Published on Jobs and Development

What we’re reading about designing effective vocational training programs for youth

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Students work on an engine at Sisli Vocational High School Vocational training programs for young people can help address inequalities in access to education and employment opportunities. Copyright: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

Supporting youth to acquire in-demand skills may be more important than ever to address continuously rising inequality.   Recent data shows that young people continue to be among the groups most severely impacted by the economic effects of COVID-19. The resulting losses in jobs and learning can have long-lasting negative repercussions for youth. One reason is that skills and employability deplete increasingly the longer workers remain out of work.

Post-educational vocational training programs support the unemployed to upgrade and adjust their skills to current demand on the labor market.  Recent studies suggest such training programs can mitigate long-term consequences of job-loss, in particular following recessions. Training programs are also vital to address existing inequalities in access to education and employment opportunities for disadvantaged groups.

Recent impact evaluations provide a wealth of evidence of what works in vocational training, but we lack an up-to-date synthesis of this literature. Existing reviews of active labor market programs commonly report that skills training programs have moderate impacts on labor market outcomes. While this provides valid grounds for critique, these impacts are not much different from those of other active labor market programs and may be even higher in the longer term. However, we are missing reviews that assess vocational training programs in detail – eliciting factors that matter for their success and uncover mechanisms behind their effectiveness. Particularly important would be to better understand success factors in the specific context of low-income countries.

To fill this knowledge gap, we conducted a systematic stocktaking of recent impact evaluations of vocational training programs targeted at young people globally. We extracted more than 1,650 impact estimates from 89 studies, many of them experimental evaluations of programs in lower- and middle-income countries. Our analysis sheds light on the effectiveness of various design features and their relevance in different labor market contexts. In this blog, we showcase recent studies that highlight some key design elements of successful vocational trainings: being demand-driven, delivering transferable skills, providing certification, and including support offers to lower participation barriers.

Essential readings

Broader jobs agenda

  • Policies that increase firm productivity are more effective in expanding wage employment and increasing workers’ earnings than other interventions that improve workers’ skills or decrease firm entry cost. (Amodio et al., IZA Discussion Papers, August 2022)
  • Worker productivity and wages grow with tenure and experience . Several key findings emerge from this paper, including that on-the-job productivity growth exceeds wage growth, and previous experience is a substitute, but a far less than perfect one, for on-the-job tenure. (Caplin et al., NBER Working Paper Series, August 2022)
  • Cutting long-term benefit duration effectively brings workers (that have not spent too much time in non-employment) back into the labor force. (Domènech-Arumí & Vannutelli, ECARES working paper, July 2022).
  • In Denmark, reforms that expand language training for adult refugees and improved their economic integration, had significant intergenerational spillover effects in terms of higher completion rates from lower secondary school and lower juvenile crime rates. (Foged et al., NBER Working Paper Series, August 2022)
  • Integrating survey data and publicly available geospatial indicators can greatly improve state-level estimates of male and female labor force participation and unemployment rates, as well as municipal estimates of male and female labor force participation. (Merfeld et al., World Bank, June 2022).
  • In Burkina Faso, the profits and employment recorded by grant beneficiaries are not different when compared with the profits and employment in the control group. They do, however, report better innovation. (Grimm et al., World Bank, June 2022)

COVID-19 related articles


This blog is based on the September 2022 edition of the Knowledge4Jobs newsletter, curated by the World Bank’s Jobs Group and Labor and Skills Global Solutions Group. Click here to sign up for the Knowledge4Jobs newsletter.


Jonathan Stöterau

Economist and Impact Evaluation Specialist in the Jobs Group

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