Tourism sector training preps youth for success on Nicaraguan islands

By Gretchen Robleto

CORN ISLAND, Nicaragua — Shiera Charalet Richardson Natan spent 10 years working unsteady jobs, uncertain of her financial stability and future.

She has relied on sporadic work since she was 17 years old, jobs primarily centered on the growing tourism industry in her home of Corn Island, about 40 miles off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.

Now Richardson, 28, is finally on firmer footing, working full-time as a waitress at a local restaurant.

“This is the first time that I’ve had a permanent job, with an eight-hour schedule,” she says.

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Shiera Richardson has begun working full-time at a restaurant on Corn Island. Photos by Gretchen Robleto.

To land the position, Richardson had some help from a workforce development project called Aprendo y Emprendo, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International.

Through an initiative supported by project in partnership with the Superior Council of Private Enterprise and the National Tourism Chamber of Nicaragua, she completed a training course and received the well-known “Service Best” certification, developing crucial job and “soft” skills, such as professionalism and decision making.

Youth earn a stamp of accomplishment

Aprendo y Emprendo seeks to improve quality and access to technical education and vocational training for at-risk youth in Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast region, working in partnership with educational institutions and the private sector to match skills to the needs of employers.

Richardson was one of 36 young people who participated in the tourism training program on Corn Island and its neighbor Little Corn Island. Most of the group comprised women and ethnic minorities, who often face additional barriers to education and employment.

“We want to help youth learn the skills they need as individuals, as active members of society and as productive people who tackle life’s projects with success”

Juan Manuel Sánchez, Aprendo y Emprendo Deputy Chief of Party

After completing 40 hours of workshops on topics like quality management, collaboration and positive customer service in tourism and hospitality, the students received the Service Best stamp, an international certification established in 1990 and recognized throughout Central America. The Service Best program seeks to increase the productivity and competitiveness of businesses in the tourism sector.

After receiving the certification, 26 alumni found new jobs or received promotions. And with training on how to leverage their network of community partners, the remaining 10 graduates plan to pursue entrepreneurship in the tourism sector.

Juan Manuel Sánchez, Aprendo y Emprendo Deputy Chief of Party, says training initiatives like these help young people contribute to their communities and build resiliency to the risk factors that many face, such as unemployment, poverty, drug use and unsafe migration.

“In Aprendo y Emprendo, we want to help youth learn the skills they need as individuals, as active members of society and as productive people who tackle life’s projects with success,” Sánchez says.

Young workers help communities thrive

Richardson says the training program left her feeling more confident at work – and thinking about where her career will take her.

“I have learned to make decisions for myself, to solve situations myself and to discover that there are things that I can solve without bringing the issue to management,” she says. “In the future, I see myself as a hotel manager in Corn Island.”

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Aprendo y Emprendo supports technical and vocational training in a variety of industries, including food service and hospitality.

Through the training, Richardson and her fellow graduates are better prepared for professional success and optimistic about their futures. And as local youth develop new skills and knowledge, the Corn Islands’ tourism industry will grow with them, says Lucy Valenti, President of the National Tourism Chamber.

“The opportunity to carry out this certification program with the support of USAID’s Aprendo y Emprendo program has been very important, as Corn Island and Little Corn Island are two of the most visited tourist destinations in our country,” she says. “The benefits will expand to young people from both islands and will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the quality of attention provided to tourists, which is crucial for new and better employment opportunities.”

With editing by Evelyn Rupert

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