Youthful hope in the midst of the crisis

Initial vocational education and training
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Honduras had an unemployment rate of 5.7% and half the population was underemployed. However, the youth at risk remains hopeful on their journey to obtain better economic and social opportunities. For the young people involved in the ProJoven project, the current situation also represents an opportunity for learning new skills. In the middle of the crisis, ProJoven refocused its efforts and trained the youth in the production of personal protective equipment and parts for medical machines. Another innovative measure taken by the project was the focus on the digitisation of the training process.

After the first case of the novel coronavirus appeared in Honduras on March 11th, the youth population at risk maintains the expectation of obtaining better economic and social opportunities. According to the Secretary of Labour and Social Security (STSS) and the National Institute of Statistics (INE), it should be highlighted that during 2019, an open unemployment rate of 5.7% and an underemployment rate of around 50% were registered. This situation is being sharpened due to the effects of COVID-19, adding to the challenges that they already experience such as vandalism, gangs, and organised crime.

However, for youth involved in the ProJoven project, the situation of COVID-19 represents an opportunity for learning new skills in the middle of the crisis. Since April, the project has refocused its efforts to engage young vulnerable people through a wide range of training and capacity-building measures for the development of different services. Among others, these services included meal preparation and production of protective equipment like masks, protective goggles, support devices for ventilators (see photo).

In particular, young people have been trained in the use of 3D printers to create innovative valves that allow two ventilators for artificial respiration to be connected at the same time. This innovation has become necessary because the country cannot meet the demand for these devices until today. The skills obtained allow them to start their own businesses and, thus, generating their own income in times of high unemployment. The trainings have been conducted in the departments of Atlántida, Francisco Morazán, Choluteca, and Gracias a Dios.

Digitisation: the heart of the training strategy in times of a pandemic

The situation has forced the development of a series of innovative measures to connect with the participants. Accordingly, the key method was focused on the digitisation of the training process. The use of tools, such as WhatsApp groups and videoconferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Classroom are helpful in delivering online classes, as well as free platforms to share training and monitoring content.

“The main challenge has been the connectivity, as well as ensuring that they have the necessary tools to continue with virtual training, such as access to a computer or a smartphone. Despite these, we are already implementing specific measures to bridge the gap, like partnerships with the public and private sectors to provide free internet access and program resources allocation for the purchase of computers”, indicates Olga Tinoco, project leader.

An important factor to ensure a positive effect on the virtual training process during the pandemic has been psychosocial support. COVID-19 has shown that mental health is particularly at risk in times of crisis, confinement, and economic recession due to high stress and uncertainty. "A psychosocial support phone line has been established to support young people 24 hours a day and to follow up on them or refer them to specialised centers," emphasises Olga Tinoco.

As a result, in just two months, more than 200 young people have enrolled in the new virtual trainings and 14 instructors have been trained in 4 different training centers. In addition, 14 courses were already created using digital platforms.

The strategy of content digitisation for training and educational processes is turning to be a common response after the isolation caused by the COVID-19 crisis. The success or failure of this response will depend on how much these proposals are being discussed and validated with the participants. Until now, the digitisation of the ProJoven project, financed by SDC and facilitated by Swisscontact and allied organisations, is perceived as a good case practice to be replicated and adapted by similar initiatives in the region.