Realizing the hopes of unemployed youth in Papua New Guinea

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I met Gilford Jirigani at a workshop in Port Moresby a few months ago. What struck me about him was his natural confidence and poise as he captured the audience’s attention - including mine-as he told us how one project changed his life. He went from being an unemployed kid, down and out and unclear about his life in the city, to eventually becoming one of the pioneers of a youth program aimed at increasing the employability of unemployed youth in Port Moresby in 2012.

The National Capital District Commission’s Urban Youth Employment Project (UYEP) has given a second chance to unemployed youth and a way out of the hardships and pressures of city life.  UYEP targeted disadvantaged youngsters that were out of school, without a salaried job and lived in the city over a 12 month period.

In two and a half years, World Bank financed UYEP  has seen 5,324 youth enter the program,  74% of whom never had a paid job  while 85% of them never owned a bank account.
For Gilford, UYEP gave him a fresh start and a chance to improve his life choices.

He recalls, “I didn’t get the chance to complete my education when school ended for me in grade ten for disciplinary reasons. I was sent to the village. I found it  very difficult as I grew up in the city and had to cope with village life and not being able to go to school anymore.. This made me think a lot about what I wanted in life. I still hoped that I would become someone someday”.

In Papua New Guinea, the youth represent more than a third of the population. Often, those who do not complete their education or do not possess employable skills face the brunt of poverty, inequality and are more likely to become involved in a spiral of crime and violence.

“When I returned to the city two years ago, I immediately started looking for employment. It was hard and there were not many jobs available for those with little education. Then I heard about UYEP and was told there would be a screening station near my neighborhood. I was very keen to get a place in the project.” 

Today Gilford, 26, is employed as a work supervisor with the UYEP Project Management Unit and rents his own housing in the city. “The project really helped me in a very big way. I’ve learned a lot of things from co-workers; I’ve changed my behavior, my attitude.”

A part of his daily work also revolves around mentoring participants in the program, and attending to their queries.

“I sometimes help  them write job applications and seek sponsorship for youth activities, and I think this really helps them. I’ve always wanted to help those less fortunate, especially because I have faced those same challenges,” says Gilford.
Over 180 employers in Port Moresby, both from the private and public sector have seen the value of this program and opened their doors, accepting trainees from UYEP. This is their way of giving something back to the city and its residents.
Exxon Mobil has supported UYEP directly in the collection of data of the program’s impact  on the youth and the communities they belong to. Some of the highlights of the survey results showed that:

  • 80% of youth in the project believe that participation in the project has enhanced their employability.
  • Those who have not been employed after the project appear to be more active in searching for a job.  
  • Employers interviewed report that 96% of their UYEP trainees met the minimum requirement for full-time employment.
  • 60% of respondents in a community survey perceive that there is now less crime because of UYEP.
As Gilford points out, “Overall, I think it’s all about helping the youth. My biggest satisfaction is helping them  where I can, you know, just being a mentor and support them. That’s been a major achievement for me.”
Have you had any experience in helping unemployed youth? Please share your experience or inputs in the comments below, as I’d be interested to hear about them.


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