Living as a single mother in Papua New Guinea (PNG)’s capital, Port Moresby, Kandiye Yamba had a family to provide for, but with a limited education she had few options.
“I had only a Grade 10 Certificate and could not get a decent job to support myself. This took its toll on my health. I experienced frequent bouts of anxiety,” Kandiye confided.
Lorzah Kanah, a young mother of two, was also struggling to find work and provide for her family. Lorzah was living on the streets of Port Moresby, occasionally working at stalls in small markets to make ends meet with no way of supporting her young children.
Both Kandiye and Lorzah’s stories of struggle and underemployment are common in PNG’s urban centers – where youth unemployment is rampant. Over half of PNG’s population is under the age of 24, and the country’s labor market is not growing quickly enough to absorb the influx of young people with limited skills and experience.
The experience in PNG and international evidence have found that fragile and conflict-affected countries with a large youth demographic face increasing risks to social stability, including high levels of crime and violence.
Papua New Guinea suffers from institutional and social fragility, particularly in the Highlands region and Bougainville. Challenges facing young people in fragile and conflict affected countries are complex and may differ by country, but a common thread, also found in PNG, is that disadvantaged youth groups want to be heard; they feel isolated from the state, want to feel included in society, and they want to be given more opportunities to participate in, and benefit from, economic development.
Urban Youth Employment Project changed lives
After Lawrence Kerry left school, finding a job was very difficult. To get by, he turned to petty street crime. However, when Lawrence joined the World Bank-funded Urban Youth Employment Project (UYEP), his life changed direction.
“When I first registered my name, I felt a sense of belonging. I don’t want to go back to what I was doing before, doing nothing and socializing with the street boys. I’ve got my dream.”
UYEP was established in 2011. It is a comprehensive, active labor market program that takes long-term unemployed youth between the ages of 16 and 25 through a range of soft-skills and vocational training, matching participants to jobs through fully-subsidized work placements with a range of employers throughout Port Moresby. Prior to joining UYEP, 70% of youth had never previously had a waged job, 33% had never attended high school and 74% never had a bank account.
By the end of 2018, UYEP had screened more than 24,000 young Papua New Guineans and engaged 18,500 in training and work placements, established 18,000 new bank accounts and created over 815,000 days of work around Port Moresby, including in projects aimed at improving public infrastructure and services.
Benefits extend beyond youth
The program has had an impressive impact on not just the lives of poor urban youth but also community perceptions of youth, with 85% of community members in project locations believing crime and violence had reduced because of the project, and participating employers reported that 97% of UYEP participants were qualified for full time work after the project.
There has also been evidence of substantial employment gains by project participants with 21-41% (depending on the type of intervention) reporting being employed in the past six months – in comparison, control groups averaged 3%.
This is even more significant given none of the participants were employed in the six months prior to joining the project. Similar projects around the world have achieved employment gains of – at best – 7-11%. Oftentimes, the gains are lower.
For the PNG government, the project is now widely regarded as key to address the economic and social marginalization of youth; particularly important as PNG is one of 28 earlier adopter countries of the World Bank’s Human Capital Project.
Every number that makes up these various statistics related to UYEP is, of course, an individual with their own unique story; one that likely includes now the sense of a real and meaningful change in their life.
“I’m very proud of Urban Youth, they helped me a lot, giving me a second chance so that I can work to earn money and then look after my parents and my kids,” explains Lorzah, the young mother of two who went on to join UYEP.
Kandiye says her UYEP identification card is a prized possession.
“I still keep my Urban Youth Employment Project identification card with me. This program gave me my life back. Once I was in (UYEP), I gave my all and it has not let me down one bit.”
For many young people, participation in UYEP represents a huge milestone in their professional and personal development: it marks their first job experience, their first pay check, their first bank account, and it increases their skills and chances of securing a more permanent job.
The success of UYEP has now led to a second phase, with a planned expansion to Lae, PNG’s second largest city and the industrial hub of the country, set to commence later in 2019.