1.1.4 Conflict-Affected Contexts

The 2012 Conference presenters addressed the impacts of war, civil conflict, and gang violence in weak states on the world of education, non-formal learning, and work, and also on the special challenges related to re-building. They shared the following key lessons learned and promising practices.

Conduct labor market assessments frequently in conflict-affected contexts, and focus on feasibility when designing vocational training programs post-assessment.
Vocational training needs to be based on market offering. If not, young people may graduate from vocational training programs to find that their skills are not in demand or that the market cannot absorb sufficient youth into jobs. This is particularly important for displaced youth who are navigating new or altered markets. All conflict-affected youth seek stable opportunities for employment or entrepreneurship to reduce their vulnerability. Given gender-dynamics in operating contexts, labor market assessments have to consider gender issues for job placement or entrepreneurship.

In 2008, the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), a research and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives and protecting the rights of women, children and youth displaced by conflict and crisis, developed a toolkit for labor market assessments. The toolkit was designed to match supply and demand, prevent oversaturation, and “do no harm.” The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a non-governmental humanitarian organization which provides assistance, protection and durable solutions to refugees and internally displaced persons, refined and added to the toolkit over time. Mercy Corps, an organization that focuses on disaster response, sustainable economic development, health services, and emergency and natural disaster relief, similarly developed a series of principles for youth market assessments has informed (and also been tested through) program experiences in conflict-affected environments throughout the world.

The Women’s Refugee Commission’s Toolkit includes ten tools for youth labor market assessments, including the following: Market Observation Tool, Consumer Tool, Government Tool, Local Business Tool, Youth Focus Group Tool, Vocational Trainer Tool, Microfinance Institution Tool, Producer and Business Tool, National and Multi-National Companies Tool, and Donor Tool. While together they give a very complete portrait of the youth labor market, the NRC, Mercy Corps, and WRC discovered a few limitations while testing the toolkit. They found that stakeholders from the staff, partners, and local authorities needed extra support and guidance in implementing the toolkit, even after training. In addition, markets may be weak to non-existent in refugee camps and students with refugee status may not legally be allowed to engage in apprenticeships or other types of work.

In order to improve this situation, the NRC began to create videos to support practitioners with the toolkit use. They also adapted the toolkit to each context, selecting tools based on the market situation. For example, in South Sudan, only eight tools were used while in Zimbabwe, all ten tools were used in three geographically distinct communities (rural, peri-urban, and urban). Mercy Corps has also adapted the tools and most frequently uses a combination of four tools: Youth Focus Group Discussions, Business/Employer Surveys, and Value Chain Focus Group Discussions, and Key Informant Interviews.The NRC and Mercy Corps found that market assessments must be carried out frequently due to the dynamic nature of markets in conflict-affected countries. Price fluctuations, border closings, and policy change can all dramatically impact markets, especially as they pertain to youth.

Checklist: Mercy Corps Provides Principles to Guide Effective Youth Labor Market Assessments

Labor market assessments impact many aspects of program design. Mercy Corps has developed principles to guide labor market assessments. Consider if your youth assessments are:

Youth led? Obviously, capacity varies from context to context, but to every extent possible, Mercy Corps believes that young people can and should take the lead in their shaping economic future. Youth can gain life skills, communication skills, social capital, and increase knowledge of labor market realities by participating in an assessment.

Participatory? Mercy Corps views youth as the most critical stakeholder in a labor market assessment. Therefore, in addition to enabling youth to lead assessment, they also want young people’s voices to be heard when they try to understand any labor market. Through Focus Group Discussions with young people, they understand the perspectives of youth and are able to identify misperceptions between young people and employers.

Market-driven? They recognize they cannot link youth to viable income opportunities if they do not understand the demand in the labor market. Youth skills building programs should be matched with actual, current needs within the economy. To train youth in skills which are not demanded by their labor market may actually exacerbate frustrations of youth.

Program specific? All youth are not alike. They are a wonderfully diverse heterogeneous cohort, even within a specific country. Therefore, programs must be tailored appropriately for a specific youth population – young girls, illiterate, IDPs, former child soldiers, university students, etc. An employment program for a young rural male is likely to look very different from a program geared towards urban females with regards to curricula, training, jobs, etc.

For additional information on the Yes Youth Can! Youth Labor Market Assessment, see:

For additional assessments and sample tools from Mercy Corps, please contact Tara Noronha at [email protected].

Effective labor market assessments adapt youth participation to match the skills, capabilities, and prior knowledge of young people. When working with extremely marginalized and displaced populations, literacy and language barriers can limit young people’s contributions. They may not be ready or have the appropriate skills to lead labor market assessments. In addition, transparent data collection may be an unfamiliar process so preparatory work is needed to engage youth in that aspect of assessments. Youth can listen and observe but writing and data entry may present challenges.

