What gets youths into jobs around the world? Train them in a skill.
Worldwide, young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, according to data from the International Labor Organization (ILO). Even among employed youth, many work bad jobs for painfully low wages. More than 160 million working youth are below the UN's poverty threshold, and 96.8 per cent of employed youth in developing countries work in the informal sector, according to ILO data. So what works to get young people into jobs and raise their wages?
Skills training programs have been shown to be effective in a wide variety of environments all over the world. After training, youths are more likely to be employed and they earn more. Notably, these positive effects appear in a wide range of contexts, including low-income and high-income countries, as well as among youth who are particularly disadvantaged.
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. This particular 3ie review analyzed 107 youth employment interventions of various types, including 68 that trained youth in a skill. An earlier, more limited systematic review by a different set of authors found similar results.
The positive results for skills training interventions stand in contrast to a lack of evidence supporting the effectiveness of other types of programs, like providing employment services or subsidized employment. Next week we'll write about one other promising type of intervention: entrepreneurship programs for youth, which seem to work in low- and middle-income countries.
The youth skills trainings programs analyzed in the review provided a wide range of job-specific technical skills, business skills, literacy skills, numeracy skills, or other non-technical skills. The key is that they provided a new skill for participants, rather than just offering services to help them look for a job or offering them subsidized employment. While the programs vary in their definition of 'youth,' all of the interventions targeted people between 15 and 35 years old. This range takes into account time it can typically take people to transition from education to employment.
Participating youths' earnings and employment rates rose after skills training programs in countries across the income spectrum, although the effects were smaller in high-income contexts. Earnings, in particular, rose substantially more in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries. The review draws evidence from 29 interventions in high-income countries and 38 interventions in low- and middle-income countries.
Skills training programs were particularly effective at raising earnings for disadvantaged youth, defined as those youth who were particularly low-income, at risk, or vulnerable. The programs' positive effects were not limited to these youth, however — earnings and rates of employment also went up for youth who were not classified as disadvantaged.
For more information about the study's findings and methodology, the full study and a shorter summary are available here. Beyond this study, hundreds of other systematic reviews and thousands of impact evaluations are available in our evidence hub here.
This is the fifth blog in our campaign 2020 Hindsight: What works in Development. Learn more about the campaign and read past blogs here.