Bettina Jenny and Sonja Hofstetter of Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, Switzerland and Gisela Keller of Helvetas USA explain how a skills development program in Nepal has trained over 100,000 youth— with more than 75,000 of them gainfully employed.
In Nepal, about 500,000 young people enter the Nepalese labor market every year. Most of them are unskilled and have not completed formal education. Moreover, the private sector in Nepal is weak, and a ten-year-long civil war (1996-2006) and subsequent ongoing political instability have contributed to the worsening economic and social situation. In short, getting a job is a huge challenge for many young people in Nepal.
Good intentions are not enough. Future employment and earning outcomes are the key indicator to measure the success of skills training. Many development actors provide skills training with the goal of making personal and economic perspectives available to youth in countries with high unemployment. Such programs tend to focus more on training delivery than on employment, and graduates of these kinds of youth skills programs often discover that their newly acquired skills do not meet market demands.
We do things differently. In 2007, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) joined with HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation to establish the Employment Fund to create new and effective ways to scale up approaches addressing the alarming scope of youth unemployment in Nepal. Funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the World Bank, the Employment Fund began its operations in 2008. The Employment Fund offers training in about 80 occupations in construction, hospitality, garments and textile, agriculture, and electronics – to name a few -- in locations all over Nepal. The Employment Fund received a prize for good practice in youth employment awarded by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and was among the ten finalists for the OECD DAC Prize for Taking Development Innovation to Scale.
Unlike many other skills training programs, the Employment Fund applies a results-based financing approach that has proven to effectively lead to gainful employment upon the completion of training. Training providers are paid based on their success in training youth and subsequently connecting them with the labor market. The key result is gainful employment.
As we today mark UN Women’s Day, it is worth considering what the inequality between men and women costs South Asian countries and what can be done about it.
One big cost of inequality is that South Asian economies do not reach their full potential. In Bangladesh, for example, women account for most unpaid work, and are overrepresented in the low productivity informal sector and among the poor. Raising the female employment rate could contribute significantly to Bangladesh achieving its goal in 2021 of becoming a middle-income country. Yet even middle-income countries in South Asia could prosper from more women in the workforce. Women represent only 34 percent of the employed population in Sri Lanka, a figure that has remained static for decades.
Improvements in the education and health of women have been linked to better outcomes for their children in countries as varied as Nepal and Pakistan. In India, giving power to women at the local government level led to increases in public services, such as water and sanitation.
Just as the costs of inequality are huge, so is the challenge in overcoming it. The gaps in opportunity between men and women are the product of pervasive and stubborn social norms that privilege men’s and boys’ access to opportunities and resources over women’s and girls’.
The Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) through its eight pilots taught us a great deal about how to make skills training more female-friendly and support young women's transition to productive employment. In addition to all the lessons we learned about working with young women, the pilots also taught us a lot about how to improve the overall quality of skills training.
Our Top 5 quality enhancement lessons, along with links to more information, can be found online in our Resource Guide and here:
Lesson 1: Skills training projects need to set realistic expectations for self-employment versus wage employment. In contexts with limited opportunities for wage employment, skills training projects should help orient youth to the likelihood of self-employment and develop content suitable to different levels of aspiration in that sphere. In Liberia, for example, we offered a job skills track and a business skills track. We ended up having to gradually reduce the size of the job skills track from 35 percent of trainees in Round 1 to just 18 percent in Round 3 after our impact evaluation showed the employment rate in the business skills track was much stronger. This wasn’t easy—it involved changing the orientation of the client, the training providers, and the girls themselves.
Lesson 2: Involving the private sector can improve the market relevance and overall effectiveness of training. AGI pilots partnered with the private sector in the implementation arrangements by hiring private companies to provide training tailored to the needs of a specific firm/sector—as in the Rwanda AGI—and by hiring private sector training and employment service companies to deliver training and assist with job placement—as in Haiti, Liberia, and Nepal. We also took low-cost steps to engage the private sector throughout implementation. For example, the Liberia AGI organized Private Sector Working Groups to provide routine guidance on project activities and enlisted members of the private sector to inspire the trainees by serving as guest speakers in the classroom.
Lesson 3: Post-training support is critical and must be planned and budgeted for early on. Even Getting the training up and running always seems like priority number one, but over the course of implementing the AGI pilots we learned that we needed to do a better job planning and budgeting for more structured and intensive post-training support from the very beginning of each project. The AGI pilots provided three to six months of post-training job placement assistance—such as internships, job search coaching, and so on—or business advisory services—such as business mentoring and check-ins, linkages to micro-franchises and business capital, etc. The exact balance of classroom training versus placement support hasn’t been rigorously tested, but our experience suggests this support can really help trainees put their new skills to use in the labor market. An extended follow-up period may be particularly important for young women just entering the labor market or breaking into non-traditional trades.
Lesson 4: Improving the monitoring and verification of employment outcomes is essential if we want to improve employment outcomes in skills training projects. Many projects don’t monitor attendance or performance during training, let alone keep track of participants after training ends. AGI pilots monitored business and job performance and verified employment outcomes up to six months after classroom training ended. The pilots relied on self-reporting by service providers, then verified these claims among a random sample of trainees (about 25 percent) by talking with employers, local women, and community members, and by accessing the trainee’s business records. The percentage of employed youth in the sample was then extrapolated to the population that the training provider claimed to be employed. In Liberia and Nepal, where pilots implemented results-based contracts, this extrapolation was used as a basis for the final payment. Any inaccurate claims by training providers proportionally reduced their payment and could jeopardize eligibility for future rounds of training. In the Resource Guide, you can download the employment/business verification strategy from the Liberia AGI, as well as tools for monitoring and placement verification.
