3 Lessons for Increasing & Sustaining Women’s Participation in Vocational Training

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“I never thought I could work as a mechanic, especially not on such large trucks!” says 21-year-old Raquel in Mexico. Trained in a traditionally male trade, this EquipYouth (EY) graduate is working at Grupo Raga, a network of tire and service centers, and thriving.

Getting Raquel and other young women to train for jobs in the industrial sector was not easy, but it was a key goal of EY in Mexico and Peru. Supported by the Caterpillar’s philanthropic organization, Caterpillar Foundation, EY is a NEO-associated project that provides life and technical skills training to vulnerable youth. Through our partners CONALEP Nuevo Leon and Tecsup, participants are prepared for jobs in Mexico and Peru’s growing industrial sectors, including manufacturing, production, and energy.

Despite a higher earning and promotion potential in these fields, we found that young women in Monterrey and Lima were not accessing these jobs. In fact, they were up to three times more likely to be unemployed than their male peers. EY sought to bridge this gap, but along the way we encountered plenty of additional barriers that prevented young women from accessing and completing training. Below are three of our many lessons learned and key examples of how we addressed the challenges that arose:

1. Understand young women’s different motivations and incentives for joining an employability program.

Low-income young women have many reasons for seeking training that leads to a job, and many factors—including pressure on their time due to household responsibilities and a lack of information—can deter their enrollment. Young women want to feel they are investing their limited time in a way that allows them to reach their individual goals.

For example, in Peru we learned that young women 18 to 22 who were not mothers were interested in finding a short-term job that would allow them to save money to eventually pursue higher education. Meanwhile, young women who were mothers or were older than 22 sought a career-launching job with flexible hours that would enable them to support their families. Wanting to appeal to both groups, EY was marketed through both lenses, focusing on one over another depending on the recruitment site. For the latter group of women, we highlighted the more technical training courses, like warehouse management or mechanics, due to their higher wages, growth potential, and flexible hours. For all recruitment, we shared examples of project alumni who had progressed through each path, the varied training schedules, and the financial assistance provided for meals and transportation, and we reviewed the overall benefits of post-training employment.

2. Define strategies to address the external constraints faced by young women.

A significant constraint for young women in Mexico and Peru was a lack of support from their spouses or family, whether financially, emotionally, or practically, in terms of responsibilities. This isolation caused women to ultimately not enroll in the program or to drop out prematurely.

In Mexico, we had several occasions where a young woman was interested in pursuing a career in electricity or automotive mechanics, but her spouse or family forbade her. They based those decisions on a perception of these trades as “men’s work” and that a job would take away from the woman’s household work. In the effort to mitigate this lack of support, EY Mexico began inviting family members to orientation sessions to share more information about the program and ease anxieties, raise awareness about the economic gains of working in this sector and having an additional breadwinner in the household, and highlight past female participant success stories to show how women can thrive in these roles.

3. Create support networks that include men and provide role models for young women participants.

Role models influence young women’s career aspirations, career choice, and attitudes towards jobs and help fight self-imposed stereotypes. Meanwhile, fostering strong support networks among the participants can help young women overcome challenges during training or on the job and encourage their retention in a program.  

In Peru, the majority of the youth came from single-income households where the father or another male relative was the head of household and where there were few examples of adult women with full-time formal sector jobs. In addition to having female teachers facilitate the male-dominated technical courses, EY Peru provided individualized mentorship to advise young women on how to navigate their home life and work life. Training cohorts were mixed gender, and each group formed close bonds through organized soccer and volleyball events and peer-to-peer tutoring. EY then placed two or three youth at each company, meaning they had one another to lean on and were able to coordinate travel. This support network was especially key for young women placed in largely male companies, because the young men from EY had become their allies.

There is still plenty more to do to encourage young women to seize opportunities in the industrial sector. From Raquel’s experience, we know these jobs can boost a young woman’s resilience and independence; change her view of what she can do; and contribute to reshaping norms around “women’s work.” The successful mechanic says, “I feel more confident, I have a skill I never thought possible, and I can even repair my own newly bought car—without anyone’s help—thanks to the training and my job.”

Amanda Ortega is Program Manager, Latin America & the Caribbean.

technical skills technical training industrial sector auto mechanics young women gender equality employability young men role model