Saad Farook, a youth from Kandy with exceptional analytical skill, had a bright future ahead of him until misfortune struck. In 2016, Saad was forced to leave his undergraduate program at the university he was attending, two years before graduation with a ICT degree. “My dream was to become an applied data scientist. So, I chose to follow a BSc degree in ICT. I was a self-learner. I was even on the Dean’s list in my first year at the university. Due to financial difficulties and social pressure, I had to step down. It was my first setback in life. I thought my dream to excel in ICT was over,” recalled Saad. However, with Saad’s skills and passion, and support from the USAID’s Youth Employment and Business Start-up Program (YouLead), Saad was able to get his life back on track and make his professional dream a reality.

After leaving his undergraduate program, Saad stayed in Sri Lanka’s commercial centre, Colombo, to work in a store. During this time, he went to a job fair, which was attended by Sri Lanka Association of Software and Services Company (SLASSCOM), a lead counterpart of YouLead. This was where he learned about the ICT Future Careers Bridge Program. The Bridge Program, launched in March 2019, is a result of a campaign created by YouLead to encourage ICT companies to hire individuals without university degrees for IT jobs. As the first-of-its-kind in Sri Lanka, it is an online challenge developed by SLASSCOM and YouLead to assist school leavers to identify the skills necessary for a successful career in ICT. It consists of 30 increasingly complex ICT-related challenges that youth complete independently.

While most participants take four to six months to complete the challenges, Saad finished all 30 in just three days! Furthermore, upon completion, he emailed the program organizers expressing his interest in getting a job in data science in a top ICT company. Although a rare request from a youth of Saad’s age, the program forwarded the note to their member company, Zone24x7, a Sri Lankan company focused on software and applied data. The company responded with, “How could we not hire someone that skilled and that motivated?”. Zone24x7 then hired 23-year-old Saad in December 2019.

As Saad embarks on a new and life-changing career, he reflected, “most youth are unaware of their potential skills and expertise that will make them a better match with an occupation or a profession of their choice. Although there are many exciting training standards and assessments available, the education system as a whole rarely provides the information needed to positively impact on the decision of the youth about their futures. Early guidance, resources and coaching are a must. I’m sure YouLead will further their efforts in this area.”

The ICT Future Careers Bridge Program aims to reach 1,500 youth by providing a platform to self-motivated young people where they can follow an online skills evaluation and training program through self-learning content and built-in technical assessments. Furthermore, SLASSCOM’s members have guaranteed employment for the first 100 youth who successfully pass the program and intend to employ most of the youth who complete it.


Youth Employment and Business Start-Up (YouLead)


USAID’s YouLead project supports inclusive economic growth by increasing youth employability. The project does this by strengthening vocational training for students, teachers, institutions, and entrepreneurs; improving workforce capacity to meet market demand; and linking with the private sector to encourage employment opportunities for youth.