Published on Let's Talk Development

Can youth apprenticeships and vocational training programs foster social networks and increase women’s empowerment?

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Young apprentice at work at a car mechanic shop. © Photo by Emily Crawford Young apprentice at work at a car mechanic shop. © Photo by Emily Crawford

In a previous blog post, we introduced our impact evaluation of the Mafita program that gave marginalized youth a better chance of finding skilled work or productive self-employment. The goal of this program is to increase youth’s incomes and reduce their propensity to engage in crime and violence. Mafita offered two main types of programs— apprenticeships and classroom-based vocational training through Community Skills Development programs (COSDECs). The impacts of each were assessed using a randomized controlled trial.

The program delivered substantial economic benefits to participating youth in terms of higher employment rates, consumption, assets, and income, although cost-effectiveness was also a concern.  This follow-up blog sheds light on nonmaterial outcomes related to social networks, mental health, crime and violence, and attitudes towards women’s empowerment.

Why is it important to measure these non-economic outcomes?

Because northern Nigeria is affected by conflict, fragility, and violence, an important policy goal during the development of this program was to reduce the likelihood for youth to engage in crime and violent activities by providing them with an alternative route to earn income through training and skills development. The program also prioritized gender equality among its youth participants, considering the large gaps in women’s participation in the labor force, especially in the North. There is still little, and often mixed evidence on the impact of skills training or employment interventions on outcomes, such as women’s empowerment with regards to attitudes, beliefs and decision-making. There is also limited evidence for the positive influence that activities such as support and participation in skills training and labor market opportunities have on reducing crime and violence. Our recent study addresses this gap, especially in fragile and conflict zones. Overall, our study found mixed evidence of impact on nonmaterial outcomes, as highlighted in the figure 1 below. Except for social networks, which show positive outcomes across both programs, the vocational COSDEC program shows better results than the apprenticeships when it comes to these indices.

Figure 1. Impact on nonmaterial outcomes in apprenticeship and COSDEC (full sample)

A chart showing Figure 1. Impact on nonmaterial outcomes in apprenticeship and COSDEC (full sample)

Social networks can play a crucial role in exposing youth to different opportunities and activities, either socially or professionally.  We find positive results for social networks in terms of greater exposure to individuals who are employed, living in different neighborhoods from where they grew up, and from the opposite gender.  The expanded social networks of trainees may expose them to differing viewpoints and members of other social groups. It may also increase their access to job opportunities, through better knowledge of opportunities or increased referrals, for example. These results are corroborated by a parallel qualitative analysis which finds that participants made new friends and believe they achieved greater social status through Mafita.

COSDEC increased participants’ subjective well-being, mostly for female participants, driven by improvements in current life satisfaction. COSDEC also improved gender-related attitudes, including attitudes toward women’s empowerment, agency, and decision-making about financial matters, family planning, and other household matters. There were improvements for the youth participants, as well as their caregivers. This is a very promising finding, both from the perspective of individual participants and in terms of the ability of programs such as Mafita to promote positive social impacts beyond program participants.

Although the assessment of the short-term impacts revealed positive impacts on employment, we did not find any evidence of a reduction in violence or other anti-social behaviors, including stealing, taking drugs, working for criminal groups; participation in riots; or the use of violence for political or religious motives. One of the arguments often made when measuring these outcomes is the tendency to falsely self-report, considering the sensitive nature of these outcomes. To counter social desirability bias, we employed several strategies. For example, we incorporated audio notes within the survey instrument, combined with handing over headphones and tablets to the respondent so that they could answer anonymously. Regardless of the survey techniques, we find that results are mostly unaffected. It is important to note, however, that the incidence of such behaviors among participants was low to begin with.

What do our findings mean for designing future programs?

Our study provides insights to the design of effective labor market policies aimed at marginalized groups in fragile settings. We offer some key program and policy recommendations:

  1. Apprenticeship and vocational skills building type programs can be used to promote self and wage employment and increase earnings for vulnerable youth in fragile and conflict-prone settings.  However, it is important to recognize the limitations and external constraints to wage employment such as the structural challenges labor market.
  2. Future programs should leverage the potential to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through positive changes in gender-related attitudes, behaviors, and norms. 
  3. Future programs should create incentive structures that promote new social and professional networks that can increase participants’ access to job opportunities and enhance their employability. 
  4. When nonmaterial outcomes are program objectives, they should be explicitly incorporated into the program design. This could be achieved through complementary interventions not focused explicitly on income generation.
  5. Program cost-effectiveness is a concern. A preliminary cost-benefit analysis suggests that the apprenticeship program is cost-effective only under optimistic assumptions, while the COSDEC program breaks even only after 23 years. The cost-benefit analysis, while exploratory and based on limited data, highlights that it is important to understand why cost-effectiveness may vary for the design of future programs. Future Mafita-like programs must carefully consider ways to improve the cost-benefit ratio.
  6. Programs should incorporate rigorous evaluations designed to explicitly focus on key components as a complement to overall program impacts, and credit is due to our UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and Adam Smith International partners for their important role in making this research possible.

“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 blog on, What we’re reading about enhancing apprenticeship for youth and firms by Patrick Premand and Kevwe Pela.

The findings and policy implications of the Mafita IE presented here is a result of a multi-year research study undertaken by Emily Crawford, Ben Crost, Oeindrila Dube, Rongmon Deka, Samih Ferrah, Marcus Holmlund, Nausheen Khan, Eric Mvukiyehe and Nuraddeen Sambo Umar. We gratefully acknowledge contributions made by the research team members.



Nausheen Khan

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

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