Solidarity FabLabs: how digital technology enables employability

In 2014, the Orange Foundation launched an international digital education programme, Solidarity FabLabs. The goal? Offer free training that breaks with traditional teaching methods for young people aged 16 to 25. Today, 88 FabLabs in 16 countries enable young people to regain confidence and (re)learn vital skills. Here’s more from the people involved.

image

Using technology to improve employment prospects

FabLabs first emerged in the United States at the end of the 90s as awareness grew about the benefits of knowledge sharing and “learning by doing”. Orange has recognised that they are an important tool for implementing innovative and practical learning methods to support young people’s employability.

The Orange Foundationhas since created the Solidarity FabLabprogramme to design and develop concrete training courses. “We realised that the digital divide was going to be a new cause of exclusion, affecting more and more professions and sectors. So we wanted to do the reverse and use technology to improve employment prospects,” explains Séverine Ozanne, Director of Solidarity FabLabs within the Orange Foundation.

A FabLab is a space for promoting creativity and trial and error, all without judgement. It is an ideal place to allow young people to regain self-confidence while acquiring practical skills. Training courses are independently defined by the FabLabs themselves. “There’s no fixed format for the programme: each FabLab can propose a particular project that passes before a committee,” says Séverine Ozanne.

Promoting useful and collective projects

The Orange Foundation has devised some prerequisites for supporting a project. Any training course must be based on promoting employment – for example in France, the “École de la 2e Chance” supports young people throughout their learning journey.

Each session must also include a collective project to enable people to develop transversal skills. “I acquired a lot of technical knowledge, but I also learned to work as part of a team, to manage a project, divide up workload and more…” says Guillaume, who took a training course at the Solidarity FabLab in Orléans.

Young students also find the desire to make and set goals. “After my CAP (NVQ) qualification, I did nothing for two years. Then at the FabLab I learned how to use the vinyl cutter, 3D printer and laser cutter. I especially liked making my own product from A to Z,” says Océane, who intends to “continue to come” to the FabLab.   

“At the end of their training, young people should feel proud and have a positive experience to share as well as a concrete project to show during a future job interview,” explains Séverine Ozanne. Pride is increased by the fact that the collective project is often anchored in the local ecosystem. For example it might be producing lights with a 3D printer for a neighbourhood association or a giant chessboard for use in the town hall. Or, as Guillaume achieved, taking part in the design and production of a bioelectric hand prosthesis. “What I remember above all from my experience is the pride of having completed a useful project which can really help people,” agrees Cristian, from the Barcelona Solidarity FabLab.

A model that is paying off

 The Orange Foundation aims to promote meetings and discussions and brings many different forces into the Solidarity FabLabs: associations, national or local authorities, job centres and more. Each collective project is officially presented to associations, officials and local businesses. Gradually, Solidarity FabLabs have proven that the model pays off. "Various local stakeholders are now taking ownership of the model and getting involved, proposing projects or partnerships," says Séverine Ozanne.

The biggest winners of the programme? These are the young people whose lives are transformed by the training. Some have found a totally new direction by mediating, designing or even creating a professional project.

Francky, from the Solidarity FabLab in Madagascar had dropped out of school. After 4 months of training at FabLab, he became a trainer. "The FabLab allowed me to develop what I hadn’t been able to do before, such as developing social skills," he explains.

Finally, if some find a job quickly, others decide to go back to school. This is the case of Ana in Madrid. "When I discovered the Solidarity FabLab, I had just struggled through high school and I was not sure of my future. Today, after the training, I am taking a professional training in micro computing that I can combine with tele-operator work in the afternoons.” So many different courses, which are so many successes!