A Contract for the Future of Colombia’s Youth

Publication Date: 
February 04, 2015

For 15 years, Father Jaime Garcia enacted his dream of training the poor youth of Colombia for future employment. Now, a new program called Pacto Motor is helping ensure that the vast majority of his students find decent jobs immediately after graduating. 

Working in Ciudad Bolivar -- one of the most impoverished, dangerous and densely populated areas of the capital city of Bogota -- Fr. Garcia launched a vocational training program at the Juan Bosco Obrero Center in 1999. Since its opening, more than 800 new students each year take courses to prepare for careers as electricians, carpenters and mechanics.

“So many youth in Ciudad Bolivar are at-risk, and many live on the streets,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Opportunities for education are scarce; and, with no employable skills, youth are destined for an unbreakable cycle of poverty, ill health and despair. These are the conditions that Fr. Garcia and his colleagues aim to prevent. ”

Vocational training offers the first small step toward a brighter future for these youth -- but too often, it is not enough. During the past several years, Fr. Garcia began noticing an alarming trend: that despite being highly qualified and prepared, many of his graduates were failing to land decent work.

“We needed to go beyond what we were doing -- beyond just the training,” says Fr. Garcia. “We needed to forge direct connections within the area labor market to ensure that students could successfully transition from the classroom directly into paying jobs.”

Thus, Pacto Motor (“Pact for Decent Work”) was born. After noting a gap between the professional needs of the local auto industry, and the number of qualified graduates available to fulfill those needs, Salesian missionaries at Juan Bosco Obrero introduced a new technical training program in auto mechanics. The idea was one of mutual benefit: the auto industry would have access to a well- and specifically-trained work force; and students would have access to employers who were actually hiring.

The idea worked. In 2013, more than 150 students of the program found jobs in the automotive industry (98 percent of its graduates that year). Pacto Motor’s resounding success even caught the attention of Colombia’s Ministry of Labor, which plans to launch similar pilot projects in other cities, based on its model. Tourism has been identified as a target industry.

Pacto Motor is made possible through the generosity of our many donors and partners, including Via Don Bosco in Belgium and Saint Paul Apôtre in France. This means that for the 2014-2015 academic year, more than 900 students will qualify for free technical training courses.

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