What Works in Partnering With the Private Sector for Youth Workforce Development
Youth workforce development activities equip young people with the skills, knowledge, and behaviors necessary to lead productive lives, gain employment, and positively contribute to society. A major partner in ensuring the success of these programs is also a potential beneficiary of these newly trained youth job seekers: the private sector. Engaging businesses in the design and execution of workforce development activities helps ensure young people gain expertise and adopt the attitudes desired by their future employers.
The recently released Task Order Review Report of YouthPower’s youth development activities discusses results from 11 field support task orders, including those engaging the private sector. One important finding is that USAID-funded youth workforce development programming has evolved to now engage the private sector as a core component. All youth workforce development activities conducted labor market analyses and included private sector engagement interventions. A closer look at several of these activities tells us more about the strategies that have been most effective.
Engaging Stakeholders and Engendering Ownership
Several of the YouthPower activities demonstrate that successful relationships with the private sector are based on shared value between potential employers and activity goals. Involving the private sector early and often in the design and implementation of youth workforce development programs ensures interventions are driven by the demand of the job market and employers’ hiring needs.
In Indonesia, Mitra Kunci, meaning ‘Key Partners’ brought together service providers and private companies in stakeholder workshops to discuss what skills were most desired by the private sector and how service providers could best equip participants with these skills. Collaboration between the private sector was sustained through Cooperation Forum Meetings bringing together public and private stakeholders for discussing, designing, and implementing solutions to improve local inclusive workforce systems.
The Kenya Youth Employment and Skills (K-YES) Program also brought together local stakeholders, including the private sector and youth, with the creation of County Youth Employment Compacts (CYEC). The CYECs functioned similarly to Indonesia’s Cooperation Forum Meetings by providing an avenue for private sector representatives to provide insight into industry demands. The CYECs also developed concrete action plans between national actors to align youth skills training with county economic growth strategies.
Facilitating linkages between employers and other stakeholders, including local youth-led and youth-serving organizations, not only assures youth receive employer-relevant training but also engenders a sense of community and ownership surrounding local youth and employment outcomes. Furthermore, the successful creation and maintenance of networks between employers and service providers improves the sustainability of private sector engagement throughout and beyond the life of the activity.
The private sector is also a valuable resource in providing expertise in the development and implementation of curriculum and training. The most accessible strategy for partnering with employers and industry associations is enlisting their in-kind support in the form of conducting training, curricula development, provision of equipment or facilities, as well as providing internships and/or mentorships to youth. Nine of the 11 YouthPower activities linked youth to internships and/or employment opportunities, giving youth the ability to get on the job experience with a business as an extension of their training. Mentorships were also offered in 9 of the 11 activities introducing young people to professional networks and providing an avenue to model important soft skills.
As seen in Programa Para o Futuro (PPF) in Mozambique, mentoring can be a powerful way to connect youth with positive role models. An eMentoring component of the activity introduced participants to a professional role model who helped build their professional network as well as developing workplace behaviors and norms. PPF also founded a youth employment forum that brought together organizations that prepare youth for employment and assisting with job placement with private sector associations. The activity also was able to foster relationships with prospective employers to gain and maintain their interest in the internship program.
The Technical Vocational Education and Training Strengthening for At-Risk Youth (TVET-SAY)’s private sector engagement strategy pivoted from appealing to businesses’ philanthropic giving priorities to engaging the private sector as partners, experts, and drivers of technical and vocational education reform. Employers co-created training courses, hosted internship programs, and invested in youth service delivery. For example, with USAID support, a local automotive dealer and a TVET Center co-created a “Digital Mechanics” blended learning program, which is now available through an online virtual learning platform and operating independently from the activity. The activity also created a national network for technical education to improve the dialogue between the private sector and technical education organizations and act as an advocate for improved technical education.
Creating Champions for Youth Employment
Even after gaining relevant skills and experience, young people regularly face the added challenge of being seen as “employment ready” when they pursue job opportunities. Age, perceived lack of experience, and stigmas associated with certain youth populations create additional barriers to securing employment and career mobility. Experience has shown that any youth workforce training activity must also address the willingness of potential employers to hire youth.
