The government´s plan to train 2,100 fourth-year students to work in the construction industry maps the road of the Education Department toward the immediate needs of the market, among reconstruction efforts. The initiative also offers those graduates better opportunities to find a job.
Courses to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of our youth join this initiative that includes training in safety, maths, constructions tools and codes, among others.
The initial stage totals 160 contact hours through June. It will be implemented through a special curriculum between mid-May and June with a budget estimated at $1.2 million. It will first target fourth-year high school students. After the first stage, expanding the initiative to other higher-level students will be considered. Students will be trained in carpentry. Electrical, plumbing and masonry will be included at a later stage. 84 instructors will be trained to work in these courses.
The government foresees that the booming construction industry –due to the disbursement of federal relief funds- will immediately recruit these young students.
Similarly, training in other vocational skills for students interested in other labor markets –that also encourage economic growth- can join the initiative.
Vocational skills related to the tourism industry and those that open the way for small businesses are an example of this.
For years, the Education Department has been facing the challenge to develop a project that is relevant to the students reality.
Due to the lack of updated data, it remains almost a mystery to know how many students leave school in fourth year without graduating.
According to a 2016 official report, most of the students who left school argued they were interested in taking accelerated or alternate courses. Others said they were leaving school to work, avoid an academic failure or assume domestic responsibilities.
According to the Puerto Rico Institute for Youth Development, 56 percent of the children under 18 leave in poverty. And the parents of 53 percent of our children and teenagers don´t have a secure job. Approximately 25,000 of young Puerto Ricans did not go to school neither did they work.
The Institute most recent report on the impact of Hurricane María on Puerto Rico´s children, also revealed that our children still suffer the emotional scars of the emergency caused by the hurricane.
Students in the public system missed an average of 78 class days since students could not attend school after the hurricane. Almost half of the families interviewed in 750 households, said they identified changes in their children´s behavior since then. This situation calls for an integrated program where the plan announced by the government may be a step but it should not be an isolated step.
Training our students in construction-related skills can boost jobs and map the way toward sustainable growth as part of a comprehensive education project. In addition to the immediate needs in reconstruction efforts, Puerto Rico will also need citizens with multiple academic and emotional skills.
Above all, an education project should protect its mission to promote human development. Education should provide students not only with tools to find a job in the short term but also to achieve their full potential.
Education should be a platform for equity, academic achievement and quality of life. The education project can nurture from the best part of nonprofits models that have changed the lives of many people on the island. It should give way to a holistic education project to face current and future challenges.