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¿What do you want to be when you grow up?

Published on Friday, July 14, 2017

¿What do you want to be when you grow up?

¿What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question that adults everywhere ask young people. In fact, at the elementary school where my nine- and seven-year-old children attend, all of the children are asked that same question and their responses are published in the school yearbook. The answers are amusing and range from spy to veterinarian to president. While my son is currently deciding between three professions: chef, college professor of Economics, and teacher, my daughter hasn’t made up her mind yet.  

I don’t have the faintest idea what professions my children will end up choosing. What I do know is that the skills they develop throughout their lives will be crucial when the time comes for them to decide on a career. But which skills should they develop? And what’s the best way to develop them? These questions are top of mind for parents and young people in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Providing the right answers to these vital questions is necessary to ensure that the next generation in LAC is better off, more productive, and able to access the opportunities they need to overcome poverty. That is why the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) addresses these topics in its upcoming book (“Learning Better: Public Policies in  Skills Development”) “Aprender Mejor: Políticas Públicas para el desarrollo de habilidades.” What clearly emerges in the book is that skills are malleable and can be acquired at different points in life.  And while the quality and level of education are key, motivation and support from family, teachers, and mentors are a decisive factor when it comes to continued learning. (You can preview a chapter of the book  here.)

The NEO initiative is addressing this pressing issue by working with more than 150,000 youth and 175 educational institutions on technical training, career guidance, and job placement in 12 countries across LAC. The alliance is led by the IDB through its innovation laboratory, the Multilateral Investment Fund and its Labor Markets Division, together with the International Youth Foundation and seven of the region’s leading employers and organizations: Arcos Dorados, Caterpillar Foundation, CEMEX, Foundation Forge, Microsoft, SESI and Walmart. NEO works to improve services offered both to low-income youth attending their last year of technical school and to young people who are unemployed or out of school. We believe it is essential to strengthen training, career guidance, and job placement intermediaries so they can better meet the specific needs of low-income youth. After all, these institutions have the great task of equipping young people with an array of skills to successfully prepare them for the job market and encourage them to continue studying.

Among the abilities encouraged by NEO are socio-emotional skills such as self-control, communication, and conflict resolution. The lack of these socio-emotional skills can undermine a young person’s personal and professional development. Many youth are also lacking fundamental math and language skills that need to be strengthened as a base for developing more complex abilities. Likewise, technical skills, or skills specific to an occupation or profession are crucial, especially for youth who must choose a technical specialty in high school or for those attending short-term job training programs. And finally, we promote a “learning by doing” approach—connecting youth to internships at companies where they can apply newly acquired skills in a real-life setting and receive feedback and performance evaluations from employers.

In today’s digital world, it is more critical than ever to have flexible and diverse abilities. For as the IDB book reminds us, skills depreciate, therefore we need to keep learning and developing new and relevant skills.

Regardless of the job or profession my children choose, I hope they will have the curiosity and motivation to be lifelong learnersnot only to be more productive but also to have fun and reach their full potential. I wish the same for all the young people in the LAC region. Be curious, keep learning and you will succeed at both work and life.

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