Many forms of private sector engagement mentioned above are instrumental in changing the perceptions, attitudes, and practices of employers. Involving private sector entities in the design and implementation of youth and employment programs enables them to see first hand the capabilities of young workers. Collaborating on curriculum, pedagogy, and training provides employers the opportunity to see the desired skills of employees in young people and internships demonstrate to employers that youth are competent and prepared to enter the workforce. The YouthPower Task Order Review also found that some youth workforce development activities even more purposefully integrated interventions designed to shift attitudes of future employers in favor of young people:
Puentes para el Empleo (Bridges to Employment) worked with El Salvador’s employers to shift perceptions of vulnerable youth, adopt more inclusive hiring practices, and develop innovative transportation and technology solutions that overcome distance and safety barriers. The activity worked with HR representatives to highlight the benefits of youth employees such as their willingness to meet short-term hiring needs, reduce redlining and eliminate polygraphs as disqualifiers in hiring practices, and diversify recruitment channels to reduce employee turnover.
The Tanzania Youth Economic Empowerment (YEE) Activity sought to make the business case to shift private sector industry perceptions of young people as “un-bankable” or “too risky,” to viewing them as viable assets and investments to grow businesses and support bottom lines. Youth also participated in Youth Advisory Councils (YAC) in all districts and at the regional level to promote youth issues. The YACs started as advisory bodies to the activity, but grew in capacity and reach to provide community training based upon the skills they learned as part of the activity.
The Mitra Kunci Initiative mentioned above also sought to include young people into decision-making bodies. The activity provided funding for a youth opportunity fund that allowed youth to form consortia with government and private sector companies that would then develop proposals for funding considerations. These forums gave private sector representatives the opportunity to see the innovative work of local youth-serving organizations through their proposals and demonstrated the agency and efficacy of youth to create meaningful change in their communities.
K-Yes and Bridges to Employment worked with employers to introduce concepts of gender bias and to promote more gender- and socially inclusive recruitment and hiring practices. Interventions sought to socialize the wider community to women’s inclusion in traditionally male-dominated sectors and occupations as well as bring awareness to gender-based violence in the workplace.
A common challenge experienced across all of the YouthPower activities and across the youth workforce development sector more broadly is how to ensure the programs are sustainable. Leveraging support from country stakeholders, including the private sector, is essential for sustaining training and services once donor funding ends. How to leverage private sector support remains an ongoing challenge. A few recent youth workforce development programs have attempted to generate co-equal funding by employers, by calculating the return on investment for participating employers to demonstrate the program’s value added and then solicit funding.
However, receptiveness of employers in developing countries to co-fund youth workforce development programs varies considerably and donor-led program models may create disincentives for the private sector to invest. Demand-driven interventions prove most successful when the private sector plays a role in shaping skills training focused on sectors where they have the greatest job demand. For this reason and those mentioned above, private sector engagement must not only engage businesses in the design of activities but strive to create shared value between private sector entities and service providers and participants.
Private sector engagement in youth workforce development activities can take many forms and has evolved considerably over the past 10 years—from purely corporate social responsibility relationships to innovative partnerships in which employers are advocates and partial co-investors in youth workforce development. More work is still needed to shift mindsets and incentivize businesses. As stakeholders, sources of expertise, and champions to youth employment, employers have the ability to make significant contributions to youth and employment outcome, if meaningfully engaged.
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Overview of the Task Order Review
YouthPower is a USAID-funded contract awarded in 2015 that aimed to expand the evidence base in international positive youth development. It sought to improve Positive Youth Development approaches across programs and sectors and strengthen the capacity of youth-led and youth-serving institutions. YouthPower was composed of two inter-linked Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts: YouthPower: Implementation and YouthPower: Evidence and evaluation. The task order review from which this blog is based presents an analysis of the 11 activities implemented under the USAID YouthPower project.