Employer Engagement: Four Lessons From Brazil

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During a recent (Re)Connecting Youth exchange visit to the Youth Empowerment Project in New Orleans, Fernando Alves, Founder of Rede Cidadã (the Citizen’s Network) in Brazil, shared key insights for engaging employers in the training and hiring of underserved youth. 

Rede, now the fourth largest youth-serving NGO in Brazil, counts among its corporate partners some of the country’s biggest and most well-known companies, including AccentureCarrefourCoca-Cola-BrasilNatura, and Starbucks. Since its founding in 2002, the organization has worked with over 2,600 companies to create shared value—enlisting their support in training low-income youth for the job market while connecting businesses to qualified apprentices and entry-level employees. 

Below are four lessons Rede has gleaned in building win-win partnerships with companies that have resulted in more than 60,000 youth securing jobs or apprenticeships.

  1. Begin with a bold vision. Alves launched Rede with a bold vision to unite business, government, and civil society organizations to address urgent social challenges in Brazil—creating a true citizen’s network. The organization emphasizes core values in its work, including nurturing empathy among youth and employers, building on young people’s strengths and assets, and cultivating an ethos of social responsibility. Equally important is Rede’s belief in “work and life as one,” and that work not be viewed as simply a means to an end. Alves realized early on that youth were far more likely to succeed on the job if they could see how their efforts in the workplace contributed to their ability to achieve a better life overall. 
  2. Advocate for and leverage policies that help prepare youth for the workforce. A major boon to Rede’s work is Brazil’s Law 10,097. The policy requires medium- and large-scale companies to provide paid apprenticeships to youth, ages 14 to 24, equal to five percent of their employee base. For a business with 300 employees, that translates into 15 apprentices at any one time. Companies that comply with the law receive a tax break, those that don’t pay a fine. In 2009, Rede launched its Apprenticeship Program to help companies prepare youth for the workplace. In exchange, businesses pay a monthly fee per youth to Rede, with such fees now accounting for 98 percent of the organization’s annual revenue. To be eligible, youth must be either enrolled in high school or have graduated. The majority of participants come from low-income backgrounds.

    Companies contract youth enrolled in the Apprenticeship Program for 11 to 16 months, during which time they spend one day per week at a Rede Cidadã training center and four days on-the-job. Rede’s curriculum includes modules on IT training, workplace behavior, personal development (e.g., substance abuse prevention, reproductive health education), office skills, and job search techniques. The apprenticeship approach provides young people with the chance to apply their training to real on-the-job experiences, making it more relatable.  

“We’re reaching a moment in time when humanity is saying it’s necessary that we work together to create a better world. Successful companies want their environment to be a great place to work.”

—Fernando Alves, Founder, The Citizen’s Network

  1. Don’t ignore the importance of social-emotional learning. While for many years, Rede focused on equipping youth with technical skills, its approach today focuses almost exclusively on life skills training. “Once we delivered 70 different technical training programs—from equipping youth to be cashiers to waiters,” says Alves. “We then realized it’s not enough to give technical training. Young people need to know how to behave in a corporate environment and how to live and work according to key values as responsible citizens.” 

    The shift in Rede’s approach came largely in response to employer needs and concerns over staff retention, with young entry-level workers more apt to leave their jobs within a year due to dissatisfaction and/or conflicts at work. Helping youth become more self-aware—and better able to manage their emotions—was critical to their long-term success in the workplace. After seeing the impact of this social-emotional training on new hires, companies began asking Rede to train cohorts of existing staff—young and old.

    To further strengthen young people’s self-knowledge and wellbeing at work, in 2014 Rede began integrating movement, mindfulness, and other mind-body approaches into its training curricula. Results to date reflect a 15 percent increase in job retention among youth tracked over a one year period. 
  2. Promote a concept of ‘shared HR.’ An approach that Alves calls ‘shared HR’ is critical to Rede’s success. It means that for one year after hiring a young person from Rede’s employability training, Rede staff maintain contact with both the youth and the employer. “As a result, companies feel secure hiring one of our trained youth,” says Alves, “and they know if they have a problem, they can reach out to us so we can help mediate issues that arise.” This lowers the hiring risk for the company but also ensures young people get support navigating an initially unfamiliar work environment and improves retention and success on the job. To ensure responsiveness to employer needs, Rede also administers annual satisfaction surveys to its corporate partners, making adjustments and improvements to its services as needed. 

Through such strategies, Rede has earned the trust of key corporate decision-makers in Brazil, while also attracting attention from outside the country. In 2016, the organization was ranked 121st out of 500 global NGOs by the Swiss-based NGO Advisor based on criteria that included innovation, governance, and impact.

Reinforcing Rede’s emphasis on effectiveness and accountability is Alves’ gift for conveying to potential partners a positive vision of society in which all sectors work together to cultivate engaged citizens. “We’re reaching a moment in time when humanity is saying it’s necessary that we work together to create a better world,” he says. “Successful companies want their environment to be a great place to work.”

Click here to learn more about '(Re)Connecting Youth: Exchanging Global Lessons (2016-2019)' Initiative.

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