Leaders, educators, and employers across Senegal teamed up — thanks to Virginia Tech — for a national meeting to discuss how to best provide job training to Senegal’s booming youth population.

Unemployment and underemployment among youth, who often lack the skills employers need, is high in the West African nation.

With more than 100 attendees, representatives from technical and vocational institutions, government agencies, and private employers, as well as Virginia Tech and the U.S. Agency for International Development, discussed the most critical challenges that prevent youth from reaching their employment and entrepreneurship goals. Virginia Tech staff also announced the initial findings of a study designed to assess the country’s technical and vocational training system.

Van Crowder, executive director of Virginia Tech’s Center for International Research, Education, and Development, said, “The meetup is an example of Virginia Tech’s innovative and inclusive approach to solving development challenges. We connected in-country partners and experts with private sector employers so that they could brainstorm locally developed strategies for boosting employment opportunities for youth.”

The center, part of Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech, operates the $4 million Feed the Future Senegal Youth in Agriculture project funded by USAID/Senegal, which is set to span five years.

“The Youth in Agriculture program draws on Virginia Tech’s expertise in youth development and applies it to improving opportunities for young people in Senegal,” Crowder said.

Ya Cor Ndione, associate national project director and in-country Virginia Tech staff member, presented the initial findings of a study that analyzed curricula, materials, and pedagogies at more than 40 of Senegal’s agricultural technical and vocational education institutions as well as national hiring trends and entrepreneurship opportunities. Findings suggest that private sector partners should begin to co-manage vocational training centers to help close the gap between youth skills and employer needs. In addition, improving teaching skills should be a top priority for institutions as well as providing buildings and materials that help meet institutions’ goals.

Rick Rudd, head of the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, delivered a keynote address on global perspectives of best practices in technical and vocational education. “Partnerships to get the private sector involved, plus a focus on employability skills, make for really successful technical and vocational programs,” Rudd said.

At the meeting, participants identified two problems:

  • Lack of incubators to help young entrepreneurs launch their own small businesses.
  • Need for more professional development for teachers wishing to update their own technical skills and learn new approaches to teaching.

 

Solutions included Virginia Tech’s plan to foster a “community of practice” — a network to encourage dialogue, resource sharing, and event publicity for people working with youth programs and social entrepreneurship.

Tom Archibald, project director and assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education, said, “Participants expressed their appreciation for Virginia Tech’s work in providing a platform for education partners, decision makers, and agribusiness centers to work together to help youth reach their full potential.”

Written by April L. Raphiou