Around the world, youth unemployment and underemployment affect not only young people, but also employers, communities, and the larger economy. The New Employment Opportunities (NEO) initiative was created in 2012 by IYF in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), through its Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) and its Labor Markets Unit to address this complex issue in Latin America and the Caribbean.  

Recently, members of the NEO alliance convened in Lima, Peru, to reflect on the initiative's six-year legacy. For the 100-plus attendees from the public and private sectors and civil society, the event was more than just an opportunity to swap success stories—though there were plenty of those, too. It was a platform for constructive conversations about how to learn from NEO and build upon the legacy for the future. Among many important takeaways, the following four stood out:

  • Communication is critical across the youth employment ecosystem. Historically, the flow of information between the public sector, private sector, and civil society has been problematic. For example, when private sector employers are not closely connected with public sector training institutions, the skills being taught to youth quickly move out of alignment with the skills the labor market demands. NEO opened those channels. According to Juan Carlos Croston of  Manzanillo International Terminal, “NEO challenged the private sector to ask questions about how best to connect with youth, especially those from low-income families.” 
  • More than technical skills are required for future success. As panelists discussed, life skills training—delivered through Passport to Success®—was a hallmark of NEO’s legacy. “Young people run our restaurants,” explained Lyana Latorre, Senior Director of Corporate Social Engagement at Arcos Dorados. "Managing people requires skills like communication and working on a team.” Sérgio Cavalcante, CEO of CESAR, agreed, noting, “Employers want employees who know how to cooperate, collaborate, learn, empathize, and communicate.” The importance of life skills is not lost on young people, either. According to Genesis Reyes, who took the stage to share her experience with NEO, “The most important thing is knowing when and how to use the knowledge you acquire—​and that requires critical thinking and creativity.”
  • Capacity strengthening increases the scale of impact. In addition to helping 310,000 young people over the course of six years, the NEO alliance benefited regional organizations including implementing partners and service providers. They, in turn, will benefit countless additional youth in the future. For example, teachers at participating vocational colleges and training facilities not only learned how to teach life skills effectively; they also strengthened their communication and classroom management capabilities. In addition, NEO’s Quality Assurance System provides a systematized way for organizations to review, assess, and take action to improve their own processes and practices related to youth employability and career guidance services.
  • Public and private sector engagement will carry NEO into the future. Going forward, wider and more active involvement from the private sector will be imperative to build on the momentum of the last six years. According to Elena Heredero Rodriguez, Lead Specialist at the MIF, "We need to speak the language of concrete data to bring employers on board, to show them the return on investment of hiring a NEO youth." Similarly, sharing NEO outcomes, lessons learned, and concrete results with the public sector—government leaders, especially—will be important if NEO's positive track record is to be transformed into lasting policy change. As IYF's CEO, Bill Reese, said, “Youth unemployment is not a disease that can be cured quickly, with a vaccine—it takes time, and the political will to follow through. But it’s imperative if we’re to reach the 2030 goal of eradicating extreme poverty.” 

Despite great strides made during the NEO initiative, the work of connecting young people to economic opportunities continues. The overwhelming impression that emerged from NEO: A Legacy of Innovation for the Future is that everyone involved in the alliance is ready for the challenge of moving the work forward.