What to Consider When Designing a Youth Workforce Development Activity
Youth employment remains a global challenge, with an estimated 80 million youth unemployed in low- and middle- income countries worldwide, and numbers are rising. When youth are educated, healthy, employed, and civically engaged, they have the power to drive economic growth, democracy, resilience, and prosperity. However, when the needs of youth are not addressed, poverty, violence, and unrest can follow. In contexts where lack of skills is a contributing factor for high unemployment, workforce development is the practice that targets this challenge and may be one solution, among others.
What Exactly Is Workforce Development?
Youth workforce development is many things to many actors. Understanding how to program for it begins with knowing what it is. At its core, workforce development seeks to benefit two groups: it enables individuals to acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes for gainful employment or improved work performance in a particular trade or occupation. And it provides employers with an effective means to communicate and meet their demand for skills.
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Is Workforce Development Needed for the Context?
Every country is complex and unique; levels of development span the gamut, from economically stable to embroiled in conflict. These levels will help determine if workforce development is an appropriate response, or what type of youth workforce programming is likely to be most effective.
The five levels of development framework, originally developed by Fox and Kaul in their 2017 paper, The Evidence Is In: How Should Youth Employment Programs in Low Income Countries Be Designed?, is helpful for understanding the context in which a youth workforce development activity will take place and how it can determine the types of programming most needed. In some contexts, programming can be directed toward building the capacity of training institutions. However, a country’s context may present other, more significant challenges and require other programming approaches. For example, in some contexts it might be more effective for interventions to address constraints to economic growth—such as increasing private sector investment, supporting firms to improve human resources or management practices, addressing barriers to credit for microenterprises or household enterprises, or working with government to develop policies that strengthen the business enabling environment.
Vital Signs of Workforce Development
Ten areas are vital to the quality of a country’s workforce development system. The related “vital signs” also help suggest where a youth workforce development system might be having problems and where donor and implementer actions would make a difference:
- Alignment with Government’s Economic Priorities: Is the program aligned with existing development plans and country strategies?
- Leadership and Accountability: Is there effective leadership that holds key stakeholders accountable?
- Demand-Driven: Is the program driven by employers’ labor demands?
- Inclusion: Is there accessibility for different groups (youth with disabilities, marginalized youth, young women)?
- Portable Skills: Are the taught skills portable across positions and occupations?
- Continuous Improvement: Is there an internal process for analyzing results and lessons and ensuring learning will occur?
- Public-Private Partnerships: Are there PPPs in place with co-investment and co-responsibility?
- Sustainability: Are the major interventions/activities sustainable?
- Replicability/Scalability: Are the major interventions/activities replicable and scalable?
- Economic and Social Impact: Is the economic and social impact measurable?
These vital signs can be used as a checklist that can be applied to any youth workforce development program; they are not a checklist for a country’s economic or other policies. Like a basic check-up, they help us map where the youth workforce development system might be having problems and where it may be smart to intervene.
Cost is a Consideration
In addition to these issues, the cost effectiveness of proposed interventions is an essential consideration. Some workforce development interventions may prove effective in terms of improved skills or job placement, but the cost may be so high that it is not feasible to scale them or for local institutions to adopt them.
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What are Relevant WFD Systems?
It is important to understand the different actors who need to be engaged to have a sustainable youth workforce activity. Mapping the stakeholders including government, education institutions, employers, and the workforce is an important step in understanding a country’s workforce development system. It is also a way to identify key intermediaries that connect the stakeholders and who might help a workforce system function better.
In addition to understanding the context and current youth workforce programming, it is important to understand the youth themselves. What are the characteristics of the young people you want to reach (e.g. age, educational levels, gender, level of vulnerability) and what specific challenges or opportunities do they face? What is the context in which they live (violence, discrimination, access to transportation, access to role models)?
The Positive Youth Development (PYD) approach intentionally calls for programs geared to youths’ age and developmental stages to build youth assets, focuses on building youth agency, provides a supportive environment, and engages with youth rather than viewing them as passive recipients of workforce programs.
A PYD approach recommends activities that:
- build youth’s assets such as key soft skills or academic or technical skills and knowledge;
- develop youth agency by helping them set goals, develop their own identities, and build confidence that they can accomplish those goals;
- involve youth in decision-making as programs are designed and implemented;
- link youth to a supportive environment through internships and access to mentors; and
- help parents better support youth as they prepare for their economic futures.
Useful Youth Workforce Development Tools and Resources
USAID’s Office of Education has produced a wealth of tools and resources for workforce development programming for youth and young adults. The tools and resources below are some examples across topics of interest.
Workforce Connection’s Key Approaches to Labor Market Assessment will assist users to analyze employment and workforce development in a given country for project design and policymaking. An introductory narrative will characterize existing frameworks and offer information useful for a labor market analysis.
The Youth Compass helps implementers design or execute youth activities more effectively and efficiently. Missions can also use it to inform management or resource actions or as programming guidance.
Youth Soft Skills Research: USAID has supported an extensive body of research and analysis that identifies the key soft skills for youth employment as well as other positive cross-sectoral youth outcomes. We have also identified best practices in how to program soft skills and tools for measuring soft skills.