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.

Cultivating Youth Economic Participation through Ecosystems: Lessons from the Young African Leaders Initiative

IREX, USAID, Young African Leaders Initiative

While building skills gives youth a foundation for entry into the workforce, often the skills learned from an institute are not sufficient for successful transition.

A Year in the Life of the Komo Youth-Led Club: Lessons from the Field

Komo Learning Centres

This session will share on-the-ground realities of meaningful youth participation, using the Komo Learning Centres Youth-Led Club as a case study. In June 2016 Komo received a grant from YouthPower Learning to make a video series documenting the activities, successes, and challenges of the club’s first year.

From Classroom to Boardroom: The Importance of Business Engagement for the Youth Workforce

JP Morgan Chase, STL Youth Jobs, Futures and Options

Effective youth workforce initiatives require proactive business engagement before, during, and after employment. This panel will highlight examples of innovation in partnership development and management, and the benefits to collaboration with youth employment. The panel will focus on making the case for business engagement with a summer and year-round workforce provider.

Beyond the Transcript: Capturing Credentials for the Workplace

IREX, Education Design Lab

How can employers be assured that their future employees possess not only the technical or academic skills needed to succeed in the workplace, but also the 21st century competencies required to thrive? Micro-credentials provide an opportunity to develop student skills crucial to workplace success, including communication, critical thinking and resilience.

Putting PYD into Practice: Using a PYD Approach to Develop Programming for At-Risk Youth in Guyana

Making Cents International

Evidence shows that taking a Positive Youth Development (PYD)-approach to youth programming can support the meaningful engagement of young people and empower them to become positive agents for change in their own lives and their communities. Strong youth programs take a PYD lens to all aspects of the program cycle from design to evaluation.

Finding the (Best) Fit : New Research in Matching and Information Programs for Youth

Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), MSME Development Agency

What works in matching and information programs? There are lots of frictions that prevent youth from accessing the best possible job opportunities. On one hand, youth often lack information about the realities of the job market and the value of different education and training programs. In addition, they may lack information about where jobs are and how to get them.

Youth Entrepreneurship in Their Own Words: Perspectives on What Works from the Field

FHI 360, MENA Alliances Group, Afterschool Centre for Career Development, Habona Ltd.

FHI 360 wants to bring the perspective and experiences of young entrepreneurs from the field to you. Interested in learning about what entrepreneurship programming approaches have proven most effective? Want to find out if youth entrepreneurs agree?

From Kabul to the Waldorf Astoria: Online Learning in Diverse Contexts

International Youth Foundation, FHI 360, American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute

Online and mobile learning present an incredible opportunit

Build Your Labor Market Assessment Toolkit: A Hands-On Introduction to Analyzing Youth Employment Opportunities


In this interactive session led by FHI 360 and facilitated by USAID, participants will learn about the key uses and components of a labor market assessment, and have the chance to test out a number of powerful and innovative tools that can help them answer important questions about a labor market system. How do stakeholders act and interact?

A Lost and Found Generation: How Longstanding Conflict Impacts Youth Economic Success and How to Rebuild Success from Conflict

VAD Foundation

In this session, we will hear directly from a leader in South Sudan's education sector on the impacts of conflict on today's generation of youth, as well as tools for how to instill resilience to economic shocks.