How Sports Are Linked to Critical Work Readiness Skills

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In the 21st century, skills acquisition is not confined to the classroom; learning can happen anywhere, including the sports field. Personally, I have been playing competitive soccer my whole life, and the skills I gained as a young person on the pitch—teamwork, creativity, discipline, communication, determination, leadership, and punctuality—have been instrumental to my own success on and off the field.

This Saturday, July 15 is World Youth Skills Day, an opportunity to focus attention on the need for young people to develop the skills that will help them secure and sustain meaningful livelihoods. At IYF, this work is in the forefront of our minds every day. It’s what motivates the work we do, and it’s why we have been so proud of Sport for Kenyan Youth Employment (SKYE)—an initiative characterized by helping young people accomplish their greatest goals.

In 2014, when Barclays Bank PLC inquired whether IYF was interested in piloting a sport for development program with employment outcomes, I jumped at the opportunity to combine my passion for sport with my desire to make a difference in the lives of young people. About a year later, IYF, Barclays Bank, and local partner Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA)—one of Kenya’s leading sport for development organizations—launched SKYE. The initiative, which ended this spring, coupled the competencies associated with participation in sport with IYF’s Passport to Success®(PTS) lessons in work readiness skills.

The fit between life skills and soccer training proved to be a natural one, and by leveraging MYSA’s top-notch soccer programming and IYF’s track record in youth employability, the SKYE initiative scored important successes. SKYE provided 3,100 young Kenyans from Nairobi’s economically deprived Mathare neighborhood with critical life, financial literacy, and technical skills. Moreover, 70 percent of the 500-plus young people who went through the project’s intensive employment pathway—which included PTS, on-the-job training in the construction industry, and job placement activities in partnership with Arc Skills—are either employed or in school.

At MYSA’s 2016 youth graduation, that organization’s founder, Bob Munro, said, “Today is my second happiest day, after the organization’s founding—seeing all these young people getting jobs.” He’s referring to youth like Navina, a single mother who dropped out of school after becoming pregnant. After battling gender discrimination in the workplace, she lacked the means to support herself and her young son. After completing SKYE, she is now a highly-skilled mason, earning a sufficient income in Kenya’s booming construction industry to afford her own house.

Indeed, employers in Kenya’s construction industry are knocking on MYSA’s doors looking for SKYE-trained masons, tilers, painters, electricians and plumbers. SKYE graduates like Navina, Joseph, and Linnet, are recognized as hard working, dependable, punctual, committed to personal safety, and better able to adhere to timelines on the construction site. SKYE provided an opportunity for young people from extremely difficult backgrounds to transform themselves into confident, competent, enterprising professionals. Moreover, SKYE graduates have set a new industry standard for excellence and are proving why life skills matter on construction sites.

Although the football pitch, as it’s called in Kenya, might not be the most obvious place to hone work-relevant skills, this method of meeting young people where they are offers an important way to engage them in critical skills training.

Matthew Breman is IYF’s Regional Director, Africa.

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