Published on Let's Talk Development

Can apprenticeships and vocational education offer “a way out” for at-risk youth in Northern Nigeria?

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Image collage of youth apprentices from Nigeria | © Photos by Emily Crawford and Nausheen Khan Image collage of youth apprentices from Nigeria | © Photos by Emily Crawford and Nausheen Khan

Marginalized youth are often trapped in a perpetual cycle of economic and social despair where poverty and lack of opportunities limit their ability to prosper, especially in settings affected by fragility, conflict, and violence.  An additional concern is that economic and social marginalization will push youth toward crime, violence, and radicalization. Northern Nigeria is particularly vulnerable to these crises. The region’s economy has transitioned from traditional trades like leather and textiles to include a variety of enterprises, retail, and agriculture. However, inconsistent policies, poor quality public services, lack of access to modern technology, and job scarcity have hampered the region’s economic potential, resulting in millions of residents living in poverty.

In other African countries, as in much of the world, a key policy priority is to reduce the gap between the number of young people looking for work and the limited employment opportunities available. A recent impact evaluation helps us draw lessons on apprenticeship and vocational training programs in Northern Nigeria and their impacts on economic welfare. In a future blog, we will discuss the nonmaterial outcomes of the program.

Like the rest of the country, Northern Nigeria has a young population––one-fifth of the population is aged 15–24. Traditionally, trades in Northern Nigeria are passed down through an apprenticeship system. However, the apprenticeship system has not grown as quickly as the population, and it often excludes women and other marginalized youth.  This is coupled with many other challenges that youth face, such as overwhelmed and low-quality public school systems, decreases in economic activity (especially in the informal sector of the labor market), and poverty. Lacking skills demanded by wage employers or those required to start enterprises, some youth may be enticed with promises of cash, purpose, status, and power to join criminal groups or even extremists and non-State armed groups.  

A way out for youth

To increase the economic opportunities available to marginalized youth in Northern Nigeria, the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) launched the Mafita program, which ran from 2015 to 2020. Mafita means “way out” in Hausa, the dominant language in Northern Nigeria and other parts of the Sahel. Among other things, the program aimed to improve marginalized youth’s job and self-employment prospects, increase income, and reduce grievances and participation in anti-social activities, including substance abuse, violence, and crime. By working with community and religious leaders to identify and enroll marginalized youth, the program served a population often excluded from meaningful economic opportunities.

What kinds of programs did Mafita offer?

  • Apprenticeships (an enhanced, formalized version of traditional apprenticeships). In Kano state, youth received basic skills training and learned in-demand trades like carpentry, garment making, and auto repair from skilled tradespeople.
  • Vocational training offered through Community Skills Development programs (COSDECs) (focused on classroom-based education covering trade-specific training). In Kaduna and Katsina states, students received a standardized curriculum, developed with the National Board of Technical Education.

To measure the effects of the two Mafita programs, DIME partnered with FCDO and its implementing partner, Adam Smith International, to test the Apprenticeship and COSDEC programs through two randomized controlled trials (one for each program). Both the Apprenticeship and COSDEC programs lasted 12–14 months, depending on whether the participants undertook a two-month entrepreneurship training. Six to nine months after training concluded, a survey was conducted covering approximately 7,000 respondents. Reviews of existing evidence (for example, here and here) find mixed results for apprenticeships and vocational training programs.

What do we find?

On the labor market side, we see strong, positive effects on income-generating activities (employment and income), job search behavior (effects for Apprenticeship only), asset ownership, and weekly and monthly consumption. For both programs, improvements in outcomes related to income-generating activities appear to be greater for women (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Impact on economic outcomes of apprenticeship and COSDEC programs

A stock chart showing  Figure 1. Impact on economic outcomes of apprenticeship and COSDEC programs
  • Apprentices were 17 percent more likely to be employed in self- or family-owned businesses, and 10 percent more likely to be in wage employment. 
  • Apprentices increased profits from self-employment by 17 percent (although income from wage employment did not increase) and increased time spent in self-employment by 9 percent.
  • COSDEC participants were 35 percent more likely to be employed in self- or family-owned businesses, and 40 percent more likely to be in wage employment.
  • COSDEC participants increased profits from self-employment by 38 percent and income from wage employment by 55 percent. Participants also increased the time spent per month in self- and wage employment by 31 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
  • Across both programs, we find strong and positive effects on the overall measure of asset ownership and consumption, measured by an index of household durable items as well as expenditure on items such as food, clothing, and transport.

Overall, the results are highly encouraging and suggest that apprenticeship and vocational training programs can be used to promote self- and wage-employment and increase earnings for vulnerable youth in fragile and conflict-prone settings.  Further research into the impacts of specific program components such as foundational skills training, entrepreneurship training, and access to finance is necessary to estimate the value-added of such components and improve the cost-effectiveness of such programs. However, the results are particularly promising for women, which has important implications for future programs in terms of design and targeting.

“For more information on the study, see A Way Out? Evidence from Two Trials of the Mafita Apprenticeship and Community-Based Skills Training Programs in Northern Nigeria - Endline Evaluation Report.”

“For more information on Apprenticeships, see the blog, “What we’re reading about enhancing apprenticeship for youth and firms” by Patrick Premand and Kevwe Pela.


Nausheen Khan

Research Analyst within the World Bank's Development Economics Vice Presidency

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