“I am the living experience that you can change,” says 25-year-old Eric Charles, who left a life on the streets in Saint Lucia for a full time job in a luxury hotel. Eric is just one of the nearly 2,000 youth who graduated from the Caribbean Youth Empowerment Program (CYEP), a five-year partnership between the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Eric’s life changed thanks to his participation in CYEP, which equipped him with vocational and life skills and helped him secure a job. Through the program, which ended in December 2013, the local public-private alliances it helped establish across the region continue to prepare youth for the world of work.

In addition to equipping youth in the Caribbean for salaried jobs and self-employment, IYF developed several learning products from the CYEP experience.

One focuses on how to work with incarcerated youth, which is a population of growing concern in the region and for whom few programs and services exist once they exit the juvenile justice system. In response to this growing social problem, CYEP piloted a strategy in Saint Lucia to help young people transition from prison or parole back into society and the world of work. The publication Preparing Youth in Conflict with the Law for Success documents that experience and provides recommendations such as the need to create much stronger links between prison officials, parole officers, and youth employment service providers.

“We know there’s a strong link between security and economic growth and expanding employment opportunities for young people,” says Alexandria Huerta, Acting Mission Director USAID/Barbados and Eastern Caribbean. “By offering an integrated approach to job training to those most in need and working closely with the business community, programs like CYEP can have an enormously positive impact on the stability and vitality of vulnerable communities.”

The program also established strong networks and alliances among the public, private, and civil society sectors. More than 500 employers and organizations offered youth internships, mentoring, and entry-level jobs. Some 94 percent of employers reported satisfaction with their CYEP interns and employees.

Launched in 2008, CYEP targeted vulnerable youth ages 17 to 25 from underserved communities in Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia. The program offered vocational training in computer network maintenance; the culinary arts; travel and tourism; boat repair; construction; and, using IYF’s Passport to Success® curriculum, soft skills. In addition to job and internship placement assistance, youth also received support on how to start and manage successful enterprises. At a time of high unemployment and lagging economies across the region, 49 percent of CYEP graduates were either working or studying six to nine months after completing the program.