Published on Jobs and Development

What we’re reading about enhancing apprenticeship for youth and firms

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Apprenticeship programs Apprenticeship programs are one of the main sources of skills training for young people in many low-income and lower-middle-income economies. Copyright: Olivier Girard/World Bank

Evidence on the effectiveness of vocational and skills training programs has vastly expanded over the last decade, with mixed results. Traditionally, apprenticeship entails on-the-job training with a master craftsperson. It is at times “dual” when combined with center-based vocational training.

Apprenticeship is an important institution in several developed countries, but also one of the main sources of skills training for youths in many low-income and lower-middle-income economies. While the enhancement of traditional apprenticeship has received renewed policy attention in recent years, it still attracts relatively limited investments.

Upgrading apprenticeship systems can improve productivity and earnings for youths. It can also have beneficial effects for the micro and small enterprises (including informal) that account for the bulk of employment in developing countries.

A flurry of recent work has analyzed how to improve apprenticeship, with new insights for policy and programming.

First comes the question of how to improve youth demand for training. Policy interventions can foster youth entry into apprenticeship by improving the matching of youths with firms or setting up dual apprenticeships that enhance training quality and make it more attractive.

Second, evidence on the impacts of apprenticeship on youths has provided some encouraging results. Various economic or well-being outcomes improved in the short-term in Uganda or Nigeria, and earnings increased by 15% two years after the end of the program in Côte d’Ivoire. Important questions on gender differences and overall cost-effectiveness remain, however.

Lastly, there are open debates on the impacts of apprenticeship on firms and firms’ overall willingness to train. National reforms of apprenticeship regulations have increased the hiring of apprentices by firms in low-skills sectors in Colombia, while the entry of subsidized apprentices has fueled firm expansion with little crowding out in Côte d’Ivoire and increased firm profits in Ghana.

Several ongoing operations led by the World Bank’s Social Protection and Jobs and Education Global Practices are trying new approaches to improve national apprenticeship systems. At the Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) Department, we have started new collaborative efforts to learn from those programs. Feel free to get in touch with our team at for more information!

Essential readings

  • While vocational and skills training programs have had mixed results, those that included practical experience, soft-skills training, and job referrals often increased hours worked and earnings for participants. (J-PAL, August 2022)
  • This book chapter provides a broad overview of the literature on apprenticeship, summarizing advancements in theoretical and empirical research, assessing the benefits of apprenticeship for individuals, and discussing the role of institutions. (Wolter et al., Handbook of the Economics of Education, 2011)
  • A recent International Labor Organization (ILO) report reviews informal apprenticeship in developing countries, compiling country-level findings by the ILO and others over the last 15 years. (Hofmann et al., ILO Working Paper 49, February 2022)
  • This paper offers a theory on why firms train apprentices, suggesting that they offer training when the quitting rate is low to gain information on trainees’ abilities. (Acemoglu & Pischke, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, February 1998)
  • In Ghana, matching young people with small firms led to an increase in firm size of approximately half a worker and an increase in firm profits of approximately 10% for each apprentice placement offered. (Hardy & McCasland, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Forthcoming)
  • In Cote d’Ivoire, subsidized dual apprenticeships lead to a large increase in youth participation in apprenticeship without crowding-out traditional apprentices in firms. Consistent with the dual training making apprenticeship more attractive, youth have higher earnings by 15% two years after the end of the program. (Crépon and Premand, Working Paper 2019)
  • In Colombia, a study found that firms in high-skill sectors tend to avoid training apprentices due to high training costs, while firms in low‐skill sectors hire as many apprentices as possible. (Caicedo et al., Econometrica, March 2022)
  • Women’s participation in an apprenticeship program in Malawi was hampered by family obligations, resulting in poor training experiences and no improvements in labor market outcomes in the short run. (Cho et al., Working Paper, June 2016)
  • In Nigeria, a program called Mafita that aimed to provide marginalized youth with access to skilled work or productive self-employment had a positive impact on employment and productivity, job search behavior, and economic welfare, although the program’s cost-effectiveness remains a question. (Crawford et al., World Bank report, April 2021)

Broader jobs agenda

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This blog is based on the November 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.

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