Vishal Talreja, Co-founder Dream a Dream
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Career Connect Programme
Helping young people from adversity thrive in the 21st century
The reality of the bulk of young people in India is tremendous poverty, high drop-out rates, and unskilled labour culminating in unemployment for a vast majority of the youth. The government and other organisations have created initiatives to try to remedy these issues. The mainstream solutions have thus far been creating skilling programmes and focusing on increasing standard quantitative measures like literacy and numeracy.
But in the process of focusing on academic achievements and skilling young people for employability, the government and other stakeholders have failed to realize that these surface-level issues are connected to a much deeper problem - one that Dream a Dream discovered 20 years ago: childhood adversity and a failure to thrive.
When government programmes or other forms of intervention have not fully grasped the extent of childhood adversity, the result is that their solutions do not adequately address all facets of the issue. Despite gaining vocational skills, the trainee may not be ‘employable’ due to poor communication skills, a lack of confidence or, poor coping abilities. These are just symptoms of a deeper challenge faced by young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It is the challenge of growing up in adversity.
When young people experience neglect, abandonment, lack of emotional care or violence, abuse, it affects their ability to achieve developmental milestones and engage with the world. Experiences of adversity result in failure to thrive describing a situation where a child does not grow as expected on a growth chart. Adversity affects their ability to engage with the world, make healthy life choices and be successful. The impact of adversity is seen throughout their lives. For instance, not being able to keep a job.
The common lament heard from vocational programmes is that the young people dropout within the first few weeks, or they or don’t stick to a single job or don’t apply themselves with discipline through the training. This is not because young people are disinterested, or conditioned differently or ‘not serious about their future’. They just do not have the abilities due to failure to thrive.
In 19 years of Dream a Dream’s experience with young people we have seen that when young people develop their Life Skills, they are able to overcome failure to thrive and re-engage with life. Hence, unless we focus on Life Skills as core foundational skills, skilling programmes will have limited impact if they do not also help overcome the failure to thrive.
Here’s what differentiates Dream a Dream’s approach and programmes from other vocational & skilling institutes:
1. Life Skills are developed when there is consistent, long-term engagement in the presence of a caring, empathetic adult. Our facilitators play this important role in the transformation process of the young adults. An empathetic adult is one that shows care, compassion and holds an emotionally safe space by understanding issues, not judging, and validating feelings.
2. We have integrated life skills as the core of our work on top of which other technical skills are developed.
3. We develop Life Skills are through a combination of role-modelling by the trainer/facilitator and the use of transformative, experiential pedagogies that understand adversity and ways to overcome it.
4. We provide last mile support by equipping 15-23 year olds with information and skills to make healthy transitions to adulthood by conducting career awareness workshops, short-term sessions on English, communication skills, entrepreneurship, career guidance and providing access to internships, scholarships, vocational training, and jobs
5. Our approach is highly personalised because we understand the experiences of adversity and its impact on each young person is unique.The Career Connect programme annually equips 5,000 14-20 year olds. Since its launch in 2011, over 20,000 youth were impacted. Over the last 6 years, we are tracking over 8000 graduates from our programme and 95% of them continue to be meaningfully engaged with life.
The two most important insights that we have learnt over the years;
1. Turning 18 is no guarantee that you are actually prepared for a career;
2. Just because you are younger than 18 and can’t get a formal job, doesn’t mean you are not expected to be the bread-winner for your family.
Career Connect focusses on developing the life-skills that young people need to navigate this complex phase of adolescence to ensure they can truly be prepared for life in the 21st century.
In conclusion, the pace of change in the world is frantic and unpredictable. Young people are entering a very complex future filled with many challenges. For instance, it is predicted that 65% of new jobs in the world have not yet been created. Moreover, job requirements are moving from linear repetitive tasks to non-linear, multi-dimensional task requiring a host of different skills. In this scenario, focusing on specific vocations might mean a death sentence for these young people if those jobs become redundant in the future due to automation.
Hence, an investment and focus on Life Skills will help young people develop the agency and resilience to re-invent themselves in a fast changing, complex and unpredictable job scenario and continue to thrive.