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Making skills training female-friendly: What pilots from the Adolescent Girls Initiative can teach us

Sarah Haddock's picture
The global jobs crisis has fueled interest globally in how to improve the quality of skills training programs to prepare people for productive employment. The Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) has some of the best results to-date among skills training projects that have been rigorously evaluated, so it makes sense to ask what made these pilots successful.

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.

Two models

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.

Lessons learned

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: Another key female-friendly feature of AGI projects was their explicit aim to steer women towards more profitable trades. By default, many skills training programs channel young women into traditionally female fields that are often less lucrative and less secure. Breaking down job segregation isn’t easy, but it is possible—and should, arguably, be an objective of projects aimed at improving economic outcomes for women.

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.