Workforce development initiatives build the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that youth need to obtain and participate in productive work. Activities in this area strive to bring the private and public sector together to ensure that education improves both the workforce readiness and technical skills necessary for youth to participate in the world of work effectively.

Where are we now?

Workforce development as a field is hard to generalize due to its many different providers, approaches, and target populations, which range from universities educating highly-skilled medical personnel to community organizations providing basic literacy skills to out-of-school youth.  However, increasing global unemployment and events, such as the Arab Spring, have highlighted a common problem of these providers - their services have not kept pace with changes in the private sector, leading to widespread mismatches between skills available and those demanded. Practitioners are responding through a renewed emphasis on collaboration with the private sector to ensure that educational institutions and community organizations are providing demand-driven skills to students, while employers invest in improved on-the-job training to build the skills of new employees quickly and cost-effectively.

Trends and Best Practices

  • Private sector buy-in is critical in developing the programs that link young people to formal employment opportunities. When the private sector is an invested party with donors and social organizations, there is greater possibility for young people to access employment opportunities as they continuously develop their skills and knowledge.
  • Young people and their families are looking for programs that offer practical and hands on opportunities, such as apprenticeships with trade based companies or internships with companies or NGO's. Some programs offer voucher systems that cover the cost of the internships, which have been particularly successful for young women seeking employment in more conservative countries. Participation in workforce development programs often increases when these practical opportunities for relevant skills application are included.
  • Many vocational institutions are not best placed to develop the technical skills of young people given the high rate of change in technology and the challenges for these institutions to keep pace. The private sector, on the other hand, has to keep pace with the market to remain competitive and therefore offers an alternative housing of skills development offerings.
  • Historically, workforce development focused primarily on building technical skills required for a given trade. However, most programs now recognize the importance of incorporating work-readiness skills, including basic literacy, numeracy, and job conduct. If these skills are lacking, it will make their ability to function in the workplace and learn more specialized vocational skills very weak.
  • Creating employment opportunities is just as important as skills building and should encompass all types of employment – formal, informal, and self-employment. The latter two are particularly important for vulnerable populations, such as women and youth, who may be excluded from formal employment.

Youth Economic Opportunities Online Portal

Making Cents International

The Youth Economic Opportunities learning platform is the first community of practice and knowledge exchange portal developed by and for the youth economic opportunities sector. The online portal offers an open and innovative environment for collaborative and dynamic learning and knowledge sharing around the following technical areas and cross-cutting themes: Workforce Development, Financial Services, Enterprise Development, Gender, and Evaluation & Assessment. We are dedicated to: Connecting and sharing knowledge, experiences, and lessons learned; Exchanging the latest resources, jobs, and funding opportunities; and Impacting the world’s 1.8 billion young people.

Executive Summary

The Global Youth Economic Opportunities (YEO)1 field seeks to grow evidence-based, sustainable, scalable, and cost-effective programs and policies that address the root causes of youth unemployment while increasing the opportunities young people have to obtain a decent job or start a successful business.

Chapter 2: Role of Government and Policy

Despite the potential for win-win alliances between governments and members of the YEO field, YEO partnerships at the national level are still few and far between. Topics from the 2011 GYEOC ranged from bigpicture items, such as the role of government in enterprise development, to specific approaches, such as how YEO programs can collaborate with an education system. Discussion centered on the following:

Chapter 1: Workforce Development

Recently, workforce development gained a new prominence in the development discourse while shifting emphasis to a non-traditional group of clients: unemployed and “unskilled” (or improperly skilled) university and technical school graduates. These “better-prepared” youth stood alongside the more traditional workforce development clients—at risk youth, unemployed school leavers and young informal economy participants—at the barricades of the Arab Spring, toppling regimes and announcing that the youth employment situation had reached a crisis.


Making Cents International wishes to acknowledge and thank the hundreds of organizations and individuals that contributed to building the 2011 learning program by participating as sponsors, Global Advisory Committee members, contributors to the global consultation, presenters, session reporters, volunteers, exhibitors, interns, and vendors. This publication is the result of a year-long — and more broadly, a five year — collaboration with partners that work to increase and improve economic opportunities for young people around the world.


This publication is a consolidation and synthesis of the lessons learned, promising practices, common challenges, and recommended next steps that participants highlighted during Making Cents International’s 2011 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference (GYEOC). Rather than an exhaustive review of global practice, the publication features the current state and evolution of the field. The experiences and ideas in this publication detail how many members of the global community are building upon the past and working towards achieving ambitious goals for the future of the field.