1.1.2 Creating “Youth Ownership” of Workforce Development Programs

The practice of conferring upon youth significant ownership over workforce programs is relatively new to the field. In the 2013 Conference, presenters illustrated how youth ownership of and engagement in workforce development initiatives begin with youth participation in the evaluation and planning of projects, an area in which there is currently a lot of activity.  

For example, in Liberia, Education Development Center (EDC) conducted a comprehensive youth-led market assessment under the USAID-funded Liberia Advancing Youth project, while in Morocco, the YouthSpeak project, led by Creative Associates, launched a team of four youth (two dropouts, two enrolled) to analyze middle school dropout rates in six Moroccan schools. Youth developed the survey and data analysis, and presented the results to their communities.  The following are some of the transferable lessons learned these organizations experienced:

  • Treat youth as partners throughout the project cycle. Full “youth ownership” entails youth participation in conceiving and designing the program, setting goals, managing the budget, reviewing staff performance, and having the standing as a full stakeholder such that youth can challenge project managers about their decisions without fear of reprisal.  Few projects manage to incorporate all of these characteristics of authentic youth ownership, but the inclusion of any of these factors can have strongly positive effects.
  •  Balance youth involvement with realistic assessment and an appropriate development of youth capacity. Many implementers admit that as vital as is the mission of putting youth in control, many youth need training and coaching to be able to effectively lead initiatives (e.g., conduct market assessments).  Particularly where market assessments require contact with business owners/employers, youth may need to learn basic presentation and business communication skills, as was the case with Liberian youth in EDC’s initiative.  Small investments in preparation can really pay off, however. The first cohort of Liberian youth obtained significant enough skills and experience through this process to return as a cohort to train other youth for the subsequent assessment, demonstrating that youth who have initial skill limitations may quickly become capable of leading program activities.
  • Manage youth expectations while maximizing youth leadership and participation.  Across the world, but in particular where youth have little exposure to the world of education and work, implementers report youth program participants having unrealistic expectations of the salaries and employment terms that can result from education and training. RTI International reports that the families of university scholarship recipients in the USAID/Liberia Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) project “expected that their children would come home in a chauffer-driven Land Cruiser” upon graduation.”

    Similarly, McKinsey’s 2011 “Education for Employment for Arab Youth” report documented highly optimistic salary expectations.  These limitations appear to be most pervasive where youth lack exposure to the professional careers and improved local business opportunities that result from training or education. Both EDC and RTI shared at the 2013 Conference that their programs became more effective, and more accommodating of youth inputs, when students gained a realistic idea of possible (positive) outcomes to the training early on in these programs. Youth can be more effective design, assessment, and implementation partners if they enter the process with realistic expectations.

  • Understand non-job related benefits of youth-led market assessments. Youth participation in program planning can deliver results that are themselves meaningful for youth, including both personal and professional empowerment, which in some cases is more important than the information the program gathers and it can take the program beyond its direct or intended results.  Youth who contributed to the design of EDC’s Alternative Basic Education System for Liberia program, for example, gained a base of professional connections and interactions that constituted an entry point for them into the private sector. They also gained on-the-job training experience through which they obtained both hard and soft skills.

    Members of the student survey team in the YouthSpeak project reported they gained enhanced data collection and analysis skills, as well as confidence in their own abilities and standing in their communities.

Capacity Gained from Youth Ownership in Projects

“We learn a proverb: a great a person is not he/she is in front of whom we feel weak. A great person is he/she in front of whom we feel great. The coaches at YouthSpeak made us feel responsible [sic] about the project.  Before, we were very far from the decision making process related to our education. Our role was to follow the rules of others. When we were asked to participate, it was not taken seriously. “

--Morocco YouthSpeak Participant [referred to as “Girl in Yellow”.]