Twenty-year-old Yusra al-Juneidi grew up in the village of Wad al-Jouz in Jerusalem. A graduate of the hotel management program at al-Tireh Institute, a vocational training institute in Ramallah, Palestine, Yusra had trouble finding a job after graduation. That is, until she participated in Start Work, a training program aimed at developing youth’s employability skills.

After completing the training, Yusra was hired as a chef at the newly-opened Values Restaurant in Ramallah. She credits the enhanced communications skills she gained through Start Work with helping her to get the interview and impress the restaurant’s owner. “This opportunity opened many doors and helped me in dealing with others,” she says.

Yusra is one of more than 550 young Palestinians to benefit from Start Work (National Job Fairs), which provides employability training and facilitates job placement opportunities for out-of-school youth. “Start Work” is implemented by the Sharek Youth Forum, a Palestinian NGO that supports the economic, social, cultural, and political development of Palestinian youth, under a grant from the Youth Entrepreneurship Development (YED) program.

The “Start Work” program builds upon Sharek’s well-established reputation for providing Palestinian youth with quality training to strengthen their work readiness skills and improve their employment prospects in a challenging job market. Youth, ages 20 to 24, have the highest rates of unemployment in Palestine, with one out of three unable to secure work in 2011. In the first month after completing the job fairs, the Start Work  program had assisted 28 youth in finding jobs, with another 16 obtaining internships.

Programs like “Start Work” offer youth opportunities to pursue their career goals. Yusra sees her newly-acquired job at the restaurant as a first step in realizing her dreams of owning a hotel franchise. “Since starting college, I thought every day about my future, and whether I would find a job,” she says, “especially when so many students who finished college before me stayed at home because there was no work for them. This opportunity gave me hope for my future.”

Another Start Work participant, Rawan Abu-Ajaj, age 20, also earned a diploma from al-Tireh Institute in Hotel Management and Tourism. Like Yusra, she participated in the Start Work program to strengthen her communication and management skills to prepare for employment.

Following the training, Rawan obtained a job as a receptionist and administrative assistant for Values Restaurant. She feels that her ability to earn a salary immediately after graduation has positively impacted her self-confidence, increasing not only her financial independence but helping her family as well. “This opportunity has benefited me a lot and reduced some of the financial burden on my family,” she says.

Yusra’s and Rawan’s experiences demonstrate the impact that these training opportunities can have on promoting youth empowerment and developing the skills necessary for young people to find success in the workplace. Their common experiences also underscore the long-term positive effect of such interventions on families and communities.

The Youth Entrepreneurship Development program (YED) is a four-year initiative funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission to the West Bank and Gaza and implemented by the International Youth Foundation. Its goal: to improve employability and entrepreneurship opportunities for young Palestinians, ages 14 to 29.