COVID-19 and youth skills in Central America
In an ongoing series of informal discussions between Creative’s experts and field staff, CREA Consultores‘ Technology and Innovation Lead Rodrigo Morán and Aprendo y Emprendo Deputy Chief of Party Juan Manuel Sánchez discuss the changing landscape of youth digital skills and the role of technical education and vocational training centers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Rodrigo Morán: Hi Juan Manuel, how are you? It’s so great to talk to you. Sending you a my best from El Salvador to Nicaragua. How is everything?
Juan Manuel Sánchez: Everything’s good, Rodrigo, it’s good to be on this call with you.
I’m seeing that in every workforce development program, being able to understand everything that’s happening and the trends around new abilities is key, with respect to how we can respond to the demands of the labor market so that youth, and especially women, can access employment opportunities and improve their livelihoods.
They talk about “jobs for the future,” and now that we’re in this situation of a pandemic, it’s really accelerated the digital transformation of businesses and is changing the workforce. And I think it’s also of course changing trends around skills. What can you tell us about that?
Rodrigo Morán: Exactly, what you’re saying is fundamental. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the process of the digital transformation, for some businesses by force, while others were a little bit more prepared. Now there’s an opportunity, out of all the terrible things about this pandemic, to lay the foundations for new job opportunities and new skills for the youth and women in our region, who are well positioned to be competitive in a market that, as you said, was already global.
In terms of the specific skills that we can expect, it’s clear that there will be even more demand than there was before for everything around programming — different programming languages, databases, application development. The languages around all of these topics will be almost like speaking English, in that it’s not a luxury anymore but a necessity.
But there are also a few things that you wouldn’t think of. For example, project management will be really important so that youth are more able to manage change in their companies, in their organizations to bring them to a new level of productivity. Project management will be key.
And so will all of those things that contribute to the infrastructure of digital or remote work. Server maintenance, networks, cybersecurity were already in demand, and all of those topics will become much more crucial. These topics are thought of as being more exclusive for certain groups of youth or people who have access to more resources or who are more affluent. But I think one thing that we have to do is bring this type of skills to everyone, to democratize the process so that technological skills aren’t exclusive to only a section of the population but that everyone is able to acquire them.
So I think technical centers have a tremendously important role to play in this work. And I wanted you to tell me a little bit about your experience and how you see the role of technical and vocational centers in building new skills that we will need, that we already need during the pandemic, but also when we are reopening our economies.
Juan Manuel Sánchez: I think what you’re saying about democratizing digital skills is key, because in Latin American countries and especially Central American countries, digitalization is a challenge.
The technical centers have two types of challenges to being able to address that and take advantage of opportunities.
The first challenge has to do with the technological infrastructure and access to the internet and to equipment. And the second has to do with the pandemic’s restrictions and issues of mobility, which require centers, the instructors, the teaching methods, and even the youth to completely change. Because a professor can’t just take an in-person class and put it on a screen. The instructional design has to change, and that’s a process.
A challenge that the centers have had with this is developing their own digital skills to be able to teach youth, not just skills like being community managers or doing cybersecurity or programming, but also digitalizing the process of teaching. So you have to teach the instructors so that they can then teach the youth.
In places where it’s not possible to do the entire teaching cycle virtually, you can do blended remote learning.
For example, in Nicaragua we’ve had entrepreneurship and self-employment programs that we have done through WhatsApp. So we sent all of the communications through WhatsApp. We’re also doing this with programs for people with visual disabilities who can only listen. We’re connecting with them and sending classes through WhatsApp and using a podcast style instead of video. It’s a different type of technology.
There are also opportunities for the centers to be able to help youth, and especially women and people with disabilities, develop this new type of skills and knowledge that they need to successfully join the labor market.
Rodrigo Morán: Excellent. All of that also allows for the creation of strategic alliances to offer those two things we were talking about: the digitalization of teaching and the vocational centers having the opportunity to be more agile than other educational centers in that digitalization of teaching but also in adopting digital jobs. It’s a shame that we don’t have time to talk about the importance of strategic alliances, but the private sector definitely plays a very important role in this topic.
Juan Manuel Sánchez: I totally agree. It has been really helpful to talk with you about skills trends and the challenges and opportunities for technical centers. I agree that this can’t be done alone, we have to promote those three-way dialogues between the government, the private sector and the technical centers. And also give voice and opportunities to youth, who should also have their perspectives heard in all of this.
A pleasure talking to you, Rodrigo.
Rodrigo Morán: A real pleasure, Juan Manuel. Sending my best from here in El Salvador to Nicaragua. Thanks a lot. See you soon.