Lesson 5: Performance-based incentives are operationally feasible—even in fragile settings—and seem to improve outcomes, though this is an area for more rigorous testing. We used results-based contracts for training providers in the relatively small program in Liberia, targeting 2,500 young women, as well as in the Nepal AGI, which was embedded in a larger program that trains 15,000 youth annually. Both projects achieved impressive results and we hypothesize that the performance incentives for the service providers accounts for this in part.
A forthcoming and final blog in this series will address recommendations for future learning and research from the AGI.
From 2008-2015, we implemented pilots in eight countries, with the aim of supporting young women’s transition to productive employment. The AGI marked the Bank’s first experience working with this population—adolescent girls and young women—on this topic—skills and employment. We learned a great deal lot along the way, which we have collated in an online Resource Guide to share with other teams.
We tested two main program models—a classroom-based Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) model that delivered job and business skills plus life skills, and a Girls’ Club model that delivered life skills and short livelihood trainings in community-based safe space clubs. Both significantly impacted economic outcomes for young women, though the Girls’ Club model was far less expensive.
In Liberia, for example, the Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (EPAG) project—a TVET, classroom-based program—increased participants' employment by 47 percent and earnings by 80 percent. In Uganda, meanwhile, the Girl's Club program raised the likelihood of girls’ engagement in income-generating activities by 35 percent and had large impacts on risky sexual behaviors and the girls’ experience of violence.
A recent meta-analysis of Active Labor Market Policies (ALMPs) suggests that average program effects tend to be larger for females, and that training and other human capital interventions are particularly effective among women. This suggests that both AGI models—classroom-based vocational training and community-based Girls' Club training—should continue to be implemented and tested across a variety of settings.
So what made the AGI projects effective for young women?
First, AGI worked hard to get girls into the projects and to keep them there—which is challenging in itself, especially for younger girls. We know that attrition from training programs is high, but we don’t really know the magnitude of the problem because so many projects don’t monitor or report individual attendance. When projects do report attrition and disaggregate by sex, they often find young women drop out more than young men and for different reasons. AGI pilots were able to successfully recruit young women and maintained completion rates above 90 percent.
Here are some of the steps AGIs took to recruit young women and retain them:
- Consulted directly with girls in a vulnerability assessment to identify their constraints and needs;
- Budgeted time and resources for specialized communications and recruitment campaigns targeted to reach girls;
- Held morning and evening sessions in safe, accessible locations and took steps to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence;
- Provided free on-site childcare so young mothers could participate;
- Provided access to mentors inside and outside the classroom who helped follow up when girls missed training;
- Incentivized good attendance with stipends tied to participation, small completion bonuses, and trainee commitment forms, and facilitated access to savings so that participants could safely retain their stipends and earnings; and
- Incentivized training providers to help girls transition to jobs through results-based financing schemes.
Providing girls with accurate information about the returns to various male- and female-dominated trades is a first step. An experiment in Kenya provided such information and was able to get young women to sign up for training in male-dominated trades, but later on they were no more likely to complete training or pursue work in those trades than young women who had not received the information.
Qualitative work in Uganda among women who successfully "crossed over" into male-dominated fields found the presence of male role models early in a young woman’s career was an important factor, suggesting further that information alone isn’t enough.
Here are some things AGIs did to break occupational segregation:
- Conducted local labor market assessments that intentionally explored market demand in non-traditional trades for women;
- Included an orientation period to educate participants about their training options;
- Encouraged women to enter non-traditional trades in groups;
- Supported participants with mentors, other role models from the community, and careful monitoring for potential unintended consequences.
So what’s the bottom line?
Being intentional about designing and implementing projects that work well for young women requires more planning and resources up front, but the results are impressive—making the investment worthwhile. A single program doesn’t have to do it all—strategies for making training female-friendly need to make sense in the local context.
Forthcoming blogs will explore broader "good practice" lessons from the AGI—not specific to young women—and highlight recommendations for future research and learning.
In Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, you cannot miss the slum neighborhoods. More than 5,000 slum communities, accounting for 40 percent of the population, are spread across the city, often located right next to luxury penthouses, hotels, and high-rise office buildings. Most slum dwellers are limited to low-quality housing in precarious areas, often prone to flooding. The limited access to adequate shelter is an important factor that – according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 livability rankings – makes Dhaka one of the least livable cities in the world. These communities are among the most neglected in the city in terms of urban policy, planning, and development, although the people who live in the slums make up the lion’s share of the work force, which drives the city’s economy, contributing significantly to the garment and leather industries, construction, waste management, and many other informal sectors.
Living in slums puts enormous social, economic, and financial burdens on households, and it can lead to intergenerational poverty. Many argue that slum dwellers are caught in a poverty trap—that living in slums makes it harder for households to escape poverty. Several slum-related factors contribute to the perpetuation of poverty, including poor health outcomes; an inability to access finance or leverage property assets; and lack of access to basic services. The existence of slums is a symptom of a shortage of affordable housing, the provision of which can be viewed as a valuable goal in its own right and as a critical ingredient in addressing the broader challenges of poverty.