1.1.1 Private Sector Partnerships

Working with employers is a central issue of the field of workforce development.

A consensus has developed around several aspects of employer engagement. Practitioners from more than 40 countries who convened at the 2013 Conference agreed that engaging the private sector is the key to developing demand-driven programs and sustainability, since the private sector will presumably outlast the program cycle. Implementers’ relationships with private sector employers (as well as the program’s reputation) are the conduits through which young people will find jobs. In addition, engaging with the private sector can provide implementers with exposure to, and models of, management efficiency.

Findings from the 2013 Conference build upon almost all of the findings from the 2011 and 2012 Conferences, as highlighted in the State of the Field in Youth Economic Opportunities publications that followed them.  These previously highlighted lessons learned are: (1) program-related partnerships with the private sector are more effective if implementers can articulate programs’ value that appeals to businesses’ “bottom line” while working to reduce businesses’ engagement costs and risks; (2) bring diverse private sector partners/representatives into the process early to allow them to inform/influence program design; (3) appeal to a business’s bottom line ; (4) reduce the cost and risk of partnership by providing supporting information and resources; and finally, (5) projects and implementers need to build strong brand awareness in order to help open employers’ doors to youth program participants.  The following key lessons specifically emerged from discussions among practitioners, private sector companies, funders, and researchers who participated in the 2013 GYEOC:

     a. Systematic and continuous (rather than ad hoc) engagement of employers can drastically increase program relevance, sustainability, and success. 

Ideally, employer engagement provides the base on which most demand-driven training programs are built.  As such, it should be systematic, begin early in the process of program development (in many cases before a program is developed), and continue throughout the project (or institutional) cycle.

While outside-in methods of understanding employer needs is an acceptable starting point, utilizing sector-based networks, through existing intermediary organizations (e.g. chambers of commerce), the local partnership ecosystem, and local offices’ local staff members are held up as important keys to program effectiveness. 

Success in promoting youth transitions to employment through employer engagement is ascribed to several characteristics of engagement.  Most prominently, implementers agree that employers need to have real power in the partnerships (not simply a superficial “rubber-stamp’ role”). Implementers also largely agree that programs should be directed at the business bottom-line via the human resources function, rather than through the more philanthropic lens of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Finally, implementers largely agree that focusing on jobs in growing areas of an industry creates more motivation for employers to engage with projects.

Six Ways Employers Can be Systematically Engaged to Assist in Developing Demand-Driven Training and Certification Programs (MTC)
  1. Define industry-based skill sets, typically though industry advisory groups comprised of industry leaders and community members.  
  2. Support the development of competency-based training systems.  Directly involve businesses in validating competencies and performance benchmarks.
  3.  Work with employers to develop WfD training curricula. Working with employers’ subject matter experts (e.g. using the DACUM model to analyze standard duties and tasks) to tailor curricula to meet the industry’s needs and meeting competency benchmarks.
  4. Assess students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) in on-the-job training and classroom environments, while also having teachers, trainers and trainees conduct assessments themselves.  This allows for the certification of students as ‘employable’ as well as technically competent. It can ultimately lead to the creation of a validated/stamped/certified list of workplace competencies that are used throughout an industry.
  5. Establish industry certifications. Engage companies when drafting policies and procedures for a credential or certification program, as well as when developing accreditation processes for training. Consider inviting a representative to form or join an accrediting board.
  6. Inform the ongoing updating of curriculum to meet changing market needs (e.g., though advisory boards). This helps ensure that training encompasses emerging issues, such as green initiatives, technology changes in vocations, new machinery, employer cultures, and emerging markets.
Three Vehicles for Engaging Employers

1. Employer Forums 1.

2. Industry Advisory Groups & Councils

3. Workforce Training Networks

     b. Implementers need to give beneficiaries and partner businesses significant support to make placement, internship, and other work-based learning programs successful.

Restless Development (RD) cautioned at the 2013 Conference that implementers should not underestimate the basic knowledge and behavioral skills that need to be taught or coached to support successful outcomes in internship or work-based learning, since professional expectations and work behavior are not taught in schools. The following text box shares program experience that highlights this guidance.

Training + Practical Experience While Engaging Employers

The YouthMap Internship Program in Uganda is equipping 100 young graduates (ages 23-30) with employability and leadership skills while also giving them practical work experience they need for obtaining employment in this context. This program is part of the global YouthMap that USAID funds and which the International Youth Foundation is implementing. Restless Development-Uganda is the implementing partner organization in Uganda. The program began in October 2012 and runs until September 2014, with two cycles of six month internships.

Restless Development emphasized the importance of listening carefully to employers and setting minimum conduct standards for youth participants based on that training. While it is also important to hold young people to those minimum standards, RD shared that in many cases, this will require providing support to employers who take on interns and building the capacity of students and employers. Doing so will help ensure there are clear expectations and ways to adjust the program as necessary.  Practitioners who participated in the 2013 Conference felt that an effective means of promoting success in this area is in helping employers see themselves (and act) as “coaches” to draw out appropriate workplace behaviors. Another area where implementers can assist these efforts is in facilitating opportunities for both employees and employers to help “expectational norms” evolve, and benchmark outcomes within cohorts. Save the Children also highlighted that the same type of soft and employability skills for rural youth help improve terms of market participation, even where few jobs exist.

     c. Engage employers regionally and globally.

Looking regionally can enhance resource efficiency (e.g., permitting the re-purposing of a base of tools and certifications that can be localized in specific contexts) and shed light on common WfD challenges that need to be addressed.  Restless Development is building a regional business network, engaging their London-based headquarters operations with operations they have in sub-Saharan Africa through a Private Sector Advisory group. They are also promoting consultation with Restless’ country directors. Program staff can think through a program’s potential needs and services, and identify companies that can provide deeper consultation and partnership.

In this case, recruitment, onboarding, and retention are key concerns of the consultative group, driving the emphasis of Restless’ new Africa-wide programming. This perspective permits the development a broad and relevant set of offerings that can apply across country contexts. Similarly, MTC reported that regional sector networks have also grown organically as the company gains more exposure to specific industries in multiple contexts (e.g., water industry in the Middle East)

     d. Operate on “business time” by structuring programs to meet employers’ hiring timelines and schedules.

Scheduling and structuring training to meet the realities of employers’ hiring timelines is an important way to demonstrate that implementers are really “tuned into” an employer’s needs. At Making Cents International’s 2012 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference, new “just-in-time” models of training were introduced in the context of the USAID-funded El Salvador Access to Employment Program with the generalizable conclusion that the cycle time for training should correspond to employers’ hiring timelines. On a similar note, others have noted that training that runs longer than six months risks missing employers’ windows of opportunity for hiring[1].  

At the 2013 Conference, Restless Development suggested that a six-month duration internship is most effective because it provides an opportunity for interns to really integrate themselves into the business’ operations (assuming that businesses are prepared for their interns). Over the course of six months, interns can also take on new roles and responsibilities after adjusting to the initial ‘shocks’ of being in the workplace.


  • 1. Organize one-day meetings where sector employers are able to say what they think, share what is missing in a training, highlight what the biggest challenges or trends are, identify regulatory issues, etc. The forum gives them a “neutral” space in which they can share their workforce needs with other employers in their industry outside of government-run forums