Program develops Dutch dropouts’ vocational, social skills

by Kaho Shimizu

AMSTERDAM — As Japan gropes for ways to motivate undereducated youths to look for jobs, other developed nations facing similar challenges are experimenting with steps to integrate them into the working population.

The Netherlands, for example, offers vocational training programs designed for those who lack basic education.

Roughly half of the unemployed youths in the country lack a “starting qualification” — secondary vocational education, senior general secondary education or preuniversity qualification. These basic qualifications are considered a minimum for entering the job market.

The Dutch government is currently working to halve by 2010 the number of school dropouts, who numbered 70,500 in 2002. It also aims to help 40,000 unemployed youths find jobs within three years, starting in 2004.

At the forefront of efforts to meet these targets are municipal governments and the government-affiliated Center for Work and Income, which operates about 130 public job-placement offices for young people around the country, and arranges social security benefits for those in need.

Officials say they have succeeded in placing 24,218 young people in work over the last two years as a result of these efforts.

“Many early school-leavers hate the idea of just going back to school, so we try to provide them with inspiring programs” that combine studying for a basic qualification with work, said Herman Puyman, CWI’s youth unemployment project leader.

One example is the vocational training programs for the construction and restaurant businesses provided by the city of Amsterdam and the Stichting Herstelling Foundation, which runs the program.

“The training program is good for me because I can learn things” that can be put into practice, said Maggie Beyne, who is enrolled in a three-month course for the restaurant business that was launched as a program for women in March.

Beyne, a 22-year-old single mother, worked for two years at a sandwich shop before quitting in a dispute with the owner. Her daughter, 3, lives with her ex-husband. Beyne lives with her mother and receives welfare benefits in return for participating in the program.

Under the guidance of a chef, Beyne is learning how to prepare and serve meals. She is also learning how to become a responsible worker.

“I want to work as a waitress in the future,” said Beyne, who hopes to earn enough money to live with her daughter again. She had dropped out of school before attaining a starting qualification.

Another course offered by the foundation is a one-year construction program for young men. It offers training through restoration of the Defense Line of Amsterdam, a series of forts and defensive walls in the city’s suburbs that dates back to the early 20th century and has been registered as a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The trainees here are engaged in carpentry, painting, paving and landscaping.

“You can gain (basic skills) from this program, but what we also aim (for) is to let (the participants) learn social skills, including being on time, accepting supervision, cooperation and social interaction,” said Albert F. van der Lugt, director of Stichting Herstelling.

“Working on the restoration of the World Heritage construction make them proud of their work, allowing them to find a sense of fulfillment,” he said.