Critical Factors for Skills-Based Youth Employment Programmes

Critical factors for skills-based youth employment programmes. Based on the experiences in the Youth Building the Future programme in Latin America.

This study provides an overview of the critical factors which must be taken into account to create successful and sustainable youth employment programmes.

There are currently 1. 8 billion young people worldwide; the largest youth population in history. Around a third, the majority of them women, are not in employment, education or training. In addition, over the next decade a billion more young people will enter the job market looking for entrepreneurship opportunities or jobs.

To address these issues, Plan International is committed to working with the private sector, governments and development organisations at international, national and local level to increase young people’s access to decent jobs and business opportunities.

Youth build the future

In Latin America, youth unemployment in 2015 was more than double the level of adult unemployment and 6 out of 10 jobs held by young people were reported to be without benefits, social security rights or contracts.

In response, Plan International, with support from Accenture, is conducting a programme called Youth Building the Future (YBF), which aims to equip young people with the necessary skills and opportunities to engage in entrepreneurship and employment in targeted regions in Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador.

How to create youth employment programmes

This research contributes to the body of knowledge supporting youth employment work. With specific regard to skills training, a lot of individual impact studies are available, but only a few provide a meta-overview of programme effectiveness. Evidence from the studies which do exist is somewhat divided.

Much of the literature on jobs for youth is diagnostic rather than practical, with limited information about what actually works. There is therefore a demand from practitioners, which this study attempts to address, for research that provides practical suggestions to guide them, to inform other stakeholders and to improve the quality and impact of skills-based youth jobs programmes. 

Available to download:

  • Full report: this includes the full methodology behind the research, it’s results and an analysis of the findings.
  • Summary report: this highlights the critical factors for youth employment programmes from the full report.


In 2015, Plan International, with support from global consultancy firm Accenture, began a 3 year programme called Youth Building the Future (YBF), which aims to equip young people in targeted regions in Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador with the necessary skills and opportunities to engage in employment and entrepreneurship. YBF is part of Plan International’s Youth Economic Empowerment approach (YEE), operational in over 40 countries to support young people’s transition into decent work.

The purpose of this study – focused primarily on field research carried out as the YBF programme develops – is to address the demand for applied research on good practices within youth jobs programmes. It does so by providing an overview of the critical factors which must be taken into account if programming is to foster significant and sustainable development outcomes for the young people taking part in them.

The research points to skills training, job placement and mentoring as critical priorities and in this study these factors are organised in accordance with the 3 main stages of youth employment programming: 1) Exploration and Engagement; 2) Implementation; 3) Sustainability.

These stages remain the same both in terms of facilitating pathways into employment as well as promoting entrepreneurial opportunities and, as summarised below, they provide the framework for the main chapters in this report.

Exploration and engagement

Exploration and engagement defines the target group, analyses the context in which the programme will operate and begins to scope out potential partnerships, activities include:

  • Discussing and defining the age-range of the young people taking part – this holds significant implications for programme design. ‘Youth’ is a very heterogeneous group with differing challenges and needs, other characteristics for example gender, education and income level, and disability also need to be discussed and defined.
  • Paying particular attention to identifying the challenges young women face in order to address them throughout the programme.
  • Conducting a proper Labour Market Analysis (LMA) is another crucial component of programming at this stage. The LMA should be practical and lead to entry-points for further engagement and should engage directly with companies using local staff and local experts.
  • Identifying potential partnerships with training providers, government and the private sector in order to enable cross-sector collaboration. Often one or more actors already have a clear interest in setting up interventions, while others are yet to be engaged. For a serious intervention at scale, partnerships with companies, training institutes, government bodies and other stakeholders, for example community groups and trade unions, are necessary.


