Domingo Rolón is re-inventing the venerable practice of trade apprenticeship in light of contemporary Paraguay's human resource needs and within a context of rapid urbanization and impersonal free market economics.
The New Idea
Domingo Rolón has created an automobile garage and workshop that employs and trains unskilled, rural youth migrants in Paraguay's capital city. The youngsters earn a fair wage while learning a craft that can provide them with a permanent livelihood in the city. The workshop is self-sustaining through the same commercial activities that provide learning experiences for the youth.
Having proven that this apprenticeship approach is both commercially viable and beneficial for the youth apprentices, Domingo is now concentrating on transferring the model to other self-employed professionals, including mechanics and motor reconstruction specialists and building and construction artisans (e.g., carpenters, tilers and electricians).
As Paraguay emerges from 35 years of military dictatorship, it must develop new models and institutions to cope with virtually every manner of social problem. Perhaps no problem is more visible and alarming in this relatively small country of five million persons than growing youth unemployment. While official figures put unemployment at nine percent, authoritative studies indicate that more than of the economically active segment of the population works in the informal economy, where average earning levels do not meet basic survival needs.The obvious way forward is through growth in the small business sector and, relatedly, through more remunerative levels of self-employment. A dismal history of poor public education is a general constraint in this regard, as are the existing technical and vocational training institutions, which are too few in number and require levels of education that the rural youngsters simply do not have. In short, the mechanisms to upgrade Paraguay's youthful human resources to enable them to engage in a democratizing market economy have yet to be created.
Domingo's successful automobile garage and workshop offer a promising new model of trade apprenticeship designed specifically for new youth arrivals to the city from indigenous rural communities. Having shown that one can operate a commercially viable trade while training unskilled youth, Domingo's strategy is to transfer his model to other professions, including mechanics and motor reconstruction specialists and building and construction artisans.
Domingo has formed an association of established artisans who are prepared to make the social commitment to providing apprenticeships for the youth migrants. Consistent with the work culture of the artisans, the association is open and tending toward informality in its operation, but Domingo nonetheless has put together a pilot group that is serving 500 youth. To ensure that these youth have good job prospects, Domingo has made agreements with the largest auto import companies (all the initial apprenticeships are in the field of auto mechanics) to hire the youth graduates from his program. His main concern, then, is to instill in the participating artisans a true commitment to training the youth. For this reason he is proceeding slowly in drawing in more artisans until he is confident that he has a proven formula to orient and supervise the artisan members of the association.
As many of the youth arrive with little or no formal education, Domingo has established an agreement with a local adult education program (providing literacy and other adult basic education courses) under which his youth may take courses at the school in exchange for the school being able to access some courses on mechanics at his workshop.
Domingo keeps the best students as teacher-trainers in his workshop and has a medium-term plan to enable some of them to set up similar workshops in the countryside.
Domingo Rolón, who is from the rural areas speaking principally Guaraní, began his professional life as a youth worker with the Catholic Church in the 1970s, where he eventually assumed overall responsibility for the human rights and citizenship education for Catholic Agriculture Youth in the country's rural areas.
In 1978, after being tortured, arrested and imprisoned for two years by the military regime, Domingo went into exile in Argentina. He returned to Paraguay in 1980 and resumed his efforts to the provide rural youngsters with better ways of living, joining the same Catholic movements. During this time he also became a skilled mechanic.
In 1990, economic necessity drove him to establish a car repair business, and merging it with his lifelong desire to provide opportunities for rural youth, he discovered the ingredients for his new model of trade apprenticeship. For the next several years he built up the business-cum-training workshop until he was sure that he had a model that could be widely replicated.
Today in Paraguay, Domingo's workshop is the first port of call for literally hundreds of new youth migrants to the capital. They arrive on his doorstep carrying little more than a crumpled piece of paper scribbled with his address. And when they do arrive, they are very welcome.