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Youth entry into workforce in Venezuela
Daniel Mogollón Muñoz
Venezuelan society will have to face great challenges in order to rise from poverty; one of them relates to the need to increase attendance in secondary education and prepare youth to enter the workforce at 18 or 19 years of age.
Superatec is a Venezuelan non-profit organization that has sought to bring about change in the lives of poor youth and their environment since 2002 through training, technology and workforce entry. A research project measuring the impact of this organization uncovered some worrying information. According to statistics from the Ministry of Popular Power for Education for the Liberator Municipality (Caracas), only 13 per cent of secondary schools, whether public or private, offer diversified education (high school diploma or bachillerato) or vocational training.
Furthermore, 75 per cent of the schools that offer the bachillerato or vocational training are private whereas 60 per cent of those that do not are public. The private schools require students to pay a registration or monthly fee but this does not imply that they necessarily have high access costs.
As a result, only roughly 12 per cent of young people in Caracas attain their bachillerato and then go on to post-secondary education, be it university or technical education. What happens to the rest of the youth? Having no post-secondary education, they enter the job market with few professional skills.
Given that the quality of education in private schools is superior to that in public schools, access to university is often predetermined by the school the student attended. This leads to the conclusion that the majority of young people who drop out before getting their bachillerato and move into the workforce are from poor socio-economic backgrounds. In the worst cases, when the young people excluded from the education system do not enter the workforce, they have a higher probability of falling into delinquency, one of the biggest current problems in the country.
Evidently, there is inequality between the provision of and the demand for education. The data invalidates the hypothesis that inequality lies in the demand; indeed, statistics compiled over many years do not show a decline in the registration rate linked to the capacity of educational institutions to serve students moving into higher levels.
But there is a low supply of educational institutions, especially public schools. This clearly indicates the need for public policy intervention to increase spending on infrastructure, as well as the quality of education.
Finally, there exist difficulties in accessing the education system due to the families’ lack of economic means, the geographic location of their homes as compared to that of the school, or failure to adapt to school culture.
There have been different governmental responses to this situation, the main ones being the policies and initiatives developed by the National Institute of Socialist Education and Training, which has among its functions the promotion of the productive inclusion in society of everyone, especially those in extreme poverty or in conditions of particular vulnerability or exclusion. As well, the central government has created social programs such as the Misión Ribas directed at training young people and adults so that they can graduate with their bachillerato. The real impact of this program in terms of meeting set goals and reaching its target population still needs to be studied. In spite of these government initiatives, there are continuing problems with access to higher education and with the skill level of young people who enter the workforce.
One possible solution is to devolve responsibility for education to the municipal level, granting responsibility for the quality of the education to civil society organizations and local authorities. There is a need to prevent the use of the education system as an instrument of political patronage, and to define profiles of competencies that respond to the social, economic and cultural reality of the country. It is in the classroom that social skills as much as academic and professional knowledge can be developed, in turn strengthening self-esteem in social relations.
Under these assumptions, Superatec provides an alternative option to the education system, in order to contribute to the strengthening of social and technical skills of young people from poor communities in the last year of their bachillerato, offering them the tools to succeed personally and professionally in the labour market.
Superatec is faced with the challenge of creating a model that can be replicated and implemented on a large enough scale to have a real impact and solve social problems. In its years of existence it has changed the lives of more than 5,000 young people that have passed through its classrooms. A study measuring Superatec’s impact is now being conducted using econometric models. Preliminary results allow us to conclude that with alternative education programs directed at poor youth entering the labour market, Superatec is contributing positively to the country’s efforts to overcome poverty.
Daniel Mogollón Muñoz is a Professor of Public Policy and a Consultant in social responsibility, development and innovation. He is a founding partner of SustentaCorp, a consulting company working on models of sustainability.