It is also important to remember limitations of youth experience base in regards to the labor market since youth often have a narrow scope of trades, based on what they see in their village or what is offered in other local vocational centers. They want certain trades and sectors, even if they are not marketable (i.e. soap) or sometimes identify trades that may be marketable but that are too costly for training (i.e. mechanics). In some cultures, such as Afghanistan, youth (particularly young women) are not allowed to go to the market and have not traveled outside of their respective villages. NRC sees the benefit of having youth-led market assessments and strives to engage youth as much as possible to make sure that they can succeed in their roles and participation. Mercy Corps similarly promotes youth participation as key to both effective labor market assessments as well as a critical experiential learning process that can build young people’s confidence.

Practical Tips: NRC and WRC Offer Ideas for Youth Participation in Labor Market Assessments

The Youth Education Pack (YEP) is a program of the NRC designed to address the learning needs of young people in conflict-affected countries whose goal is to “ensure that displaced youth are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to enhance protection, improve their livelihoods, and become constructive members of their communities.” A training program that includes literacy and numeracy, life skills, and vocational skills was designed to propel young people into job placement (through either direct employment or apprenticeship), entrepreneurship, or additional education. The NRC collaborated with the WRC to improve the market analysis portion of their program design, ensuring that the vocational component of the program was designed with a sound understanding of the market.

  • Emphasize listening and observation with young people with low literacy skills. The youth NRC enrolls do not have the language or literacy level to be able to collect and analyze data during market assessments. YEP graduates can participate in rudimentary tools with guidance of NRC staff.
  • Engage youth as participants in focus group discussions, both youth who are potential vocational training students as well as current students who are participating in vocational training elsewhere. Teachers can take part in market assessments but it is better to have academic teachers who may be more neutral.
  • Think outside the box in general and with respect to gender. Consider new trades, especially in emerging markets. In Lebanon, YEP started photography training for women, since men cannot go into weddings to take pictures of women. Similarly, in Somalia, women participated in video training.
  • Rely on students completing vocational training, versus students who are in the middle of their program, as leaders in market assessments for future youth. They are invested in the process but will not have expectations for training in a new set of skills.

The market is not the only factor to consider when designing vocational training programs. Other issues, such as the cost of equipment, availability of teachers, and availability of tools also influence the design of vocational training programs.

Practical Tips:The Norwegian Refugee Commission on Translating Assessments in Vocational Training

The NRC has translated results from labor market assessments into vocational training in Afghanistan, DRC, Kenya, Liberia, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. In 2012, it also began programs in Colombia, Myanmar, Ecuador, and Panama. They have learned the following from those experiences:

  • Even when trades are identified in the assessments, they are not always feasible. Technology and availability of cheaply manufactured imported goods makes it difficult to navigate through the marketable skills. Most village markets, apart from agricultural goods, have cheaply made Chinese products that become hard to compete with. Also, some trades require tools that cannot be purchased locally.
  • Train and professionalize vocational staff. Some vocational teachers may not be available in certain areas and NRC has had to employ skills trainers with lower skills and send them to trainings before starting YEP. (South Sudan and Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya, NRC sent tradesmen/women for long-term training.
  • Providing business training to accompany vocational skills is essential. Such as marketing services, business information, promotion of business-to-business linkages, and other non-financial services.
  • Focus on product quality. Many vocational centers conduct both long-term and short-term skill training with very little attention to product quality.
  • Recognize apprenticeships build social networks. For youth without social networks, apprenticeships is key to building the social capital cited by skills trainers as critical for finding employment. When possible, link with the private sector for mentorship or apprenticeships.
  • Provide childcare to increase female retention. Sanitary kits and hot meals are also incentives.
  • Encourage community ownership and participation for monitoring and identifying vulnerable youth. Students can empower communities and educate peers, especially on life skills.
  • Building all skills is important. Literacy and life skills curriculum is equally important to vocational skills.

Address physical security concerns in hot conflict environments though systematic assessments of program suitability.
Active conflict environments present very direct challenges related to the ability of youth participants to access training and work. Personal security risks related to traveling across physical distance to get to schools, jobs, and markets (for those who are self-employed) are critical concerns in these situations. Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and the Aga Khan Foundation’s (AKF) realistic and systematic risk and suitability assessment for youth employment and income generation, showcased at the 2012 Conference, is described in the accompanying text box. Such tools can help implementers determine whether a program can manage these physical security issues, or whether alternative modes of youth engagement need to be pursued.

New Tools: Successful Youth Employment in Pakistan

The Enhancing Employability and Leadership for Youth (EELY) project—an initiative of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) in northern Pakistan - recognizes that young people have a critical role to play in determining the future of development. Ultimately, the project seeks to increase the engagement and productivity of over 60,000 young people in northern Pakistan through youth employability and civic leadership. A unique programming approach is needed for less mobile and/or more vulnerable groups of young people, particularly in this type of conflict-affected environment where young people’s mobility is affected by the unpredictable surges and wanes of conflict.

