Strengthening the link between youth skills and jobs

October 16, 2019
A Syrian refugee at work in a Lebanese textile factory supported by UK aid and Mercy Corps.
Russell Watkins / DFID

Youth employment is a global challenge and a top policy concern worldwide. The International Labour Organization estimates that over 64 million youth aged 15-24 are unemployed around the world. The issue appears to be more prevalent in developing countries, where youth are twice as likely to be unemployed or trapped in low-quality jobs when compared to their counterparts in developed countries.

A lack of employment opportunities is an obvious constraint to youth employment, no matter the location. However, evidence of persistent unfilled job vacancies and a high turnover in jobs held by youth point to two other issues. One is the mismatch between the skills that job seekers offer and job requirements.

Research highlights

  • National employment agencies in Francophone Africa need to increase access, equity, and efficiency in matching youth with jobs.
  • Employment matching programs must consider youth perceptions and potential stigmas associated with specific jobs or job-help programs.
  • Greater insights into youth aspirations, ambitions, and preferences are needed.
  • Employment service centres must continually assess whether their services are meeting the needs of the community. 

The second issue relates to information inefficiencies or “frictions” in the labour market, meaning that either employers or applicants lack the information they need to reach a beneficial working arrangement. High turnover is a reflection of young job-seekers committing to work they knew little about, only to find out later that it wasn’t a good match in terms of personal fulfilment or job expectations.

Better matches between job seekers and employers

IDRC supports several research projects that use rigorous impact evaluation methods to determine the most effective ways of addressing information frictions in Francophone Africa, the Middle East and northern Africa.

Various stakeholders have stepped in either to connect youth with existing opportunities or to give young people the chance to upgrade their skills in line with demand. For example, some national employment agencies collect job offers and then search for potential candidates who are either readily employable or who would be qualified with the help of some training and support. By acting as an intermediary, these employment agencies address information inefficiencies between employers and job seekers.

More efficient job matching programs 

IDRC-funded research led by the University of Yaoundé II investigated national employment agency programs in Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Republic of the Congo, and Senegal.

Very few of these agencies could measure their effectiveness by tracking job seekers from the time of application to the point when they join the labour market. Overall, the research found that their programs needed to improve in the areas of access, equity, and efficiency. A review of applications showed that primarily young men from major cities benefitted, with far fewer women and rural workers using the services. Researchers also documented limited youth awareness of the services offered by the agencies.

The agencies were also missing important tools to improve their effectiveness, such as performance indicators, efficiency ratios, and staff learning opportunities.

Recruiting for youth employment training

In Egypt, researchers with Education for Employment Egypt, in partnership with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and the American University in Cairo focused on improving youth employment training. The research established that street campaigns and phone calls have been ineffective tools for recruiting young people for training and connecting them to pre-identified employment opportunities. Online Facebook campaigns helped the researchers reach out to more youth and improve uptake.

Participation in training opportunities was still lower than expected, and the research team attributed this to a stigma associated with certain types of jobs and support. For example, highly educated youth from wealthier families were reluctant to use employment training or job matching services because members of their social group might look down on these programs as interventions designed for youth with less income and education. Others rejected the idea of receiving charity. Advertising designed to get around these stigmas increased application rates among youth from middle to high-income families, but they had less of an effect on poorer segments.

Lower than expected uptake of training programs and the stigma attached to some of them highlight the important fact that beyond providing opportunity and information, it is necessary to gain more insights into youth aspirations, ambitions, and preferences, and to identify other factors that could be leading to low participation. 

Understanding the needs of job-seekers

The American University in Cairo investigated measures to make job fairs in Egypt more effective by using matchmaking mechanisms between young job seekers and potential employers. Early evidence shows that lack of information and transportation affects job fair attendance.

In Lebanon, the American University of Sharjah measured the impact of employment service centres providing coaching and job matching services to Palestinian refugees. An initial qualitative analysis found that most youth registered with the employment services program had some form of work. They were more concerned with the quality of jobs than with the lack of jobs and noted a mismatch between their current work and their education and training. Men were more likely to change jobs and women reported that social and cultural factors limited their ability to apply for certain jobs. The research points to the need for a greater exchange of information between employment service centres and Palestinians to improve placements and align the services of the centres with the needs of job seekers.

Solutions to meet youth aspirations

Useful recommendations to reduce information friction and to improve the matching process between youth and employers are emerging from this research. It is possible, for example, to improve organizational efficiency, target marginalized groups, address stigma associated with employment services, and better align these services with community needs.

However, the efforts of labour market intermediaries did not see youth uptake to the extent expected. This points to the fact that beyond providing opportunities and information, there is a need to gain more insights into youth aspirations, ambitions, and preferences, and to understand perceptions of opportunities and programs across different groups. Additional research and testing is necessary to identify how to promote opportunities and improve matching to reach different demographics. 

Learn more about our Employment and Growth program and Boosting Decent Employment for Africa’s Youth.