Implementation focuses on consolidating partnerships, designing the programme,training and engaging staff and putting support systems in place:

  • Programmes with a particular focus on jobs should engage with the private sector to maximise the chances of successfully placing young people into the labour market. A range of strategies should be employed. Building partnerships and creating trust with the private sector can take time.
  • It is crucial to choose capable training partners, if possible those recognised as competent by the private sector. Training needs to be led by the demands of the local market and it is also important to have a significant part of the training dedicated to soft skills, which are as fundamental as technical skills.
  • Teaching should be interactive and use participatory teaching practices.
  • To enhance young people’s practical experience internships and apprenticeships should be considered.
  • Where programmes are focusing on entrepreneurship access to finance is key. In a context where few formal credit providers exist, saving groups can be a viable alternative.
  • Support services can often help to increase the engagement of programme participants and reduce dropout. One support service to be considered is mentorship both during and after the programme. Mentors need to be fully trained and their expectations managed.
  • Throughout the programme it is important to address the expectations of the participants. They must be fully informed about the potential benefits of the programme, including their immediate chances of getting a decent job or starting a successful business.


Sustainability the long term impact of youth employment interventions – is largely undiscovered terrain. Neither the field work nor the literature review provided many examples of enduring impact. Suggestions for enhancing sustainability include:

  • Recognising that large scale impact requires systemic change, supported by the public and private sectors.
  • Establishing a well-functioning M&E system with digitised information to demonstrate impact and thereby enhance engagement with these partners.
  • Transferring training activities to existing training institutes or perhaps even the private sector, though this is not without its own challenges.
  • Inviting partners to participate in training and also seeking to ensure that there is a constant revision of partner curriculum, including training institutes, public sector and private companies on topics like gender awareness, sexual and reproductive health, and the employment of vulnerable youth.

Corporate Engagement: the private sector perspective

Partnerships and links with the private sector are crucial to ensure successful outcomes for youth jobs programmes. In order to get a better understanding of the drivers of corporate engagement, 16 companies, 8 in Brazil and 8 in Colombia, were interviewed for a detailed “deep dive” study.

Most companies mentioned both social and economic motives for their involvement. Yet in the majority of cases, according to the analysis of the interview material, the main reasons for their engagement can, in fact, be classified as economic. This does not mean that discussions about corporate engagement should rely solely on economic arguments. On the contrary, depending on the context, a mix of arguments is probably more effective.

In the course of the research companies also mentioned other reasons for participating in programmes: ranging from laws imposed by the government to enforce apprenticeships for youth, to friendships with Plan International staff. The networks of corporate focal points within Plan International were also shown to be key; a considerable number of companies were willing to participate as they ‘trusted’ Plan International staff due to earlier interactions and established relations with other programmes. However even companies who were willing to participate, for whatever reason, only accepted a few young people each and there is much work to be done to build more effective engagement with the private sector.

Research aims and methods

This report aspires to inform and assist the different stakeholders involved in youth employment solutions, such as NGOs, policy makers, corporations and training institutes. In addition, it aims to contribute to the expansion of the YBF model to other parts of the world and to provide guidelines for skills-based youth jobs programmes outside of the YBF framework.

The research can be described as ‘applied’ research, as much of the data is based on interviews with practitioners with the aim of actively informing existing and future youth jobs programming. A mixed-methods approach was used, with an emphasis on qualitative data. Data collection and analysis is based on a brief literature review, fieldwork conducted in Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador, validation workshops, digital surveys with Brazilian youth and, as discussed previously, a separate ‘deep dive study’ with private sector employees. For the field work the research team spoke to the following groups of stakeholders:

  • 54 youth, including 2 focus group discussions with young women only
  • 25 company representatives
  • 17 teachers (both life skills and technical courses),
  • 18 mentors
  • 5 government officials

Youth employment can be enhanced in different ways: through skills training, employment services or subsidized employment. The focus of this research, however, is on skills building (or training) programmes for employment and entrepreneurship via short-term technical, business and life skills training. The research is primarily concentrated on developing countries.

Some limitations should be considered whilst reading this report. As the field work was conducted in 3 countries there is a bias towards Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador throughout the report and analysis. Another limitation is the sampling of interviewees. The sample size is small and data is self-reported limiting the ability to make robust generalizations from the findings.

Finally, the scope of this study is broad. More specific research on the various topics covered is advised. The aim is not to be prescriptive, but to provide guidelines, framed as a set of critical factors, to be discussed and reflected upon by practitioners to help improve the conduct and impact of youth employment programming.

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Skills and work, Corporate partnership, Vocational training