The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation's Youth Empowered for Success (YES!) program, in partnership with Mercy Corps and other local partners, including Tamma Corp and the Liberian Coca-Cola Bottling Company, recently organized the first YES! Career Fair in Liberia. The two-day fair was the largest in Liberian history, drawing more than 800 youth from varied backgrounds and 18 employers representing a range of industries. The event was attended by the Deputy Minister of Labor, and representatives from the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Throughout the event, the Painesville town hall was abuzz with excitement from both the youth who gathered as early as 6.30 a.m. and the employers. As the Results, Learning, and Research coordinator with YES! this was my first time in Liberia, and only my second in West Africa. I had attended several other career fairs back home in Kenya, and while studying abroad, but the enthusiasm here was truly infectious. Given that this was the first career fair of its size to ever be held in Liberia, the high turnout was expected. Even the Deputy Minister of Labour Hon. Augustine Williams said, "We have had the opportunity to attend several job fairs…but none as extensive as this one." He was confident that initiatives such as the YES! Fair "open corridors for the youth and prospective employees to interact directly about opportunities and challenges."  

The goal of the event was to enable job-seeking youth to gain practical advice by engaging directly with employers and to stimulate local human resources firms and service providers to invest in career fairs as an effective way to link youth to opportunities. 

Youth receive CV coaching from the YES! team.

As Samuel K. Mappy, a coordinator with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, observed: Youth "don't engage with employers – only if you know them already. Events like this [are] the only way they can interact with employers."

For young people like Teta, 25, the career fair, helped "to be brave and interact with companies." Of the youth I spoke to, many had been out of school for several years, and had become discouraged that without connections, they would never find work. A few, like Rosetta, felt more confident that not all the "jobs were already filled as usual," and that they might have a fair chance to engage with potential employers. Considering a large fraction of the youth reported that they either did not have any source of income, or primarily work hustle jobs, the opportunity to build their employability skills and network with companies was a truly meaningful one.

In addition to panel discussions on youth unemployment and potential employment opportunities in Liberia, the YES! Program team provided CV coaching to over 300 youth, and nearly as many participated in other employability training sessions. These sessions were my favourite part of the fair, and quite a few other attending youth as well. At some point, the queues were so long that I also stepped in to join the team offering feedback. I was glad that youth like Teta, 25, took full advantage of the YES! coaching:

"I came to search for a job, make my CV available, and speak to employers…when I came [yesterday] I had a lot of errors on my CV – then I met with the YES! team and learned how to improve it. I already changed my CV."

After the training, Gregory, a 27 year old IT graduate, felt more confident in his skills, and made certain to submit a few job applications:

"I applied to internship programs in companies that are straight into technology. I told them that I built a virtual lab on my computer – YES! taught me on effective job applications. I'm pushing to do my best – if I get the chance to be accepted, I will surely stay there."

Indeed, the companies present seemed keen to recruit from the youth participants. Several businesses expressed interest in offering youth internships and even full-time opportunities.

Varfee, 26, was also excited about the possibilities the fair held for young people like himself: "For youth, things like this will promote self-reliance." YES! will follow up with the companies that attended to track any further opportunities that may arise, but if most of the participants left feeling like Kin-Ayeneh: excited, humble, and eager to learn more – then the career fair was a success. Furthermore, as the deputy minister of labor put it, "with concerted effort from other stakeholders – more can be achieved." Drawing on feedback from this first career fair, YES! expects to organize two more fairs by the end of 2018. I am keen that we engage a wider range of partners in succeeding fairs to ensure that as we equip youth with relevant skills, we keep the zeal that inspired me in so many of the participants alive by continuing to facilitate their access to economic opportunities.

Alexis Teyie is the coordinator for Results, Learning and Research in the Youth Empowered for Success (YES!) program at Mercy Corps in Nairobi, Kenya.