Vocational training helps women find better employment
Women face countless extra hurdles in the working world. They earn less than men, are more likely to be unemployed, are over-represented in vulnerable employment situations, and have extra challenges when starting their own businesses, according to the United Nations. Resolving these problems could pay big dividends by promoting overall economic growth and improving children's well-being, according to the IMF — on top of improving lives for women themselves. So what interventions improve women's prospects in the workplace?
Vocational training has raised women's earnings, rates of overall employment, and rates of formal employment in low- and middle-income countries. Business training programs for operators of small enterprises also seem to improve women's employment outlooks, although the evidence is not as strong as it is for vocational training programs.
There is some evidence that programs with a strong gender focus — those which specifically address barriers created by gender norms — yield larger benefits for women. It also appears that programs in Africa and Asia have larger effects than those elsewhere. Both of these findings are tentative, however, because they are based on small numbers of studies.
This evidence comes from one of 3ie's systematic reviews which combines the results from numerous studies around the world. This approach provides stronger evidence than relying on a single case, where idiosyncratic issues can affect program outcomes. The review included research on 30 different interventions from low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.
The vocational training programs included in the review aimed to prepare women for a range of medium-skill occupations (e.g. plumber, receptionist, carpenter, or cosmetologist) or high-skill occupations (e.g. computer programmer or web designer). The review excluded programs that provided training for low-skill occupations like agricultural labor or domestic service. It also excluded vocational training programs within high schools or colleges, because those programs are more complex and would require a separate review.
On average, the included vocational training programs increased the likelihood of being employed by 11 per cent, of being employed in formal sector by 8 per cent, and earnings by 5 per cent.
Some of the vocational training programs also included either life skills training or an internship. Programs that included these components seemed to yield larger effects on earnings, although there was no significant difference in rates of employment.
It is harder to parse out the effects of the business training programs, because most of those programs also included either life skills training or cash transfers to help businesses grow. So it's unclear which part of the program was the important one.
Nonetheless, the business training programs increased the likelihood that participating women would be self-employed, as well as increasing the sales and profit margins of their businesses.
For more information about the study's findings and methodology, read the full study available here. Beyond this study, hundreds of other systematic reviews and thousands of impact evaluations are available in our new Development Evidence Portal.
This blog is part of our campaign 2020 Hindsight: What works in Development. Learn more about the campaign and read past blogs here.