We have known for many years that the youth in our Latin American region are one of the most affected groups in terms of unemployment, precariousness and interrupted schooling. The overwhelming percentages are growing ever larger in the face of the global economic crisis that we are going through due to the pandemic.
By Alejandra Solla and José María Ñanco
According to a publication from the International Labor Organization (ILO), the unemployment rate among Latin American and Caribbean youth between 15 and 24 years of age continues to be very high. In 2020 it reached 18%, a proportion that is triple the adult rate and is more than double the overall average unemployment rate in the region. 
On the other hand, the same article mentions that 6 out of 10 young people who do find a job are forced to accept jobs in the informal economy, which generally implies poor working conditions, without protection or rights, and with low wages and low productivity.
Finally, it is estimated that some 20 million young people in the region neither study nor work, due in large part to frustration and discouragement resulting from the lack of opportunities in the labour market.
According to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in 2020 the poverty rate in the region reached levels that had not been observed in the last 12 years. Meanwhile, the extreme poverty rate stood at 12.5%, a level not seen since 20 years ago. Even before the pandemic, poverty affected almost a third of the young population in the region. Of the young people between 15 and 29 years old, 39% were in poverty and almost 10% in extreme poverty. Youth poverty in the rural area was more than 46%, double that of the urban area, which was 25%. 
Youth at the centre of labour integration public policies
We are not going to delve into the multiple causes of this profound deterioration in our societies, but for the purposes of this article we do want to refer to the importance of putting youth at the CENTRE of the design and execution of public policies for labour integration that have them as protagonists.
It is necessary that public programmes and policies recognise the heterogeneity of this population. It is key to identify their educational trajectory, the competences, knowledge, work skills that they have acquired empirically, which ones they need to acquire, what their perceptions about work are, their interests and motivations, their beliefs and ideals, among others, so that an initial or common training approach can be developed that respects the trajectories of the youth, so that they themselves can draw up, recognise and deepen what we call their Training and Occupational Project, framed around their life projects and accompanied for this purpose by educators, referents, or tutors.
Challenges for the design and implementation of public policies aimed at young people living in poverty and extreme poverty
In some consulting and technical assistance experiences carried out within the framework of the European Union EUROsociAL+ Programme in some countries of the region – such as Argentina, El Salvador, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia – one of the challenges we have found in designing and implementing public programmes and policies aimed at youth living in poverty and extreme poverty is the gap existing between the types of training, benefits or goods and services on offer, with their respective access requirements, and the motivations and skills acquired by young people in their previous experiences.
In this sense, this gap is accentuated if we take into account the issues of connectivity and insufficient technological architecture in our countries, the use of information technologies typical of this young generation, but which are undoubtedly based mostly on social and recreational use rather than on learning. This is compounded by two central elements: the scant knowledge among young people regarding the demands of the productive development of their communities and the immediate demand to respond to the need to work to “survive and contribute to the family economy”.
This gap that we mention so briefly is undoubtedly complex and explains in some way the strong dropout rates in the existing training processes, the indebtedness to which young people are subjected when receiving loans for ventures that have little viability in practice and the frustration they continue to face in the search for a decent job, to which few have access and that have requirements which they cannot meet.
An initial training that places young people as the focus
Taking into account all that we have mentioned so far and the positive experience recorded in some countries, it is good that the Youth Training and Employment Programmes start from a Basic training that places young people as the focus of their own training and future occupational careers.
This introductory training (60/80 hours) should include three components:
1. Self-knowledge Whose purpose is that young people recognise their motivations, capacities and personal and social skills related to their educational and work experience. In this component, young people recognise in themselves what they know how to do, the resources they have, their knowledge and previous skills and where they learned them, how they imagine their future and what kind of skills and knowledge they would need to acquire to get there.
In transversal terms, they work on the following socio-emotional skills (life skills): Self-confidence – empathy. Organisation and planning. Critical and creative thinking. Responsibility. Autonomy.
Through this first component, young people are expected to think about themselves in relation to the world of work.
2. Analysis of the labour market context and training offers to analyse employment opportunities and productive enterprises and professional training, depending on the context.
This component focuses on understanding the labour market, which economic sectors are experiencing growth and which are the occupations with the highest demand. They also experience how to identify areas of learning and job training related to the local productive sector in order to acquire the necessary knowledge to develop their occupational interests in this field.
