Youth use TVET centers' computer labs. Photo by Gretchen Robleto.

Job placement platform uses AI to bring unbiased services to youth

By Janey Fugate

Designed in collaboration with Creative’s Development Lab, the job placement consulting company and USAID’s Aprendo y Emprendo project, UBICANICA fills a critical gap between the availability of unemployed youth and employment opportunities.

“Nicaragua doesn’t really have many opportunities for somebody to go online and find a job, so if you’re in Nicaragua, that means you’re looking at newspapers or depending on word of mouth,” says Ayan Kishore, Creative’s Development Lab Director and key lead on the UBICANICA project. “That’s just not how people are finding out about opportunities in the rest of the world, so I think this is a great addition.”

Using the platform differs from a typical job search website in that it relies on AI to perform the initial matches, alerting businesses to potential employees based on skills.

“The technology itself is focused on breaking down occupations into what are the skillsets needed and then looking at resumes and doing the same, using AI matching to help show sets of jobs and potential employees’ work,” explained Kishore.

One of UBICANICA’s strengths is that it offers a non-biased selection process for companies to engage in. It uses a competency-based model rather a credential-based model to even the playing field for job applicants. Half of the initial applicants entered in the system are youth with disabilities, and their applications will be screened without taking this into account. Similarly, the AI technology used for matching is gender blind.

“The platform is open to anyone who wants to register… through this space you can develop and build a profile that is inclusive,” said Mariela Terán, the Superior Council for Private Enterprise Foundation’s Executive Director. “It isn’t required to submit photos with your application, among other benefits of the platform.”

Aprendo y Emprendo partnered with the Superior Council for Private Enterprise in Nicaragua Foundation (COSEP), a leading business chamber in the country, to house and manage the platform going forward, ensuring the program’s sustainability. COSEP’s Foundation facilitated and participated in trainings aimed at preparing users to get the most out of the service.

“UBICANICA is a great opportunity to continue this work, especially in the context we live in now with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Terán.

Current students and project alumni, who may not otherwise have internet access or experience formally applying for jobs, can access the platform through the TVET centers’ computer labs and receive coaching on how to register and apply for opportunities. With 30 companies registered representing a range of sectors, and 50 young men and women in the system, the platform is poised to begin matching employers with potential employees.

COSEP will initially promote UBICANICA primarily through TVET centers, but the platform will be available to any job seeker. COSEP will also advertise UBICANICA’s services to its private sector partners, with the hope that the platform will become as much of a resource for companies as for youth.

The non-biased nature of the platform supports a key part of TVET-SAY’s mission, to empower youth with disabilities and foster an enabling environment for marginalized groups. Since its inception, the project has reached over 1,000 at-risk youth with skills development services, job training, scholarships and counseling, as well as nearly 3,000 youth with soft skills training. The project has also worked closely with the private sector, creating the Nicaraguan Network for Technical Education (RENET), a network of companies, TVETs, universities and other organizations dedicated to building more inclusive professional environments for youth.

From the employer side, UBICANICA provides a valuable service for Nicaraguan companies.

“[UBICANICA] will be particularly useful for businesses affiliated with enterprise trade unions and more than anything for their selection processes and human capital, which is the most important asset a company can have,” said Terán.

This digital solution represents an important way to address a big challenge in the development industry: finding meaningful employment for growing numbers of unemployed youth.

“UBICANICA is a lasting legacy of the Aprendo y Emprendo project and I’m hopeful it will be a great resource for young men and women who would otherwise struggle to get connected to meaningful work,” said Juan Manuel Sánchez, Aprendo y Emprendo’s Deputy Chief of Party.

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