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Jun 1, 2018

I.L.O. Has Good Reviews for Youth Apprenticeship Program

About eight years ago, the Belize National Youth Apprenticeship programme was started in Belize City with the aim to reduce crime, through its focus on the development, education and employment of at-risk youth.  Under the administration of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, hundreds of high school drop-outs and single mothers between the ages of sixteen and twenty-nine have benefited.  But just how effective is the programme and is it reaching it targets? They have been in country since Monday looking at the strengths and weaknesses to make recommendations to improve the initiative. News Five’s Andrea Polanco stopped in at a consultation meeting today where two external specialists were presenting their findings.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The Apprenticeship Program started back in 2010 to prepare at risk youth with life-skills and on the job training. The purpose is to tackle poverty, and by extension, crime in Belize City, through employment.  Since its inception, one thousand two hundred young people have completed the programme. But is it serving its purpose? Two specialists from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are in Belize to find out just that. They have been evaluating the “Youth Apprentice Program” all of this week.  As a part of the visit, the specialists have met with the N.G.O. community, government reps, business community, educational institutions and youth who have completed and have dropped out of the programme. Hassan Ndahi of the ILO Caribbean Office says the assessment helps to outline the strengths and weaknesses which help them to guide how the program is enhanced. The valuators have found out that In Belize’s case, demand and supply, as well as skills training must be revamped.

 

Hassan Ndahi

Hassan Ndahi, Senior Specialist, ILO, Caribbean

“Yes there are quite a number of apprentices that went through the program and are successful. As well, there are quite a number of them who went through the program and were not very successful. Mainly what we heard from the employers were that some of them came just green as you say without any skills to offer. Naturally, if you have nothing to offer, either you get so frustrated and drop out of the system. I am sure within the program we have heard that some dropped out of the system but there are quite some few that benefited from the program and were employed by their employers. But in the broader sense when you have an apprenticeship system it should be able to place just about all students who go through the system because it is usually demand driven so they work closely with the institutions to develop the program based on demands outside.”

 

According to Michael Axmann, in his role as an advisor on apprenticeship reform, the Youth Apprenticeship Program should serve a bigger purpose and capitalize on opportunities. He also believes that the programme can target bigger numbers but the model does need some adjustments to enhance its capabilities by extending the programme from six months to one year complemented with more structured components.

 

Michael Axmann

Michael Axmann, Senior Specialist, ILO/CINTERFOR, Uruguay

“The Youth Apprenticeship program is the seed of something a lot bigger. For the time being, it is a program that is addressing some of the skills needs for young people; finding a first job which is very difficult. But what I said in the meeting, we have to move away from this “only social responsibility thinking” of the employers, to making apprenticeship programs of something that really not only help young people but address the skills needs in the private sector. It was very interesting to see that there were some employers who said that ‘we would like to much more involved in it, but we would also like to see our needs addressed in a little stronger way than it has been.’  And I think this is a potential, it is not necessarily a weakness of the programme because it not designed in such a way but I think this is an opportunity right now to change the program in such a way so that we can go to much bigger numbers. We are talking one-hundred-fifty per year and I just gave a strategy in there for three-thousand a year, which is not entirely out of the question, but I think we have to revamp the programme a little bit; re-shuffle it.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Do you see any other need for a change in the structure of the model that we are using?”

 

Michael Axmann

“Well, I think the model needs to change a little bit. For the time being, it is a six months program. I strongly believe that you need at least a year, maybe more, for apprenticeship programs. You need to have probably more school-based elements in it and you have to have a program of learning both in schools and in companies, so that the students know what they are up against. Also, something where the companies can say this is what we would like to have, so a much more structured program is what we are talking about. And then, of course, it is about salaries; employment contract and salaries. The employers said that they are willing to participate and to contribute with salaries but of course it means that we have to change the program quite substantially.”

 

Coordinator of the Youth Apprenticeship Program Dianne Finnegan says this review will help to look at the program’s capability to roll out in other parts of the country and will require all partners to implement the suggestions.

 

Dianne Finnegan

Dianne Finnegan, Coordinator, Youth Apprenticeship Program

“The idea is how do we tweak the program to roll it out country-wide so that more people can benefit? You know that the challenge we are facing is unemployment, and instead of focusing on one circle or one sector of the country of our society, why not include all so that the people who are facing those challenges with finding jobs can tap into the apprenticeship program. The purpose also is to get the business sector to understand the role that they play, while Government funds the stipend of the apprenticeship program completely, the business sector has to play a role too of meeting the stipend of these apprentices; so meeting it halfway.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

 

The ILO representatives say that while they have proposed increasing the intake numbers, they have received solid commitments from the business community, but the final decision will be left up to the GOB. The ILO says it is not a quick fix but they stand ready to support the process if GOB requests the help.

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