Using Technology to Fill Youth Employment Gaps

Global youth unemployment has been on the rise in recent years.  According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), “almost 74 million people in the 15 to 24 age group are unemployed around the world – a 12.6 percent youth unemployment rate.”  Of course, this number goes up when you include those who work in temporary jobs and in the informal economy.  A more accurate youth unemployment rate would actually be around 50 percent.

A large number of unemployed youth have been without stable work for more than six months, which can discourage them or force them to leave the job market altogether.  The long term consequences of leaving the job market so young in life can stifle any necessary professional development and on-the-job training to help them stay competitive in their careers.

Most of the youth unemployment numbers are coming out of the developing world.  Many employers argue that there aren’t enough people with the right skill sets in growing fields that are actually hiring.  Technology is a growing field that could provide more economic opportunities for youth.  Colombian social entrepreneur Andrea Cornejo believes that the economy could improve if more youth had access to technology training and skills that can help their communities.  Last year Cornejo started Coderise, an initiative based in Medellín that empowers youth from developing countries by teaching them about tech innovation and entrepreneurship by creating web applications.

“When you look at the most successful programmers out there, you realize that success does not depend on if you were born into a good family, but your curiosity and access to a computer,” Cornejo said in an interview.  “When we talk about technology, any child could be the next person to change the world. You just need to have the tools of knowledge and inspiration to do so.”

During a nine-week training program, the students, or “Coderisers,” learn the principles of computer programming and software development, such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Ruby and other databases.  They also have weekly opportunities to engage with tech entrepreneurs, engineers and other mentors from Colombia and the United States.  Along the way, coderisers work together on projects and figure out ways to apply their skills to solving problems in their communities.  At the end of the program, Coderisers participate in a Demo Day presentation, where they pitch their projects to the local tech community, family and friends.

Cornejo says the ultimate goal is to not only possibly train more future programmers, but also “to integrate the technology into the community and put the tools to create in their hands—so that they have the same opportunity as any other child in the world to make an impact.”

After its pilot project, Coderise will officially launch in October. In the meantime, Cornejo is fundraising to guarantee the program will be completely free for future Coderisers.  She also says that many of the students have continued their learning and are already profiting financially.

Cornejo hopes that Coderise can be a leader in closing the socio-economic gap between Latin America and other developed economies.  According to the 2012 Global Innovation Index, Latin America shows great economic disparities, but also great potential for growth.  Colombia ranks third in South America and 65th out of 141 countries when it comes to innovation.

Education is key to success and career advancement.  And it is not in society’s best interest to allow youth to go unemployed, underemployed or without desirable job skills long term.  Increasing training programs like Coderise and paid apprenticeship opportunities for low-skilled unemployed youth in the ICT sector is a start.  As for apprenticeships, this benefits both the apprentice and employer, as the trained apprentice will have better chances of gainful employment, while employers are able to lower labor costs.  Governments could provide subsidies to ICT employers to promote such apprenticeship programs.  Also, more vocational and college scholarship programs specifically for youth pursuing ICT careers should also be increased.

In honor of International Girls in ICT Day (25 April 2013), Global Wire Associates had the pleasure of working with three 16-year-old girls, who spent the last week in our office getting intensive training in strategic content development, basic HTML and CSS and entrepreneurship.  They all expressed interest in becoming web developers one day and we hope to bring them back in the next few months to provide them with more guidance.  In the meantime, they shared their thoughts with us on the importance of engaging youth in the digital economy.

“I think it is very important for more youth to have better employment opportunities through training. There should be more educational programs in ICT for kids so we can have more exposure and see ICT careers as a potential path.  I would like to use my skills to grow the ICT and programming community in Africa.” – Sophie Diakité, Dakar, Senegal

“Before I did this training, I didn’t know anything about how to build a website and why it is important to be computer literate.  After the class I see it is really easy to learn how to make nice looking websites and I can actually make a living doing that!  I would one day like to build my own online magazine about Caribbean and French fashion.” – Simone Capois, Jacmel, Haiti

“Before I did this class, I thought that only geeks did coding stuff.  After I learned that coding is not just for geeks and it is essential for everyone to have this knowledge to get a job today.  I would like to use my knowledge to build websites and apps for nonprofits in my hometown and run my own design firm.” – Aeisha Thomas, Jackson, MS, USA

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