As of today, Vietnam remains a lower-middle income country. While the country has generally made strong progress towards SDG 1 (to end poverty in all its forms, everywhere) relative to its peers, a core principle of the government’s educational reform strategy is inclusiveness, particularly for the 20% hardest to reach, primarily poor disadvantaged families in remote central and northern Vietnam (IMF working paper, Feb 2020). Only 6% of adults who are ethnic minorities have a vocational or tertiary education, compared with 20% of Vietnamese Kinh or Hoa adults. COVID-19 has worsened unemployment in the adult and youth population. Already in the past (in 2019, the rate of youth unemployment was 6.94%, ILO), and now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnamese young people (aged 15-24) face significant unemployment issues: in December 2020, their unemployment rate stood at 7.05%, which was 4.2 times higher than amongst people aged 25 and older, accounting for 81% of the total unemployed population nationwide. Of those who have employment, the quality of their jobs has always been a considerable issue. According to the Vietnamese General Statistics Office (GSO). In 2017, Vietnam had more than 18 million people working in informal jobs – which are characterized as unsafe and unstable, with low-income and long working hours. Young people and young adults aged 15-29 were the second major group affected. Vietnam has become one of the Asia-pacific countries with very high rates of informal work (ILO Vietnam). Despite the high rates of unemployment and informal employment amongst young people, there is still a shortage of skilled workers in the market. At the end of December 2020, the rate of trained labor only accounted for 24.1% of total labor population (GSO). The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly aggravated the situation. By December 2020, 32.1 million people older than 15 years old were affected by the pandemic, including having lost their jobs, working reduced hours and earning less income. Vulnerable populations including those with low incomes, people with disabilities and those who are not trained and working in simple jobs, have been the most affected (GSO, 2020).
STREETS International was founded by Neal Bermas (Chairperson) and Sondra Stewart (Board of Directors) in 2009 and has been operating in Vietnam since 2009, opening a training centre and a Restaurant Café in Hoi An. The objective of STREETS International is to provide a comprehensive and holistic education and professional level training programme as well as apprenticing to the most marginalized youth in Vietnam to open a direct pathway to formal employment for careers in culinary arts and hospitality service. Ultimately, STREET’s objective is to secure long-term, dignified and growth-oriented professional careers in the hospitality and tourism sector. Trainees are recruited via a vast network of community partners and organisations in Vietnam. The applicant profile includes youth aged 16-20, at 6th grade literacy level, full time resident or sponsored by an orphanage or community shelters. After a 3-month recruitment process in different phases, they join a 15-month comprehensive training programme which is composed of:
1. Training in culinary arts or hospitality,
2. Training in life skills (including personal hygiene, sexual education, financial literacy, job readiness skills with frequently inviting HR leaders) and in 21st century life skills (English language skills and computer),
3. On the job apprenticing in two STREETS social enterprises, the Restaurant Café and/or Oodles of Noodles; the culinary students receive customer facing English language experience as the hospitality students get in the STREETS restaurant; this real-life exposure in a high-pressure environment cements the classroom training and builds confidence trainees need to thrive in their early careers),
4. A supervised housing system that includes trainees preparation for an independent life (e.g. trainees are provided with a monthly cash meal allowance, which is pooled among themselves to buy food and take turns preparing the meals).
Graduates of STREETS receive a degree in either culinary arts or hospitality and a certificate in food safety issued in conjunction with the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. 100 per cent of STREETS graduates are employed within 60 days of graduation, almost all at leading international hotels and resorts. Approx. 30% of the graduates are promoted to supervisory level within 2 years of graduation.
The STREETS programme has been awarded by the Clinton Global Initiative, Hyatt Thrive and the World Travel and Tourism Council, among others. For his work, the founder of STREETS Neal Bermas has been recognized as a CNN Hero.
EMpower’s 1st grant to STREETS International (STREETS) will allow the organisation: 1. to offer its holistic 15-month vocational training programme in culinary arts and hospitality service to 56 marginalized young people 16-22 years old (half of them young women and at least 10% from ethnic minorities) and 2. to take preparatory steps to be able to increase access and participation in the programme of young single mothers in providing e.g. child care and separate housing so that can secure long-term and dignified professional careers in tourism.
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