Four Recommendations to Screen Low-Income Youth Into Formal Employment

Making Cents International

You have 100 formal employment jobs to fill with high-potential, disadvantaged youth and ten times the number of applicants. What to do? Here are four recommendations distilled from our experience with The Rockefeller Foundation Digital Jobs Africa network.  

1. The importance of a well-defined candidate competency profile and screening methods. It is important to:

  • Identify both the jobs-related, technical (“hard”) and behavioral (“soft”) skills necessary for candidates to succeed in the program;
  • Distinguish between hard-to-train skills and skill gaps that can be bridged with adequate training (screening-out vs. screening-in skills);
  • Distinguish between competencies necessary to graduate from the program vs. those necessary to obtain and retain employment or self-employment;
  • Identify assessment instruments for each and all skills listed on the competency profile;
  • Improve the predictive validity of screening by combining two or more assessment methods for the same skills (i.e. assessing dependability of a candidate through both a psychometric test and adequate behavioral interview question);
  • Periodically refine the competency profile based on feedback from employers, trainers, partners or retention and placement data analytics;
  • Train staff on the selected competency profile in order to standardize the interviewing process across the organization (necessary when programs are scaling up);
  • Communicate the selected competency profile to recruitment partners to improve their ability to identify high potential candidates; and
  • Establish the competency profile as a base for automating any part of the screening process and for introducing digital screening tools.

Behavioral (“soft”) skills are essential for success in the ICT job roles, but often neglected during the screening process. When describing the “Ideal Candidate,” a training organization may use up to 50 different attributes. However, few of those characteristics relate to technical skills (“hard” skills) such as typing, English language comprehension, math etc. Most describe candidate’s behaviors, attitudes, and personality traits (“soft” skills). However, when an organization uses tests to assess candidates, it is almost always to screen for technical skills and not to assess behavioral skills.

2. Managing candidates’ expectations of both the training program and the nature of the job is as important as assessing their skills, motivation, values and attitudes toward work. Optimizing retention of candidates during the training, and in employment (or self-employment), is critical for the success of youth development programs. Recommendations include:

  • Raising candidates’ awareness of the nature of work could be done with video clips or through work sample assessments (not costly and simple to create);
  • Short videos could also be used to inform candidates on what are desirable behaviors in the workplace;
  • Providing an income calculator online during the application process could help potential candidates to better understand the earning opportunity and make an informed decision whether to join the program; and
  • Having candidates sign a letter with explicit commitments to what is expected of them in the program reduces the probability of dropping out.

3. To scale up their programs, organizations should take into account that:

  • Scaling up youth development models requires standardization of all operational processes, including the screening process;
  • Replication of programs to new locations assumes additional staff could be trained within a reasonable time on standardized processes – it is therefore necessary to have well-defined operational procedures and training materials (videos, manuals, etc.); and
  • As programs scale up, their sustainability depends on automating processes, and leveraging technology for greater efficiency and lower cost per unit – however, implementing digital screening tools usually requires an upfront investment that most organizations find difficult – this challenge could possibly be overcome if the organizations could share the setup costs for using the same technology platform (for candidate data management and assessment system).

4. Learning from peers can support organizations to quickly implement improvements to their screening processes:

  • Even minor adjustments, such as changing the order of screening activities (i.e. administering certain tests prior to interviewing a candidate) can create significant time-saving or improve screening outcomes – these types of adjustments are difficult to learn  from websites, articles or books, but are easy to understand and apply when they are shared by a colleague involved in a similar program;
  • Organizations operating similar job training programs in the same city sometimes perceive each other as competitors – however, when in the same network, and when encouraged to share knowledge, same organizations easily find mutually beneficial areas for collaboration; and
  • Although organizations differ in the scope, size and maturity of their programs, they value the opportunity to benchmark their organization against their peers – knowing where they stand, and how they can get to the next stage of development, gives them additional motivation and clear vision to reach that next stage.

Resources and tools, developed as part of the DJA network initiative, available to other demand-driven training organizations: 

Making Cents International builds the capacity of local institutions and multinational companies to design and deliver technical and work readiness training that equips youth, women, and vulnerable populations with employable skills and addresses the mismatch between existing training offerings and employers’ labor needs. Click here to find out more.

Support received from The Rockefeller Foundation to form and facilitate the DJA network.