In transversal terms, they work on the following socio-emotional skills (life skills): teamwork, self-confidence, organisation and planning. Responsibility
Young people are expected to learn about the job market and think about themselves in relation to a job or the development of a business that is viable in the long term.
3. Preparation of an occupational training plan to learn tools for drawing up a personal plan within the framework of a life project.
This component is intended for young people to define an achievable career goal according to their interests and plan the necessary path to reach their goal. In addition, this third component is intended for young people to acquire some tools for inclusion in the workforce and to begin to define their career goal, as well as to plan the necessary route to reach it, according to priorities, timescales and resources.
The objective of this stage is for young people to formulate their training and occupational project based on what they have worked on in the previous modules and through a guided planning process.
In transversal terms, they work on the following socio-emotional skills (life skills): decision making, active listening, assertive communication, conflict resolution – negotiation, autonomy.
Throughout this journey, it is necessary to also train them in issues that are necessary for staying in a changing job market: basic use of technologies and complete Google packages (including Drive, Meet, portals, database assembly, use of Word, Excel, social media applied to the world of work, among others). On the other hand, they must also learn about issues relating to gender, the environment, labour laws, etc. and a set of transversal competences.
In this way, all this initial training serves to level out the trajectories and experiences of young people and could be part of the integrated package of services provided by Employment Services or Agencies. Access to a state subsidy that allows them to get through this period of training is a strategy that should be considered especially for young people living in poverty and extreme poverty. Some examples of these comprehensive policies are the European Youth Guarantee or the Youth with More and Better Jobs programme in Argentina, among others.
The importance of monitoring and evaluation
Here we are referring to continuing support for the young person once they have completed the initial basic training. This means that referrals to goods and services, or subsequent benefits, are in accordance with what each young person set as a path in their Plans, for example: taking a professional training course in a certain discipline, doing an internship or work placement in a company, or preparing to receive training in entrepreneurship, business planning and financial planning, finishing school, among other alternatives.
This monitoring, also called career monitoring, is generally undertaken by employment services in general, as well as by municipal and provincial employment offices and/or through agreements with civil society organisations.
It tries to guarantee that young people drop out as little as possible from the training on offer and can complete their path with a suitable job placement. At this stage it is essential to have the presence of a “tutor/manager” who accompanies the young persons individually and as a group.
Likewise, it is important to have a quantitative-qualitative Monitoring and Evaluation System throughout the entire process, which measures the meeting of goals and the impacts achieved year after year, as well as the changes and learning experienced by the young people throughout the process.
Another great challenge for public policies and youth labour integration programmes is to narrow the existing gaps in multi-level issues and intersectorality. In relation to multi-level issues, in general, the proposals encounter implementation difficulties due to insufficient coordination between the central (national) and territorial (municipal, provincial, regional) levels.
What happens in countries with decentralised ministerial schemes is quite different. These schemes may be Provincial Employment Agencies or similar and Municipal Employment Offices or similar and/or youth representations at the central level, such as National Youth Institutes or similar and territorial Youth Offices.
Significant design and investment in active employment policies and greater decentralisation are necessary in order to have work teams, infrastructure and technological architecture that is better able to adapt to the heterogeneity existing within the countries.
In relation to intersectorality, however, there seems to be a common challenge. In general, proposals for training, for benefits or for goods and services are produced from each ministry and from each sector (educational system, companies, producers, vocational training institutions, social organisations, universities, among others) and they work with little coordination with each other.
If there is no recognition of the need to coordinate training, employment services with companies, productive investments and economic development plans, it will be difficult to achieve a good impact at the territorial level.
In this sense, it is necessary to understand the territory, its natural interrelations and interdependencies, promoting them, in order to avoid overlaps, vacuums and inadequate use of existing resources at the territorial level, in terms of infrastructure, equipment and human resources.
To conclude, we recall some graffiti that young people had sprayed in the streets of the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina: … “WE ARE NOT DANGEROUS, WE ARE IN DANGER” …
 The educational and employment situation of young people: Latin America and Argentina. Ana Miranda, Miguel Alfredo and Julio Zelarrayan. FLACSO – Buenos Aires 2021
 Adolescence and Youth. UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) From https://lac.unfpa.org/es/temas/adolescencia-y-juventud