need for candidates with skills. When I am opening a restaurant I want to hire people who are good decision-makers, who will show up on time, who work well as a member of a team, who will follow the rules that the business owner has established but, at the same time, who can be critical thinkers and help resolve the challenges that pop up in any business. So when we talk with business we explain that we’re not asking for their charity to hire a young person from one of the toughest communities, we’re asking to hire a young person who has benefitted from really high quality training and who has a track record and references. And our bet with them is that they will get a better employee which is going to be better for their business.

MB: How are you engaging youth in your own project? Are you using youth in your process either as enumerators or do you have a youth advisory group or something like that?

PT: We don’t have a youth advisory council yet but youth will participate directly. We are about to hire our first interns and we will be having interns for the rest of the project. We also have a very young staff and some of them have come out of similar situations as the youth who are in the program.  We also meet with youth frequently to understand what’s going on. We haven’t set up all the formal mechanisms yet but when we were setting up our communications materials, we tested those materials with youth. In our recruitment, we are also testing different things with youth – youth input is very important throughout our whole project.

MB: Great. I know it’s relatively early in your project, but have you had any success stories that you want to share?

PT: It is still early, but our gender work is taking off really well and is a great success story. When we did our gender analysis, we made sure that we reached out to a wide range of groups and, as a result, we have received great interest from the LGBTI community and networks. They face lots of risks from bullying or physical attack, and so we’re very hopeful that we’ll be able to organize training specifically for members of that group. I consider that one success.

With regarding to youth engagement, we also had an impressive success story. In March, we organized  an ambitious launch event with three events in the space of eight calendar days in three different cities, and the event here in Tegucigalpa which was the biggest event was emceed by a young woman in her early 20s who was a graduate of another USAID program. This was a really cool experience. Instead of hiring a professional emcee, we hired this young woman who wants to work in communications. She practiced and practiced with support from our staff. Then we brought in another group of young people and, with a lot of hard work from our staff, they developed this amazing socio-drama that received raves from everybody who attended the event. As part of our meetings in the two other cities, we offered resume and career path workshops for young people. We had over 100 people participate in workshops. This was a very successful start for us. Of course, that’s not comprehensive training, but it is part of the outreach.

We don’t want to just work toward those three project goals that I mentioned earlier, but share our information with the larger community to help them in their own job searches.

MB: Are there any other aspects from your project that you’d like to share?

PT: I am proud of the ambitious goals for our project: at least 30% of our participants should be secondary prevention youth. That impacts how we recruit – that impacts the level of cognitive behavioral therapy that we need to provide to these youth, but we have the same target rate of job insertion goals for youth in the secondary prevention category as in the primary prevention category. For me, this is something that we can be proud of that we – that USAID – is making a priority not to reach just for the low-hanging fruit, but that they have really pushed us, and we’re glad to be encouraged to ensure that this project is reaching truly at-risk youth.

MB: That’s some ambitious targets.

PT: I also want to mention that this project is really building on lessons from other projects. Two programs that have obvious influence on us are the METAS program and the A Ganar program. The METAS, which was run by EDC, has provided a wealth of lessons and things we can replicate The A Ganar program which I was a part of before I joined this program, was run with Partners of the Americas and we’re also pulling some lessons from that. And we are always looking at lessons from the other youth violence prevention and youth service type activities that are being implemented through other USAID partners. It’s important to us that we build on and utilize lessons from the past.

MB: That’s wonderful. And I know this program is subject to an external evaluation so others can learn in the future. We look forward to hearing more about your progress over the next few years. Thank you for sharing your information with the broader youth serving community.

[1]  Crime prevention activities are often divided into three categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary.  Primary revention involves measures focused on improving the general well-being of individuals, secondary prevention focuses on intervening with children and youth who are at risk for becoming offenders or victims, and tertiary prevention involves measures directed toward those who have already been involved with crime or victimization. Brantingham, Paul J., and Frederick L. Faust. 1976. “A Conceptual Model of Crime Prevention.” Crime and Delinquency 22: 284 – 296

The full interview is available on the YouthPower site.