AMMAN, Jordania (ILO News) - Moutasem Yaghi was only 14 when he dropped out of school. With no skills or qualifications, he began working with his brother selling vegetables on the streets of Jordan’s capital, Amman.
“I left school because I was not interested in studying. So I started working with my brother and spent what I earned on cigarettes,” he said. “It was not a career. I was a tear-away.”
Hazardous work – such as street peddling, waste collection, agricultural work, carpentry, auto repair and iron melting - is a major issue facing young workers in Jordan.
“Child labour in Jordan is a major concern. It has increased significantly in the past several years and continues to put the lives and futures of an increasing number of children at risk,” said Insaf Nizam, the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s chief technical advisor on child labour in Jordan.
“It is also a contributing factor towards youth unemployment, as children take the place of youth with cheap and unregulated labour,” Nizam added.
Children who drop out of school to work rarely get the chance to return to the classroom or to any other form of education. But thanks to an ILO apprenticeship programme, which is being implemented with the International Youth Foundation (IYF), Moutasem, now aged 16, has become an apprentice at a chocolate factory, where he hopes to acquire skills that will open up good job opportunities in the future.
The programme involves 160 young people of both sexes who are either at risk of child labour, or who are vulnerable to exploitation because they are engaged in unregulated work. The two organizations set up the apprenticeship programme in the capital Amman and in the cities of Irbid, Zarqa, Ma’an and Tafileh, to help these youths upgrade their skills and qualifications, and enter the labour market.
Since late 2015, the apprentices have been receiving theoretical and practical on-the-job training in occupations in the tailoring, mechanics, retailing, food processing and carpentry sectors.
With the help of training manuals developed by the ILO and the IYF, participants completed month-long theoretical training sessions.
“The training included what is known as a “Passport to Success,’’ which focuses on giving the youths the life skills they need to succeed at work and in life,” said Alia Al Rawashdeh, IYF’s employment coordinator.
“These skills are often a critical missing link for employers and young jobseekers, and this is why it is necessary to focus on them. We also engaged in Occupational Safety and Health training, which is equally an extremely essential tool for the apprentices,” Al Rawashdeh added.
Nida Al Masri, who left school at 15 to take care of her sick mother, said the theoretical training boosted her self-confidence: “It helped strengthen our personalities, and helped us understand how to deal with costumers and how to deal with our employers.”
Following the training period, participants were placed in 80 local businesses, mainly small- to medium-size enterprises, with twelve mentors providing the apprentices with basic technical training.
“We have have to ensure that the apprentices are receiving practical training in the same profession they received theoretical training in, and that they are happy with the profession,” said Ahmad Akel, one of the programme mentors.
“If a conflict arises between the apprentice and the employer, we try to intervene to solve the issue,” he said
Most of the apprentices quickly adapted to their new professions with the help of their mentors and employers. For most employers, receiving youngsters with basic skills and a basic grasp of the job was a great relief. While the programme’s primary aim is to help vulnerable youth, it also aims to upgrade apprenticeships in ways that make them more beneficial for the employers and enterprises.
“These youths came here with the objective of continuing with us and we are working hand-in-hand with them to help them grow and develop. With time, they will become experienced workers in the factory,” said Majdi Koura, service manager at the Al Koura Chocolate Factory, where Moutasem and Nida are employed.
In the remote area of Meshara in the Jordan Valley, poverty is rife and unemployment - especially amongst the youth - is high. But the apprenticeship programme is now offering hope to some of the area’s young men and women. Some are involved in a cooking programme, while others are now employed in retail shops.
Twenty-year-old Tharwat Bsheri works in a kitchen where she and a number of other young women make traditional dishes – such as stuffed vegetables and vine leaves - to sell locally.
“After receiving the theoretical training, and now that we are completing the practical training, I feel that I am ready to enter the labour market,” Bsheri said.
A certificate in hand
On April 24, 2016, the apprentices graduated from the programme, and received their certificates from the ILO and IYF. To date, six of them are still working in the enterprises that were involved in the apprenticeship programme, while 66 have found employment elsewhere.
“Child labour and youth unemployment have strong links to each other and should be addressed together for solutions to be most effective. This programme has introduced a new model on how to deal with child labour and increase opportunities of decent work for youth. It has converted a situation of child labour and exploitative work to a situation of learning and decent work,” said the ILO’s Insaf Nizam.
“With more funds from donors and the Government’s commitment to adopt and replicate this model throughout the country, the smiles that we see in the faces of these 160 youth can be replicated in the faces of many thousands of youths in Jordan.”
This training initiative is part of the ILO’s US Department of Labor-funded project “Moving Towards a Child Labour Free Jordan.”