Skills for Success

ZAP Jamaica Provides Youth Income Opportunities, Job Skills

Finding a job in Jamaica is not easy. For someone under the age of 25 with minimal skills, the task can be daunting. In fact, the Caribbean has one of the world’s highest rates of unemployment among youth age 15-24, with Jamaica at 22.2 percent in July 2018, according to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica. So when Ajae Wilson landed a job with the United States Agency for International Development’s Zika AIRS Project (ZAP) in 2018 as a Vector Control Technician at the age of 18, it changed his life.

“Both my mom and dad have had strokes,” said Wilson. “My sister and I have to take care of things at home. With my income I’ve been able to help pay for my 9-year-old brother’s school fees and uniform. With my job, my parents can relax.”

At 19 years old, ZAP Vector Control Supervisor Ajae Wilson is gaining people management skills and supervisor experience through his job, increasing his income opportunities for the future. Photo by: Laura McCarty/Abt Associates

ZAP works in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the University of the West Indies to monitor and reduce mosquito populations across the island. Specifically, ZAP aims to build the country’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to the Zika virus, which is spread by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. This mosquito species can also carry other mosquito-borne diseases such as chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever.

“My mom, dad, grandmother, brother and I have all suffered from chikungunya,” said Wilson. “I’m a living example and I don’t want anyone else to get it. But ZAP can’t stand alone. Citizens need to work together to make Jamaica mosquito-free.”

ZAP hired nearly 200 lab, data and field technicians, with field technicians visiting close to 30,000 households a month to monitor and reduce mosquito breeding sites and to raise awareness among the population about how to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. To offer employment opportunities to some of the most vulnerable populations, ZAP Jamaica looks to hire youth. In 2018, 49% of those hired by ZAP were between the ages of 18 and 24.

“Unemployment is a very big problem in Jamaica,” said ZAP Vector Control Supervisor Sasha Irons. “Our young people make up most of our population. Getting young people employed, even for a short period, is important as it gives them a sense of responsibility. There’s nothing better you can do than engage youth in something positive.”

ZAP provides hands-on learning to youth, giving them the communication, management and leadership skills they need in the workforce. After six months on the job, Wilson was promoted to Vector Control Supervisor and is now responsible for overseeing the work of eight technicians.

“I’m saving money now to build a house,” said Wilson. “The job has opened many doors. My career dream is to be a soldier to help fight crime. My new income has helped me to pay for documents I didn’t have but needed to apply to be a solider, such as my birth certificate and my passport. This job has taught me discipline, dedication, and determination, all keys to success. I want Jamaica to be someplace people can be free to walk around safely, just like ZAP is making Jamaica free of mosquito-borne disease.”