The eNCounter Program: Considering Your Future Every Step of the Way

By Justin Wood.

Entry level. They can be frustrating words for millennials these days.

When I finished university – part of the class of 2013 – I stepped into a job market that was full of opportunity, but not the kind I was expecting. More applications than I care to remember listed prior experience, sometimes years worth, as a requirement for full time, paid positions. I could never quite understand how graduates, fresh out of finals, were supposed to have experience under their belt – but so it was. In the meantime, employers eagerly filled unpaid internships and advertised volunteer placements. The internship seemed to constitute a new rite of passage that granted access to “entry level” career opportunities.

After completing my degree it quickly became clear that paid, full-time work was scarce in my particular sectors of interest. Having just finished four years of school, unpaid work wouldn’t be sustainable for long. So, as many graduates did, I too broadened my scope and took opportunities as they came, wherever they came from. I searched for paid work in related fields. I took unpaid work on the side. I tried to capitalize on every learning opportunity that presented itself. My goal was to build a resume of transferrable skills that, in time, would help me transition into the positions I was most interested in.

Sunny skies over Urubamba, Peru, home of the Nexos Comunitarios development office. December, 2015.
Sunny skies over Urubamba, Peru, home of the Nexos Comunitarios development office. December, 2015.

In the fall of 2015, after a brief stint with a research institute and a season in government, I took a position with a small development organization in Peru. Nexos Comunitarios provided me with my first exposure to development work and the day-to-day operations of a not-for-profit. As a development student, this was an opportunity I had been patiently waiting for.

Nexos Comunitarios (NC) is a Peruvian non-profit organization working in the High-Andean communities of South-Eastern Peru. NC, as an organization, focuses its efforts on fostering human capital in some of the most remote indigenous communities in the Andes. Currently, NC is working on community projects related to nutrition, food security and elementary education. To fund their work, NC provides foreign post-secondary students with opportunities to travel and learn with the organization on short-term exposure trips.

I arrived for my three-month placement with NC in October 2015. One of my tasks was to help develop a new program for foreign students; one that was longer in duration and offered a more comprehensive learning experience. Having studied development and public policy, I seized the opportunity to design a program that responded to a very specific need. It started with a couple basic questions: what experiences would be most helpful to students seeking careers in development, policy or non-profit work? What skills could NC equip students with to better position them for entry-level positions?

With these questions in mind, the eNCounter Program was formed. The eNCounter Program revolves around four components of active learning: 1) practical skill building in development and non-profit management 2) academic learning 3) language training, and 4) cultural exposure and engagement. Each component of the program is designed to be an asset; to appeal to future employers.

We wanted to ensure the fundamentals of non-profit management were covered; the importance of budgetary, financial, and contingency planning, for example, and the steps in a typical grant application. We wanted to open participants up to new perspectives in academia through study in South America, and simultaneously enhance students’ resumes by offering formal certificates for completed courses taught by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru. We recognized the importance of language as an asset in the workplace, and have coordinated with local, Peruvian instructors to offer intensive language training, and we have provided opportunity for both structured cultural engagement and leisure exploration to round out students’ experience in Peru. Together, we tried to ensure that every experience in the eNCounter Program would be helpful to students in launching their careers.

Interview photo in Cuncani during the exploration work with Carleton University students in June, 2015.
Interview photo in Cuncani during the exploration work with Carleton University students in June, 2015.

After nearly 10 years of work, both in student programs and development, Nexos Comunitarios is excited to continue building on the efforts and experience of its predecessor, Nexos Voluntarios, with the launch of the eNCounter Program. Through the sharing of knowledge and experience, NC hopes to provide future development workers, policy experts and non-profit leaders with the skills and experiences essential for success. Our mission was to create a program that would be an asset to participants launching their careers, and their futures. We hope your encounter with Nexos Comunitarios will be just that!

For more information please visit our website.

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