Ivette Contreras

El Salvador: Before targeting violence, we should focus on youth’s disenchantment

El Salvador: Before targeting violence, we should focus on youth’s disenchantment

Undoubtedly, violence is a manifestation of many social problems that have been ignored in the country for years. One of those problems for young Salvadorans is the ability to get high-quality jobs, even when they have finished high-school or even college.

Although El Salvador has always shown a low level of unemployment compared to other countries, the Salvadoran labor market has other problems that are not so obvious. While it is true that the labor force is mostly occupied, very few people have access to high-quality jobs where they are certain of a contract, social protection and benefits according to the law.

This complicated outlook of the labor market leads to the disenchantment of the youth. They are the ones who stop believing that education will guarantee a job to improve their living conditions. Surely, this disenchantment is one of the reasons why, in El Salvador, 1 in 3 young people between 18 and 25 years old do not study or work (EHPM 2017).

We are foregoing the main capital that our country has: its own people. Practically, we do not have another capital such as oil, copper mines or diamonds; we only have our people, there is no more. For this reason, we cannot afford to leave these young people behind.

Other countries have decided to bet on the creation of jobs and have made important advances. Mainly, they have done it using two paths (both complementary to my opinion): attraction of foreign investment and application of incentives for the creation of companies. In my opinion, El Salvador must improve its business climate to then bet on foreign investment. However, the other road looks more affordable. So, after a review of public policies, I propose 4 ideas to achieve this goal:

On the first hand, incentives for entrepreneurship could be promoted by reducing taxes according to the number of jobs that are created (taking care that they are high-quality jobs). I believe that solving youth disenchantment contributes more to the development of the country than a few dollars of taxes.

Secondly, international experience suggests that technical education can reduce the gap between education and the labor market, facilitating the hiring of young people who do not have experience. Chile and Colombia have developed policies in this line with results that have favored youth. An important requirement is that technical education is not only be based on traditional sectors where markets are already saturated. In El Salvador, there are initiatives to train young people in cosmetology, bakery and mechanics; however, these initiatives are focused only on already saturated markets, you can find everywhere a beauty salon or a bakery. In order to guarantee high-quality jobs, the country must define other strategic sectors. Initiatives of innovation or adoption of new technologies would be very relevant.

Another option could be developing technical training programs where people from medium and large companies provide consultancies to micro or small companies. The key is that technical advice comes from people in the business, not from people who have never set up a business. Medium and large companies could integrate these ideas into their social responsibility programs.

Finally, micro and small businesses need real support for export. The Salvadoran market is small, so it cannot provide the economies of scale necessary to ensure that companies flourish. In this case, export to other markets becomes vital. It also becomes relevant that exports are constant, not that companies manage to export once and that is considered an achievement. Without a bigger market you cannot create more jobs.

To finish, beyond the problem of violence it is important to question ourselves about the roots that have been cultivated for decades. The disenchantment suffered by young people is not going to be solved with more education policies but realizing the dream that when you get educated you get a good job.

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