What Works Best in Youth Employment Interventions: The Potential of Intervention Design

After rising drastically in the wake of the 2007 financial crisis, the global youth unemployment rate stabilized at 13 per cent by 2012 and is expected to rise only slightly in 2016.[i] Still, the adding of nearly 5 million young people to the already 70 million youth unemployed globally presents a growing policy imperative. In some regions, youth unemployment is perilously high, creeping up to 28 or 30 per cent.[ii] In this blog post, we take the forthcoming publication of a global systematic review of the evidence in youth employment interventions as an opportunity to review some of what works in the sector.

Typically addressed through the creation of youth-focused active labour market policies (ALMPs), youth employment initiatives consist of labour supply-side or labour demand-side interventions. Researchers and practitioners generally use four categories when referring to intervention-type,[iii] as illustrated in our figure below. While labour supply-side interventions (broadly) strengthen employment-relevant skills for job-seekers and facilitate access to capital, labour demand-side interventions provide incentives and increase aggregate demand for labour; both types ultimately aim to decrease unemployment.[iv]


However, the knowledge base on how and to what extent these interventions work to increase employment outcomes and earnings among youth has thus far been limited. As recently as 2007, researchers at the World Bank noted a significant lack of rigorous evaluation in the field of youth employment programming; one leading to a gross “overestimation of program impacts” among policy makers and organizations engaged in ALMPs.[v]

In attempting to respond to this gap, researchers and practitioners have begun compiling evidence from evaluations and impact assessments, looking for ways to better analyze and therefore, focus interventions so that they are able to more successfully deliver impact. A comprehensive and informative resource (Kluve et al., forthcoming), which includes a systematic review of the effectiveness of ALMPs targeted at youth internationally, analyzes interventions targeting both labour supply- and demand-side of youth unemployment. Policy-makers and practitioners will have a significant amount to gain from its insights.

Kluve et al. analyse interventions on the basis of their impact on (1) Employment, (2) Earning, and (3) Business-performance outcomes. Of the 107 interventions, they identify youth employment interventions focused on entrepreneurship promotion as having the highest overall impact for youth employment outcomes, earnings, and business performance outcomes. Employment-relevant skills training programs also demonstrated positive impact, albeit to a slightly lower magnitude than entrepreneurship interventions. On the labour demand-side, subsidized employment interventions have a positive effect on employment outcomes but, it seems, not on employment earnings. Employment service programs, on the other hand, which focus on job-search assistance or counseling, showed no statistically significant effect on employment or earning outcomes.[vi]

Still, in order for ALMPs to work well, the Systematic Review suggests that policy-makers and practitioners must consider more than just intervention type. The researchers found that context, time-frame and intervention design are increasingly recognized as being essential to successful youth employment interventions.

  • Context: Country contexts are crucial; labour market needs are tied closely to macroeconomic conditions and policy. Entrepreneurship programs, for example, are particularly well-suited to low- and middle-income countries, where opportunities for youth in formal employment are often insufficient.[vii] Similarly, skills training programs, incidentally the most common youth employment intervention, also yield greater impact in low- and middle income countries.[viii]
  • Time: Impacts of youth employment interventions are only observable after a certain amount of time has passed – often a year after interventions take place.[ix] This means that youth ALMPs are a longer-term investment. There are no quick fixes.
  • Intervention Design: In the Systematic Review, program design tended to “drive results more than the type of intervention” being studied.[x] Meaning, program design features such as participant profiling, monitored participation and whether or not incentives were offered to program participants – or, how interventions were implemented – had greater impact on youth employment than the type of intervention being analyzed.

This last point is particularly interesting to us at a firm like Universalia, which has been conducting evaluations as well as institutional and organizational performance assessments for over 35 years. Indeed, in all kinds of interventions, being able to pinpoint design features that work well for our clients is a tremendously useful way to further engage in the conversation on what works more generally. In the field of youth employability, it is reflection on these kinds of experiences that create the learning opportunities that enable us to be more effective evaluators.

But, what have been your experiences? Apart from choosing the appropriate interventions, what constitutes an enabling environment in the field of youth employment? What kinds of mechanisms have helped create impact? What kinds of intervention design have worked for you?

We would love to hear your insights!

For further reading, information on the Kluve et al. systematic review can be viewed on the website of the International Labour Organization. The final paper is forthcoming.

About the authors:

Rima Slaibi is an Evaluation Analyst at Universalia Management Group, a Canadian management consulting firm specializing in evaluation, monitoring, performance measurement, and results-based management. Her work mainly focuses on employability and entrepreneurship, gender, and training and capacity building. She has worked with a varied clientele of international development agencies and non-governmental agencies, among which are the World Food Programme, Drosos Foundation, Education for Employment Tunisia (EFE-T), UN Women, IUCN, Oxfam, EU Commission, Rights and Resources Initiative, Quebec Ministry of International Relations, and SOCODEVI. Ms. Slaibi holds a Masters degree in International Development, with a specialization in development evaluation and learning. She is fluent in French, English and Arabic.

Fatima Saya is a Summer Analyst at Universalia Management Group pursuing a joint- Master of Global Affairs/ MBA at the University of Toronto (2018). Her previous work with youth in the fields of education, peace and dialogue has cultivated her interest in empowering youth through economic development and entrepreneurship programs. Having completed a joint-honours degree in Political Science and International Development with a minor in Middle East Studies from McGill University (2013), she is particularly interested in youth employment policy and programs in the MENA region. She speaks French, English, Urdu and is currently learning Arabic.

[i] Global Employment Trends for Youth 2015: Scaling up investments in decent jobs for youth, International Labour Organization, 2015, Geneva: p. 6. Link

[ii] As in the Middle East and North Africa; ibid, p. 6.

[iii] Kluve et al., “Interventions to Improve the Labour Market Outcomes of Youth: A Systematic Review of Training, Entrepreneurship Promotion, Employment Services and Subsidized Employment Interventions,” Campbell Systematic Reviews, The Campbell Collaboration, forthcoming, p. 26. Link

[iv] Toward Solutions for Youth Employment: A 2015 Baseline Report, p. 68-71. Link

[v] Betcherman et al., “Global Inventory of Interventions to Support Young Workers Synthesis Report,” World Bank, 2007, p. 2.

[vi] Toward Solutions for Youth Employment: A 2015 Baseline Report, p. 74

[vii] p. 70.

[viii] p. 68.

[ix] Kluve et al.; p. 19.

[x] p. 22.

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