Skills for Youth Employment: How and for Whom?


R4D recently hosted a panel discussion about the skills that students in developing countries need to excel in the labor market, along with innovative models for delivering those skills at the secondary level. The conversation covered macro issues (for instance, how to scale, how to engage policymakers, how to move successful pilots into the hands of local governments) and the precise skills that youth should acquire to meet the needs of employers.

As I was listening to the conversation, I was also struck by another question: what are the priority demographics for skills enhancement and are there any programs currently serving these populations to improve their readiness for the world of work? The recently concluded Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Replenishment Conference, which generated an unprecedented pledge of $28.5billion, offered insights on these ‘priority demographics’. Although the focus of the resulting GPE Calls to Actions were not specific to fostering youth skills, below are my thoughts on examples of programs that are working to build the skillsets of marginalized youth in each of these target populations:  

  1. Girls: While not specific to girls, initiatives like the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education include projects focused on improving girls’ learning outcomes at the secondary level and ensuring they acquire relevant 21st century skills to thrive in the workforce. Other programs are also imparting these skills in girls in a number of ways, ranging from using football to empower girls and foster leadership skills (for example, Yuwa), educational knowledge camps (for example, KnowledgeBeat), and offering weekend programs for lifeskills, sports and arts (for example, Safe Spaces). Initiatives targeting pregnant mothers (for instance, HOPE) are also important to ensure that teenage pregnancy does not prevent mothers from securing a sustainable income and providing for their families.
  2. Youth with disabilities: The importance of inclusiveness and ensuring that children with disabilities have access to school cannot be overstated. It is also crucial to explore what happens after school completion and how people with disabilities can be provided the skills needed to participate in the workforce. Our skills research profiled programs that are specifically doing exactly this, such as the IT Training Program for People with Disabilities. This program in Vietnam (funded by USAID and implemented by Catholic Relief Services), partners with local universities to bring ICT training to marginalized youth. The goal is to provide people with disabilities relevant ICT skills, and open employment opportunities in a wide range of sectors, including those traditionally inaccessible to them.
  3. Youth in fragile contexts: It is essential to ensure that children in conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies are not denied their right to quality education. Some of these youth are part of pastoralist communities, making it harder to access traditional formal schooling. Programs such as War Child Canada’s project in Sudan and Adeso’s Northern Somalia program are working to ensure that youth in these settings gain skills that are relevant to their community and are able enhance their prospects for generating income (both organizations are coincidently grantees of the PSISPE initiative).
  4. Youth engaged in the informal economy: In some developing countries, the majority of workers are often employed in the informal economy. Indeed, ILO data from 2011 notes that informal workers make up 49 percent, or half, of non-agricultural workers in 33 developing countries with available data. Many of these workers do not have the opportunity to attend formal schooling – and even if they do complete primary or secondary education, they often do not have the relevant skills for their work. Alternative, non-formal models of education are thus more important. Programs such as the Kenya Youth Empowerment Project and India’s Empower Pragati provide training to youth in the informal sector and provide apprenticeship opportunities and mentorship from master tradesmen. 

The programs I list above are only illustrative examples of the work that is being done to serve these populations, with many, many more initiatives and programs striving to boost the livelihoods of marginalized youth. However, I feel that more work needs to be done to better the cost effectiveness and impact of many of these programs. Once we understand what components work, the next step will be to explore how stakeholders can partner to scale up the most effective programs to expand their reach.

What are your thoughts on these ‘priority demographics’ and programs? What can be added to the list?