The world has many counterpoints. On the one hand, digital economy is expanding and is unable to satisfy the demand of technical profiles. On the other hand, millions of young people living in vulnerable situations are struggling to study and, eventually, work. Therefore, various organizations are aiming at introducing these young people into the new labor market, training them on digital skills. And these organizations go beyond this: they support these children while they learn how to program and get around a world different from theirs.
According to some data provided by ECLAC at the end of 2020, 33.7% of Latin America’s population is poor, a situation that was deepened by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, different initiatives were launched in the region in order to attract young people living in a vulnerable situation, who receive specific training. The first graduates can now see that it is possible to have a different life.
Even though the methods vary from one country to another, the common factor is that in 2020 all of them had to reconsider their educational programs in order to preserve the relations that had been established only a year or a year and a half before. All of them were forced to developed virtual platforms to continue their classes online, and some had to work on the connectivity strictly speaking, or provide food for the students and their families.
Anima is a free access dual technological secondary school for young adults, authorized by Universidad del Trabajo de Uruguay. It is funded by donations made by companies, and offers two specializations: information and communication technology and administration. Apart from digital skills, this institution encourages students to develop socioemotional skills that will allow them to maintain over time whatever they choose to start learning.
In order to be admitted, students must choose the companies in which they would like to do their internship once they finish their studies. Later, those organizations will decide who they accept. “It is a twofold game that guarantees the success of the internship because it addresses a collective construction within the educational plan framework. There is a mentor who is part of the company and who supports these young adults throughout their training”, said Marcos Algorta, coordinator of Anima’s dual training plan.
This support is essential specially since the constraining factors are not only economic, but they are also related to the ways in which students have incorporated some coexisting rules.
This same support is also boosted by Potrero Digital, a net of learning centers in Argentina, where kids can learn about digital marketing, programming, e-commerce, web design, cloud services and support. In order to do so, these centers have agreements with companies such as Google, Mercado Libre, Globant, JP Morgan, AWS, which are similar to those of other associations.
“Our programs include a mentoring program that helps students to reintegrate themselves into the labor market through three methods: they can work as freelancers, they can be hired by a company or they can set up their own entrepreneurships”, explained Yayo Bertamoni, director of Potrero Digital, where 63% of the students enrolled are women.
In Brazil there are several initiatives geared towards the same goal. The people at Campinho Digital, Potrero’s youngest brother, go directly into the slums in Southern Rio de Janeiro looking for young adults. Moreover, it has agreements with foundation One by One which works with children with disabilities, and Luta pela Paz, a foundation that helps young adults who live in communities affected by violence.
The proposal there is aimed at young adults beginning at 16, without an age limit. So far, the threshold has reached the age of 35. Given that the technology adoption by teenagers and young adults is more developed compared to other countries, the goal of these trainings is to achieve a productive insertion.
“60% of these young adults are able to graduate and 70% of those graduates are inserted into the productive market. They are minimum metrics samples, but 90% of these graduates are able to get back into the labor world. The leitmotiv is to provide them with a career in which to progress”, said Lucho Parenti, director of Campinho Digital.
Further north, in Recife, Porto Digital focuses on young adults between 16 and 24 years old known as the “nini”. They don’t study or work, and if they do so, they do it informally, off the books.
Recife shows two strong contrasting factors: more than 350 technology companies are based there, but at the same time, it has one of the country’s highest levels of inequality according to official information. Therefore, the goal is to focus on helping these young people to progress both economically and socially.
A part of this training program is focused on soft skills and then it continues with the process of incorporating the students to companies. “These are children who live in poverty and do not feel identify with this world where businesses are huge and based in a nice neighborhood. They need an adaptation process in order to feel comfortable in an environment so different from the one they are accustomed to”, stated Marcela ValenÇa, head of the inclusion project for young adults in Porto Digital.
This is similar to what Algorta said when he mentioned that “Anima is a safe place for them. Apart from the academic offer, it also constitutes a social gain. For example, the access to social media, that if it weren’t for us, they wouldn’t have. We break with that social segregation. The children who come here live in the suburbs. Having to go through the city is also part of their enthusiasm because, even though we are in a neighborhood, they need to move around, and that means they need to learn how to move around differently.”
This educational impact can be expressed in figures: the chances of going into university after this is 70% higher than in other schools, and the chances of getting a job are 120 times higher. In fact, 80% of those who graduate have labor continuity.
Programming and soft skills. Wi-Fi to connect at home, food and clothing. Porto Digital’s goal is to lift these children out of “extreme poverty”, therefore, the training that should finish in October will be extended some more months, in order to assist and encourage them to face the change.
The opportunity to improve life quality goes beyond these training centers. 40% of the young adults who graduated from Potrero Digital are already working or generating earnings from their digital experience and many are seeking opportunities to reach a better position, explained Bertamoni. Around 20 of Potrero’s teachers were once students at this center. Apart from becoming ambassadors of this model, they are showing that other opportunities and changes are possible.