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Making Job Searches Faster and More Effective in Guatemala

This post was authored by Marco Mateo from Palladium.

Finding a job in Guatemala is hard work. Outside the capital, there are no newspapers advertising vacancies. Employment fairs are few and far between — people knock on doors or spot notices on the street. Most youth get their first job through a family member or friend. Competition is fierce: 200,000 young people enter the job market every year, and the economy only creates 20,000 new jobs, according to the Foundation for the Development of Guatemala.

Sandra Agustin, aged 28, with a Grade 10 education and two small children, has only had work in small shops and restaurants, taking home less than $260 a month. Too often she has had to work extra hours for no extra pay. She felt trapped but also unable to spend time with her children.

Alfonso Sandoval, aged 23, has a wife and a four-year-old child and had previously only worked as an assistant on a local bus — irregular work at low pay.

“My brothers tell me how hard the work is [in the United States],” said Urias Velasquez, from Chiantla, Huehuetenango. Huehuetenango is the western department with the highest number of irregular migrants — more than 17,000 returned in 2018. “I do not want to leave. I’m looking for a job here, but I’ve spent three years trying to find a formal job.”

USAID’s Creating Economic Opportunities Project aims to change this reality — a reality that is partly behind the wave of irregular migrants — and help qualified people find jobs that give them the stability and prosperity they want for their families.

One of the innovations of the project has been simply to take traditional job fairs out to smaller cities where neither businesses nor job seekers have experienced them. Three large employment fairs run by the Ministry of Labor and the American Chamber of Commerce in Guatemala took place in Quetzaltenango and the city of Huehuetenango — Huehuetenango had not seen one of these for seven years — as well as two fairs in collaboration with municipal job centers in Quetzaltenango and Chiantla, Huehuetenango.

“I came to this fair today because it lets me apply for jobs at lots of companies at the same time,” said 50-year-old Ever Lopez at the national employment fair in Guatemala City earlier this year. He spent eight years in the United States and came back more than a decade ago. “This increases my chances of finding a job.”

“Youth are less qualified because we have less experience,” said recent high school graduate Yurissa Escobar at a Quetzaltenango fair in April. “But I liked the process here which included interviews. You can tell the recruiters were really listening and giving me a chance to prove myself.”

“We have had good prospects,” said Sales Manager Fredy Ramirez, from solar panel company Energica Solar, after an event in Quetzaltenango in March.

Capacity building workshops have been offered before, during, and after these events to promote awareness about skills that employers demand and build capacity in job-search skills. Led by experts, workshops include topics such as attitudes and competencies for customer service and sales; soft skills like responsibility, self-assurance, and teamwork; and habits and values of successful job searches.

“I thought I was doing things well,” said accountant Lidia Mendez at an April event. “But now I have an idea what companies are looking for.”

Targeted and Online Methods

Another effective project innovation is a targeted employment fair: an employment fair organized specifically for one or two businesses seeking new staff. More than a dozen such fairs have been held in all six departments where the project is operating.

“The most significant difference in this way of recruiting staff is that we see candidates face to face,” said Alexander Mazariegos, human resources coordinator for a recruiting agency at a fair in Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango, seeking 70 jobs for a local supermarket chain. “In the traditional method, we review applications in the office and do not have a chance to talk to candidates and get to know a little bit about their work experience or characters.”

“We have not used this method for recruiting personnel and it is very effective,” said Yamileth De la Pena, human resources coordinator for a pharmacy chain at another fair.

Finally, the project has piloted the application of technology to job searching. Working together with online job-search platform, Conectate Today, and Farmacias Batres, a pharmacy chain, a virtual page was set up announcing the positions and their profiles. Within a week, 1,300 applications were received. Ten days later, 28 high-potential candidates were asked to come to the fair for interviews. Farmacias Batres Human Resources Manager Jessica Valdez expected to hire the first candidates within two weeks of the interviews.

The result is that more Guatemalans are finding better jobs more easily, especially in regions with high migration rates.

Twenty-eight-year-old Sandra Agustin Gomez, wife and mother of two, found a job at Calma Café in Huehuetenango, a new small business supported by the project. As a Grade 10 graduate, she was subject to informal jobs with long hours and low pay. Now, she earns $360 a month plus benefits, and she has normal hours that allow her to spend more time with her small children. She has already opened a savings account and plans to go back to school to improve her education.

Skarleth Escobar, a 23-year-old single mother with an 18-month-old baby, was let go at her last job because of her commitments with a child and night school. At a job fair in Huehuetenango in February she was interviewed by a cooperative bank and is now earning $475 a month plus benefits as a client services officer, in an environment that allows her to be a mother and a student again. After her first paycheck, “I rushed out to buy shoes for my son, because I had not been able to do this before,” she said. Now she is saving to build a little house and pay for her son’s education.

Gonzalo Mejia, an engineering student who came to Huehuetenango with his wife and child looking for work, is now a senior operator in charge of machinery at a local hardware chain, making $440 a month plus benefits. He has now paid back debts incurred from two years of unemployment, and has registered once again at university, so he can finish his degree and improve his prospects.

So far, more than 740 people have found jobs as a result of the project — good jobs in growing companies, with above-average salaries and benefits. This is how USAID creates economic opportunity and promotes prosperity and self-reliance in Guatemalan communities.

Palladium implements the Creating Economic Opportunities Project.