The Youth Economic Opportunities field enters 2013 with a clear mandate to address the youth employment crisis. The scale, ongoing nature, and impact of the crisis demand urgent action. But the urgency of the situation does not mean that stakeholders can afford to ignore research, successful experiences, lessons learned, and even past failures. —those elements All form part of a rich learning agenda that should shape programs and policy. The learning presented in each chapter of this publication is deep and varied, ranging from refining program tools and strategies, targeting marginalized populations with special approaches, advancing a business or policy case at the sector level, and developing an evidence base that both confirms hypotheses and delivers new insights. Given the breadth of sector-level learning, we conclude with a critical question: what have we learned as a field?

What Have We Learned?

Making Cents International’s 2012 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference generated several main learning points relevant to the YEO field as a whole.

  • Youth as Actors: We need to promote young people as problem-solvers. As the International Labour Organization articulates in its 2012 publication, The Youth Employment Crisis: A Call for Action, stakeholders need to support youth so that they can take active roles in developing sustainable solutions to the youth unemployment crisis. This approach is critical to promoting equitable economic development that includes all young people, especially those who are marginalized or vulnerable.
  • Quality of Jobs: We need to focus on the quality of jobs as much as the number of jobs for young people. Jobs, as Martin Rama, Lead Economist of the World Bank emphasized at the 2012 GYEOC, provide more than just a paycheck. Jobs also provide a sense of social cohesion and productivity, while frequently allowing young people to tap into a social safety net. Young people’s initial experience with employment, entrepreneurship, and finance shape lifelong habits and experiences.
  • Enabling Environments: We need to shape enabling environments that promote entrepreneurship, apprenticeships, internships, and appropriate financial services for youth; bridge the skills mismatch between what is taught in school and what employers demand; provide young people with access to information and guidance to find jobs and start businesses; and give youth a seat at the policymaking table.
  • Quality and Relevance of Education: We need to emphasize quality and relevance for all types of education that young people access. Education and training systems, including technology-based and distance learning initiatives, need to link to the world of employment. This might include connecting employers to public school systems and vocational/technical training programs; creating greater incentives for employers to provide young people with apprenticeship and internship opportunities; providing more “second chance” possibilities and skill certifications for young people in diverse contexts; and enhancing skill-building that youth can apply to all realms of their life, from employment to health to their own safety and protection.
  • Bridge Programs and Policy: We need to do a better job of linking policymaking and programming; programming does not take place in a vacuum and significant work is needed at the macro policy level to support young people to secure decent work or start their own businesses. Legal and regulatory challenges continue to confound many YEO efforts, especially in the youth financial services and capabilities sector as well as for adolescent girls and young women. Addressing these challenges will require overall capacity-building and savvy partnerships between organizations specializing in advocacy and direct-service delivery. The field needs to identify more bridging mechanisms, although promising practices exist in the context of regional coalitions, donor advocacy efforts, and youth associations.
  • Link Evidence to Learning: We still need to focus on building the evidence base, which requires significant funding in M&E, but we also need to perfect the feedback loop between learning and applying learning to design. We should not think of evaluations as “post mortem” analyses of completed projects. Monitoring, evaluation, and impact assessment should be conceptualized as an active and ongoing process that begins during project design and implementation and continues throughout the program life cycle, allowing stakeholders to assess progress and re-group as needed.
  • Harness Technology: We need to talk specifics when it comes to technology, drawing from documented experiences, distinguishing between types of technology, innovating in terms of access, and understanding the investment and timeframe needed to maximize technology to reach program and policy goals. Organizations that are in the vanguard for technology use can lend a hand to those in the next wave, clarifying expectations and sharing ingredients for success. Most importantly, we need to keep pace with the young people we target; understanding how they use technology to fill needs and meet their personal goals.
  • Uniting the Field: We all have a role to play in the YEO ecosystem. We need to regularly convene both in person and virtually, in order to tackle these challenges, find innovative solutions to entrenched systemic roadblocks, and share learning at all levels.

The field must continue to move forward, evolving in response to market conditions and economic development goals. As Manuel Salazar, Executive Director for Employment at the International Labour Organization, stated at the Conference, “It is the role of education, training, employment, labor market, and social protection policies to smooth the transitions and prepare workers for the changes our global economies and labor markets are experiencing and will experience for the foreseeable future.”