Innovations in youth employment programs are critical to addressing this enormous development challenge effectively. Rapid progress in digital technology, behavioral economics, evaluation methods, and the connectivity of youth in the developing world generates a stream of real-time insights and opportunities in project design and implementation. Part of the challenge is the sheer number of projects (just in Egypt, there are over 180 youth employment programs). And even without being aware, projects often innovate out of necessity in response to situations they face on the ground. But innovations need to be tested in different country contexts to be able to make an impact at scale.
Through the new Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) report, our team ventured to curate a few such ongoing innovations as they were being implemented through S4YE’s Impact Portfolio — a group of 19 youth employment projects from different regions being implemented by different partners across the globe. This network of youth employment practitioners serves as a dynamic learning community and laboratory for improving the jobs outcomes of youth globally.
Economic research is essential for designing and implementing evidence-based solutions to improve job opportunities. In a recent conference organized by the World Bank and IZA, researchers from around the world presented over 30 research papers on important labor topics such as migration, gender, youth employment, and labor policies in low-income countries. Here is an illustrative sample of four innovative works presented during the conference.
How can we provide employment to the 1.8 billion young people that live on this planet? Will we have enough jobs for all these young people? Will there be sufficient high-quality and high-productivity work, especially for women, who are often the most vulnerable when it comes to finding meaningful work?
Extreme poverty in the world has decreased considerably over the past three decades. In 1981, more than half of citizens in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate has dropped dramatically to 21% in 2010. Moreover, despite a 59% increase in the developing world’s population, there were significantly fewer people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2010 (1.2 billion) than there were three decades ago (1.9 billion). However, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty—an extremely high figure, so the task ahead of us remains herculean.
The International Labour Organization estimates that 73.4 million people aged 15-24 do not have a job (43% of global youth), and three times as many young people are underemployed. At the same time, 40% of employers report skills shortage for entry level vacancies, according to McKinsey (Social Initiative 2015). Hence, skill gaps have become an issue to both employers and the unemployed. This trend is exacerbated by technological advancements which are rapidly replacing manual jobs, leaving millions of young people unprepared to participate in the 21st-century knowledge economy.
Three aspects of the skills gap problem need to be addressed in order to find a sustainable solution: urgency, proficiency in technology, and job market readiness. The 2016 World Development Report finds that returns to education are particularly high for ICT-intensive occupations. The wage premium for working in ICT-intensive occupations is around 5% for both men and women in developing countries (WDR 2016). This suggests a tremendous potential of technology education for reducing poverty and boosting prosperity in the developing world.
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.
Nevertheless, they are too small in size and quality to make the kind of dent in jobs and employment that is needed. Agriculture accounts for 32% of total employment globally, according to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends Report 2014. In 2013, 74.5 million youth – aged 15-24 - were unemployed, an increase of more than 700,000 over the previous year. That same year, the global youth unemployment rate reached 13.1%, which was almost three times as high as the adult unemployment rate. One contributing factor in these rates is the lack of interest in agriculture among youth cohorts. Simply put, agriculture is not a preferred job and livelihood option for young people.
The past decade has wrought numerous studies on youth training programs, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, little research exists on they operate and their effects beyond the labor market. We spoke with Guillermo Cruces, of the Center for Distributive, Labor and Social Studies (CEDLAS) at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina, about the Center's efforts to fill this hole by studying the Entra21 program in Cordoba in 2011-12.