COS KALSU, Iraq - Until the beginning of this year, Abas Tahir Shimal had aspirations to work as a salesman in his hometown of Basra. However, such jobs for young men in his neighborhood are few. Not surprisingly, a regular paycheck for many of Basra's youth is not so regular.

When Abas heard of a unique program in Basra offering young men and women apprenticeships with local manufacturers and workshops, he stepped forward. Now, with six months under his belt as a welder-in-training, the future appears brighter for the 20-year-old.

His story of gainful employment was just one told July 7 when Iraqi and British officials met at the Basra Operations Center to recount the success of the Youth Employment Pilot Program (YEPP), a work training initiative that in the last 10 months has placed more than 400 young Basra work trainees with area businesses.

YEPP was implemented through an agreement between the British government and the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, which is in charge of the Basra Works Department and local vocational training centers that are participating in training many of the apprentices.

YEPP is a means for apprentices to gain practical skills and workplace experience that a wide range of area employers in Basra currently seek. Some skill sets include lathing, welding, carpentry and sewing.

"As far as we know, this is the first program of its kind in Iraq," said Lucia Wilde, head of the United Kingdom's Department of International Development in Iraq. When YEPP was rolled out last year, the department earmarked $1.5 million to pay half of the apprentices' wages. The other half is paid by employers who agree to take on the trainees.

Oliver Bance, YEPP program manager, said the initiative has been a clear success. Since enlisting about 200 employers, the program has spurred its own particular labor movement.

"It's a not a large area, but has a great number of (employment) sectors and number of skills," Bance said.

One of the program's aims is to cultivate an able workforce that will contribute to Basra's oil industry, as well as partnership opportunities in other industries.

Bance said that last October, stakeholders identified potential employers through the Ministry of Labor, advertising spots, and even sending teams out door-to-door to talk with businesses about the potential benefits of the pilot project.

After choosing a job path, most apprentices received two months of vocational training at a local training center before being matched with a prospective employer. Adil Muhammad Ali is the training manager of Abu Al Kaseeb Vocational Training Center- one of two Basra schools providing vocational training to YEPP participants.

"We have given training to 40 persons," during the last two months, he said.

While some trainees - short on experience - struggled with basic workplace routines, such as rising early for work, many "took to it as a duck to water," Wilde said.

Abas said his own workplace experience is going on along swimmingly and he has secured a position with the manufacturer that he currently works for once his training concludes.

"It's a very good job," he said. "My family is very happy."

Wilde said once YEPP concludes in the next few months, the hope is that Iraq's labor department will fund an expanded version that will be offered to other provinces.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16