Sajeda, 22, hopes to sell her own jewelry some day. Osama, 18, wants to be a pastry chef.  Mohammed, 17, would like to open a restaurant. All three dropped out of secondary school by grade 10; yet each is taking steps to reach their goals with support from Youth:Work Jordan.

Youth:Work Jordan (YWJ) is a five-year initiative of the US Agency for International Development, the International Youth Foundation (IYF), and the Jordanian Ministry of Social Development. Working in partnership with the public, private, and civil society sectors, YWJ seeks to create an enabling environment for disadvantaged youth through improving youth employability practices and policies, strengthening the capacity of youth-serving organizations, and engaging youth in developing their communities.

Sajeda left school to get married. Osama dropped out due to tensions at home. And Mohammed stopped going to classes due to peer pressure. “My friends were a bad influence,” he says, adding ”I didn’t think I would gain anything.”

With one-third of Jordanian youth dropping out of secondary school, such stories are not uncommon. What’s different is that each of these young people now has a plan for their future and is working toward it. All three have benefitted from life skills and technical training provided through YWJ.

Sajeda is enrolled in a three-month, three hundred-hour jewelry-making course through the Zarqa Vocational Training Center for Females, a YWJ partner. As part of the program, she’s also completed a two-week life skills training course. “The training taught me how to speak to people in the proper way. It taught me to feel confident and able,” says Sajeda, who expects to intern with a jewelry-making enterprise after completing her classroom training. Through the program, she was assigned a case manager and will receive a certificate upon completion, along with job placement assistance.

For two months, Osama has been learning the art of pastry making at Al-Qadi, a two-storey shop with a 50-year history. Its owner, Ismael Al Qadi, wants to give vulnerable youth a chance to gain work experience and a foothold in the job market. Five days a week, Osama works from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. learning all there is to know about making traditional sweets – kanafeh, asabi, basmeh, and more. While it hasn’t been easy, Osama is confident he’s on the right path. “Getting here in the morning can be difficult, he says. “At the beginning it was challenging having someone watching over me.” Now, Osama is comfortable with his routine. “I like the way I’m treated here,” he says.

Mohammed is training at Abunafe, a sandwich restaurant and grill. He landed the apprenticeship after completing trainings in life skills and the hospitality trade through Al Shooa, a community-based organization and YWJ partner. During his on-the-job training, Mohammed is learning about food preparation, time management, sanitation, and first aid. He currently earns 8JD per day, which will increase to 300JD/month if he is accepted for full-time employment.

While finding employers willing to train marginalized youth can be challenging, YWJ has capitalized on the networks and outreach of its CBO partners. Elham El Nemer operates a children’s clothing factory on a quiet side street in Zarqa and was convinced to develop a training program for YWJ participants through relationships he had with staff at Khawla Bent Al Azwar. Elham, who himself dropped out of school as a youth growing up in Palestine, sees both social and business benefits to providing vulnerable youth with job opportunities. “I decided to be a champion for them,” he says of his work to train the young women, “and to be a model for others.”

The young women, ages 18 to 24, participate in two months of nonpaid instructional training, followed by four months of paid training at 90JD (US$127) a month. Those hired will receive a starting salary of 150JD (US$210) per month.

To date, 15 young women have enrolled in the factory-training program, with six dropping out as a result of parental concerns for their safety while commuting. “Parents are concerned about their daughters getting here,” says Elham, himself the father of five daughters. To address this issue, he’s now developing a work-at-home alternative for young women.

The training takes patience, Elham emphazises. “While the young women like to work, they’re not used to regular working hours and sometimes show up late. I’m trying to create a friendly atmosphere so they like to be here.”