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.

Are Labor Markets Really Local? Youth Training and Employment in Times of High Migration: Lessons from Colombia, Guatemala, and Kenya

ACDI/VOCA, RTI International, Fundacion Avina

The changing world of youth economic opportunity is heavily influenced by prevailing global trends in migration. Most workforce development (WFD) models assume youth recruitment and supports in a localized area, and training for employment in the same catchment zone.

Where's the VALUE for Youth In Agricultural Value Chains?

ACDI/VOCA, USAID, Chemonics International, Sing With Me Happily

As youth populations and unemployment swell to unprecedent

Pathways to Prosperity: Using Evidence to Understand the Different Roads to Self-Employment for Youth in Low-Resource Contexts

Save the Children, Search Institute

Does entrepreneurship education work? Is entrepreneurship education sufficient to enable young people to start businesses? What additional skills or services are necessary to enable young entrepreneurs? In this session we will provide robust evidence from six countries on the different ways in which youth can successfully become self-employed across varying rural/urban contexts.

Scaling Down, to Scale Up! Impacting 1 Billion Youth with Local Solutions to Self-Employment by 2030

Sawa World

This invigorating session will demonstrate how scaling down is necessary sometimes in order to scale up a global approach to reach millions of vulnerable youth with self-employment skills. Ten years ago, when we started, we quickly scaled up to 11 countries.

Ready-Set-Work! Lessons from Ethiopia for a Continuum of Youth Employment Pathways for Rural Youth

Save the Children, Education Development Center

The session will explore the foundations for successful integration of youth into wage and self- employment pathways.

Graduation into Sustainable Livelihoods: Creating Economic Opportunities for Extremely Poor and Vulnerable Youth

BRAC USA, CGAP, Save the Children, Trickle Up

“Graduating the Extreme Poor into Sustainable Livelihoods” has immense potential to enable extremely poor and vulnerable youth to access economic opportunities that will set them on a trajectory out of the poverty cycle.

Rural Hubs: Creating Community to Promote Youth Entrepreneurship


How often do you feel like you are reinventing the wheel when it comes to finding effective solutions for youth employment? How can we learn from others in a supportive, non-competitive and effective way?

Creating Entrepreneurs for the Future through Partnerships

Teach a Man to Fish, Honduran Ministry of Education

Practical Entrepreneurship Education is an essential pathway to transforming schools into exciting hubs of inspiration that will provide students with the relevant learning and adaptable skills for the jobs of the future, as well as with the mindset and motivation to become confident and successful entrepreneurs and job creators.

MindLeaps in Rwanda: How can the Arts Improve Learning Skills in Youth and Create Measurement Tools for Service-Based Programs?

MindLeaps, Drexel University

Using an interactive and physical demonstration, MindLeaps will showcase how a dance-based methodology develops seven cognitive and non-cognitive skills. The presentation will engage participants and ask them to play a key role in the M&E system. The demo will capture data in real-time and display graphs showing changes in skill performance over time and repetition.