Since 2010 the Youth Apprenticeship Program has helped young people between ages 16 to 29. The program targets persons who have dropped out of school or have come into contact with the law and impose on them a new set of skills in order for them to return to school or gain employment. The program runs for about six months and has helped more than one thousand persons since its inception. However, efforts are being made to increase that number. This week two specialists from the International Labor Organization were in Belize assessing the program in order to identify weaknesses and strengths. Director of the program, Dianna Finnegan spoke to the media.
Dianne Finnegan, Youth Apprenticeship Program Director: “The idea is how do we tweak the program to roll it out countrywide and so that more people can benefit. You know the challenge we are facing, unemployment and instead of focusing on one circle or one sector of the country of our society why not include all so that 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 this apprenticeship program completely the business sector has to play a role too by meeting the stipend of these apprentices so meeting it half way because this is something that affects the entire nation and our productive sector because at the end of the day what these apprentices learn on the job they cannot learn in the classroom and so an apprenticeship program such as this one opens that avenue for individuals to come on board in these businesses kind of prepared with some skills, some knowledge as to the employment that they’re taking up.”
One of two specialists, Michael Axmann, says the Youth Apprenticeship Program can be expanded to benefit about three thousand persons countrywide every year.
Michael Axmann, Specialist: “The Youth Apprenticeship Program is the seed for something a lot bigger. For the time being it’s a program that is addressing some of the skills needs of young people- finding a first job which is always very difficult but what I said in the meeting there is that we have to move away from this only social responsibility thinking of the employers to making apprenticeship programs something that really not only help young people but also address the skills needs in the private sector and that was very interesting to see that there were some employers that said ‘we would like to be much more involved in it but we would also like to see our needs addressed a little stronger than it has been.’ and I think this is a potential this is not necessarily a weakness of the program because it has not been designed in such a way but I think this is an opportunity right now to change the program in such a way that we can go to much bigger numbers; we’re talking 150 per year and I just gave a strategy in there for 3,000 a year which I think is not completely out of the question but it means that we have to revamp the program a little bit, reshuffle it and you know emphasize the element of social dialogue which is basically getting employers and government together and trade unions and civic society and talking about the needs of young people, skills that are needed and of course also the needs of enterprises so we have a commitment from the employers that sound very interesting and now the ball is in the court of the Government- they will have to decide if they want to do this. This is not a quick fix this is something that will take some time but we from the International Labor Organization we’re ready to accompany the process, we could be facilitators and brokers =, the program has to be designed here in Belize basically means Belizeanizing apprenticeship program but we can be there to assist and we will be there to assist if we get the request from the Government to do so.”
The specialists leave Belize tomorrow.