Today, to be young in Spain is to live a life far removed from the romance and hope its culture evokes. Facing a devastated economy and poor employment prospects, the aspirations of youth in the country are challenged by an uncertain future. Despite these obstacles, however, Salesian missionaries in Madrid are committed to reigniting their dreams and fueling their opportunities, one person at a time.
When economies across Europe began to collapse in 2009, Spain was among the hardest hit; of the 27 countries comprising the European Union (EU), it now suffers the greatest economic and societal inequality. Close to 25 percent of workers are unemployed, and a growing number of citizens can’t afford to buy the food they need for adequate nutrition. One in five people live below the poverty line; and youth struggle the most to find and retain stable employment.
Immigrant youth, especially -- newly arrived from war-torn or impoverished countries in search of a new life -- are even further disenfranchised. With rudimentary language skills, few social connections and difficulty navigating the financial system, they face an uphill battle to achieve an independent future free from poverty.
For these reasons, Salesian missionaries in Madrid have launched an innovative new program spearheaded by the Pinardi Federation of Salesian Social Platforms, and in collaboration with the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, called “First Professional Experience”. Through this program, implemented at the end of 2014, students are matched with recognized companies in the hospitality and tourism industry including Meliá Hotels International, the Hilton Madrid Airport, KFC, the Accenture Foundation and others. Individually assisted by professional mentors, these students complete two- to four-month internships where they learn practical jobs skills. They also have access to English language lessons, financial education and life skills training, all of which aim to increase their future employability.
“With so many young people out of work and facing conditions of poverty in Spain, it is vital for Salesian-led workforce development programs to respond to market demand,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Students in these programs have a real opportunity to enter the workforce prepared both in terms of the skills they have learned, and in their social development -- ensuring their ability to find and retain livable-wage jobs throughout their lifetime.”
Recently, the Pinardi Federation and executives of JP Morgan Chase gathered to honor the premier graduating class of “First Professional Experience.” Noting that 73 of its 97 participants have already secured jobs -- a 75% success rate -- JP Morgan managing director Pedro Boada observed that “these results demonstrate that the collaboration between companies and social organizations is the best way to ensure that young people have a better present and a better future.”
Sheila, one of the program’s graduates, is living proof of Boada’s words. Wearing the official uniform of her new Hilton employer -- and a broad grin -- she exclaims, “this program has been very rewarding!”
Our mission equips marginalized youth with the tools and skills they need to build a better future through stable employment. What’s your mission?