Workforce development initiatives build the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that youth need to obtain and participate in productive work. Activities in this area strive to bring the private and public sector together to ensure that education improves both the workforce readiness and technical skills necessary for youth to participate in the world of work effectively.

Where are we now?

Workforce development as a field is hard to generalize due to its many different providers, approaches, and target populations, which range from universities educating highly-skilled medical personnel to community organizations providing basic literacy skills to out-of-school youth.  However, increasing global unemployment and events, such as the Arab Spring, have highlighted a common problem of these providers - their services have not kept pace with changes in the private sector, leading to widespread mismatches between skills available and those demanded. Practitioners are responding through a renewed emphasis on collaboration with the private sector to ensure that educational institutions and community organizations are providing demand-driven skills to students, while employers invest in improved on-the-job training to build the skills of new employees quickly and cost-effectively.

Trends and Best Practices

  • Private sector buy-in is critical in developing the programs that link young people to formal employment opportunities. When the private sector is an invested party with donors and social organizations, there is greater possibility for young people to access employment opportunities as they continuously develop their skills and knowledge.
  • Young people and their families are looking for programs that offer practical and hands on opportunities, such as apprenticeships with trade based companies or internships with companies or NGO's. Some programs offer voucher systems that cover the cost of the internships, which have been particularly successful for young women seeking employment in more conservative countries. Participation in workforce development programs often increases when these practical opportunities for relevant skills application are included.
  • Many vocational institutions are not best placed to develop the technical skills of young people given the high rate of change in technology and the challenges for these institutions to keep pace. The private sector, on the other hand, has to keep pace with the market to remain competitive and therefore offers an alternative housing of skills development offerings.
  • Historically, workforce development focused primarily on building technical skills required for a given trade. However, most programs now recognize the importance of incorporating work-readiness skills, including basic literacy, numeracy, and job conduct. If these skills are lacking, it will make their ability to function in the workplace and learn more specialized vocational skills very weak.
  • Creating employment opportunities is just as important as skills building and should encompass all types of employment – formal, informal, and self-employment. The latter two are particularly important for vulnerable populations, such as women and youth, who may be excluded from formal employment.

BLOG: Cities as Drivers of Economic Opportunity for Youth

Making Cents International

According to the recently released United Nations report (“World Urbanization Prospects”), more than half of humanity now lives in cities. Today, 54% of the world’s population, 3.9 billion people, resides in urban areas, compared to only 30% back in 1950. The report predicts that cities will add an additional 2.5 billion people by 2050, with nearly 90% of this increase happening in Asia and Africa.

BLOG: Workforce Development: A shift into high gear


This year’s Workforce Development Track of the Making Cents conference saw more than a tenfold increase in proposal submissions and will feature a record number of panelists across nine distinct workforce themed panels. The lineup of proposals and participants provides terrific insight into the range and diversity of workforce issues that the development community and countries at large are grappling with, including public private partnerships, work-based learning interventions, soft-skills measurement, technology applications, career development practices and mentorship programs.     

BLOG: Increasing Technology Access for Youth in Tunisia Through Coding, July 2016

IREX International

Passionate about computer programming and digital learning, a group of Tunisian students launched the Young Tunisian Coders Academy (YTCA) in 2015 to teach youth ages 10–15 in Tunisia coding skills. After participating in the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program’s Tunisia Undergraduate Scholarship Program (Tunisia UGRAD), they were inspired to start the organization to help expand technology access across the country. “[After participating in Tunisia UGRAD], we did not want to come back to Tunisia empty-handed,” said Abdelatif, YTCA’s cofounder and outreach coordinator. “We acquired a lot of skills in the US and we wanted to put them in practice back home.”

BLOG: Lessons From a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) Co-Creation Process to Identify Opportunities for Youth in Guatemala, July 2016

USAID Learning Lab

Spread out across a group of tables in an echoey hotel conference space in Guatemala City in April 2016 sat a team of USAID staff and representatives from more than seven local and international organizations.  Together, they were exploring what it means to be a youth from Guatemala’s Western Highlands, ad-libbing a story about a young woman from the region who, sadly, had had to drop out of high school to help support her family and did not see a bright future for herself.  It was the start of the co-creation workshop for the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) on Identifying Opportunities for Youth, in which partners from the selected expressions of interest pooled their collective experience, knowledge, and innovative ideas to develop a proposed solution for Guatemala’s youth. 

BLOG: What's Keeping Young People From Changing the World? The Answer May Surprise You, July 2016

Youth Service America

It’s been said all that all young people need the same nine things: Purpose, Meaning, Adventure, Community, Power, Respect, Structure, Challenge, and Opportunity. Founded by 12-year-old Isabelle Adams and her 10-year-old sister, Katherine,Paper for Water is helping to bring running water to those in need.  The girls make and sell origami Christmas ornaments that have brought in $800,000 in water fundraising dollars. Jackson Silverman, 11, started I Heart Hungry Kids when he was 7 after hearing about other kids who were making a difference in his community.  He felt a special place in his heart for kids who were hungry, so Jackson started organizing monthly parties engaging peers to pack bags of healthy foods for those in need.

BLOG: The Skills Asian Youth Need Today, July 2016

Asian Development Blog

Although skills mismatch has only recently become a pressing problem in the region, it is likely to worsen if education systems and technical and vocational education training (TVET) programs do not adapt to the new demands of the labor market. This was not the case before, as most education systems in developing Asia were able to meet the skills required for employment, but global trends have altered the picture. Traditional learning methods, according to a World Economic Forum report released early this year, cannot keep up with current employer demands.

BLOG: Solving Nigeria’s Unemployment Problem, July 2016

Jonathan Ugiagbe

Unemployment can lead to social as well as economic problems, writes Jonathan Ugiagbe, 30, a Correspondent from Benin in Nigeria, who examines causes and potential solutions to a pervasive issue. One of the greatest challenges facing the Nigerian economy is unemployment, which has maintained a rising trend over the years. Viewing this from the perspective of the recent events in the Middle East, where unemployment and poverty are among issues that played a key role in the uprising, one can only conclude that Nigeria’s unemployment poses a threat to development, security and peaceful co-existence.

BLOG: Tech Jobs for Africa, July 2016

Project Syndicate

Africa’s population is projected to soar from 1.2 billion today to 2.4 billion by 2050. Over the same period, the tech titans of Silicon Valley and other hubs will be using their stockpiles of cash to transform the global economy, through innovations such as self-driving vehicles, genetic modification, and even the colonization of space. And yet the prospects are bleak for Africans interested in playing any sort of role in shaping how these technologies influence their lives. Everywhere one looks, the technology picture is the same. Free digital products have been useful. In some cases – such as email, mapping, and social media – they have been transformative. 

BLOG: It’s not About Handouts, It’s About Partnership and Trust, July 2016

World Bank

“The mentality of youth in Senegal is changing. These days, young Senegalese aren’t waiting for job opportunities to fall from the sky. They are actively working towards creating them for themselves, and for other youth.” These words, spoken by 30 year old Thierno Niang, a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Rev’evolution, a youth run, self-funded start up incubator, struck a chord with me. Thierno and I were discussing his role as a panel moderator for the Youth Forum on Employment, Training, and Inclusion: A Knowledge-Sharing Event for Sub-Saharan Africa, the first ever youth event of its kind organized by the World Bank office in Senegal.