Recently, AKF has packaged a number of tools initially developed to strengthen the implementation of the EELY project. The Start-up Toolkit for Youth Employability Projects: Part 2 1 is the latest in a series of tools AKF developed called Investing in Young People developed. The toolkit has three sections: 1) Designing and Carrying Out Youth-Centered Labour Market Assessments, 2) Assessing Youth Suitability and Selecting Interventions, and 3) Building Youth Suitable Partnerships with the Private Sector.

While all of these represent important tools for youth employment, of particular interest in conflict-affected environments is the suitability assessment process. Suitability assessment takes into account several factors that take on a heightened importance in conflict-affected contexts, including flexibility, safety and security concerns, mobility constraints, cultural considerations/gender, risk assessment and having a “Plan B,” and links to financing, among others.  A structured process is necessary to help determine whether these issues can be addressed and risks mitigated in order to increase the chances of success for a particular youth employment strategy.

Creatively address educational and institutional deficiencies that are the legacy of conflict.
Conflict—especially civil wars and ongoing violence—creates an extremely negative legacy of interruptions, uneven academic preparation (exposure), and the corresponding need to re-build both human and institutional capacity. Implementers have found that broadening exposure to the outside world, and providing motivating remedial learning experiences can work even in difficult post-conflict and conflict affected contexts.

The USAID/Liberia Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) program identified drastically variable levels of academic preparation among Liberian university cohorts in the two Centers of Excellence the project supported. “Some are doing calculus while others can barely read,” explained project leaders at the 2012 Conference. As a result, the project conducts “smart start” and “summer start” sessions with high-potential university candidates, providing intensive pre-academic preparation and working to bridge gaps both in education and in learning habits.

EHELD found that simply providing greater international exposure empowers Liberian students to expect more from their institutions. EHELD is working to pair engineering students at the University of Liberia with visiting undergraduate and graduate student peers from its project partner, the University of Michigan, an international engineering powerhouse. These exchange programs have boosted empowerment, as well as accountability, among Liberian students as they become accustomed to, and comfortable with, holding teachers and administrators to higher professional standards.

Far from the university sector, the Afghan Secure Futures (ASF) initiative targeted metal and construction workshop apprentices, ages 12 to 18, in the semi-formal (unregistered business) sector of Kabul City, Afghanistan, linking them with a local organization that provides functional literacy and numeracy classes (supplemental education) outside of work hours. Implemented by MEDA under the five-year (2008-2012), US$16 million USAID STRIVE (Supporting Transformation by Reducing Insecurity and Vulnerability with Economic Strengthening) cooperative agreement, the end goal was to reduce the vulnerability of youth apprentices through increased income and improved employability, and to expand the workshops in which apprentices worked, increasing the number and diversity of the contracts they were able to access. ASF reached 353 workshops and 1,080 youth apprentices, with approximately one-third of these receiving multiple project interventions. For the 220 apprentices who participated in the supplementary education, these classes provided the only formal instruction/schooling that many of the participants had ever received. Apprentices participating in ASF assessments reported benefits including enhanced employability and self-confidence, greater household income, and strengthened food security.     

Seek to remedy the damage to interpersonal and relational skills caused by conflict.

Wars, civil conflict, and gang-infested situations impose restrictions on healthy, collaborative behavior within and across communities. This tends to undercut the development of interpersonal skills that are necessary for workplace success.  Implementers, including CARANA 2 and Creative Associates 3, report that extroversion and exploratory dialogue can be limited due to the potentially violent consequences of disagreements. This also inhibits the development of workplace-relevant skills that are necessary for interactions with challenging people, such as difficult co-workers or hostile customers.

Innovative Approach: Truth is Stranger than Fiction when Recovering Gang Members Take their Ventures to Reality TV

The USAID/Central America Regional Youth Alliance (USAID-SICA AJR) project, currently being implemented by Creative Associates, seeks to reduce youth gang activity in Central America. One component of the project, the Challenge 100 Job Placement Program, focuses on assisting youth with the transition from gang membership into productive employment and re-integration into the community. To raise community awareness of the potential for successful reintegration of gang members, the program developed and broadcast a reality TV show, “Challenge 10,” in which teams of former gang members created competing businesses. The five episodes showcased ex-gang members’ struggles in reintegration, as well as their initiative and teamwork. This novel vehicle for overcoming the stigma of a history of gang membership comprises one part of the project, which also identifies ex-gang members, evaluates their psychological state and capacity, provides counseling and psychosocial support, supports tattoo removal, enables technical and employability skills learning, and finally, facilitates job placement.

  • 1.
  • 2. CARANA Corporation
  • 3. Creative Associates International supports people around the world to realize the positive change they seek.