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Chronic Unemployment in the Russian Far East

Just across the Amur River from China, Blagoveshensk has no shortage of students and college graduates. Although the city boasts over two dozen colleges and professional training institutes, 58 percent of its young people report serious problems in finding jobs after graduation. Young people, who lack experience and confidence, cannot deal successfully with the tough competition in today's job market. They do not now how to present their skills and abilities in a persuasive way. The problem is largely due to the absence of effective job placement services for youth.

A group of local psychologists, recognizing that many young people were suffering from depression due to their job-hunting difficulties, formed an NGO called Hope to address the problem. They noted that chronic joblessness was leading some local youth into drug and alcohol addiction and other harmful social activities.

Psychologist Galina Kim initiated a youth unemployment project called "Be Persistent." In a culture where young people are expected to stiffen their spines and just go out and get a job, Kim's seminars in interview skills, professional telephone manners and effective resume writing helped numerous young people get interviews and land jobs in their fields.

The success of Kim's seminars led the NGO offer trainings to other interested volunteers in how to help Blagoveshensk students gain confidence and speak more successfully to potential employers. The demand for these youth seminars was so strong that ultimately the project grew to include13 groups, each with about a dozen participants. The lessons required active participation on the part of trainees, often in the form of role-playing, and they emphasized personal growth as well as techniques for finding a job. Students were encouraged to build on their knowledge of themselves to set life goals and formulate a professional image. They practiced making presentations that described their special qualifications. In many cases, presenting themselves favorably to a potential employer was a skill they had never had learned before.

A student named Marina said, "Until the class, I had little self-esteem. Now I have found dignity not only in myself but in those around me. I understand others better, and I understand how to present myself to employers better. I don't despair if I am not hired-I realize that if you want to achieve your goals, you must keep trying."

Every student left the trainings with three brochures: "How to Land Your First Job," "Preparing to Interview with an Employer," and "Job Hunting by Telephone." In addition, each one prepared an autobiography, a professional resume and a cover letter. With these documents in hand, students felt themselves much better prepared to seek professional employment.

The skill-building sessions proved their effectiveness immediately: 47 out of 135 participants found jobs right away. Those who were not successful right away nevertheless gained self-confidence. Today, all of the remaining participants have found jobs.

The success of the "Be Persistent" project inspired some of the participants to see that it continued. A group of 17 trainers are currently offering the course to young people in Blagoveshensk. Moreover, Amur State University, recognizing the need identified by the NGO psychologists, have created a job placement service at the university. Amur State's newly equipped career services office will begin by establishing a job vacancy bank and a database of students seeking professional positions.

As for the NGO, the need for its services have been acknowledged by local, regional, and federal authorities in Blagoveshensk. Working together with the authorities, Hope developed an agreement on solving student job placement issues, which was signed by officials at Amur State University, the department of federal-state work employment and the youth and child affairs office of the City of Blagoveshensk. The agreement will enable Hope to join forces with these government agencies and local educational institutions to broaden the effort to create job possibilities for college graduates.

The story of the Blagoveshensk NGO Hope demonstrates how concerned citizens who recognize a youth problem and successfully address it can attract a great deal of support from their community since the fate of young people in a town or city directly affects the quality of life of everyone who lives there. Helping youth find jobs and feel better about themselves can make a powerful contribution to the building of civil society.

Olga Ancha is the editor of ISAR-Far East's journal Notes from the Far East. Translated by Tamara Kowalski.

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