School dropout has been a major societal concern for many years as it is often associated with negative long-term outcomes, including increased rates of unemployment, incarceration, and mortality. One of United Way’s three key mission pillars is fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access for all students. Reducing school dropout rates and increasing school completion, particularly among the poor and marginalized populations, have become the focus of its interventions. To this end, United Way Spain partnered with Europe’s leading operator of wireless telecommunications infrastructure, Cellnex Telecom in the 2019 – 2020 school year to launch the Youth Challenge Cellnex program, in collaboration with several education entities and public organizations in Spain. In the 2020 – 2021 school year, the program was reiterated in Spain, and in Italy for the first time. The program aims to fight school dropout, promote youth employment, and offer students professional training opportunities in telecommunications.
The inauguration of the program in 2020 is critical given the soaring rate of school dropouts in Spain (21.9%). The project is managed by United Way Spain and Cellnex, and executed in collaboration with the Exit Foundation, Alwa Social Entrepreneurship and the Bertelsmann Foundation – all entities specialized in promoting educational innovation and equal opportunities, aspects included in SDG number 4.
Since its inauguration at the IES Mare de Déu de la Mercè High School in Barcelona in January of 2020 before later expanding to Madrid and Rome, the program has had 208 volunteers comprised of Cellnex employees, who have dedicated more than 2,388 volunteer hours serving as coaches and mentors for students, offering theoretical and hands-on training sessions to 565 students in collaboration with the educators of the different entities involved. The key objective for Cellnex volunteers is to bridge the gap between students’ training and the skills required on the job. The mentoring process ultimately promotes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) vocations among young people, establishing a link between Cellnex activities and their social impact.
With the commitment of the teaching teams, the work of the educators of the different entities involved and the incredible support work offered by corporate volunteers, the Youth Challenge Cellnex program operates in three capacities:
- Accompanying younger students, often in a 1 to 1 mentoring format, and connecting them to the world of work where they can discover their passions and interests and develop a road map to pursue them. A special attention is given to less-motivated students to boost their self-esteem and motivation, as well as to develop and enhance their competencies.
- Holding conferences for middle and higher-grade students, given by Cellnex volunteers, on specific topics in the world of telecommunications with the aim of familiarizing students with and orienting them to the work of a leading technology company.
- Conducting active learning workshops in which, through the learning by doing methodology, students can put the technical knowledge they have acquired into practice.
In addition, students made a series of visits to Cellnex offices and network control centers in the area, thus providing an opportunity for a great number of volunteer engagement and a more complete learning experience for students. Students also prepared for job interviews through interview simulations. Moreover, some students finishing their degree are invited to do paid internships at the company; thus, narrowing the link between the educational/training center and the business center.
Cellnex’s partnership with United Way is not confined to Spain and Italy. Thanks to the trusting relationship that the pair have built and cultivated over time, Cellnex is in the progress of expanding its operations with United Way across Europe through the newly established Cellnex Foundation. In the first phase, within the Foundation’s planned programs for the year 2021–2022, several projects have been approved in Spain, Portugal, UK, Ireland, and France. Other countries such as the Netherlands and Italy will be included in Phase 2.