How can we adequately prepare youth with the skills they’ll need to meet labor market demands? Daniel Kim shares his thoughts from an intern’s perspective.

Interning with the Economic Growth and Trade Practice at Chemonics for the past four months has dramatically enhanced my understanding of international development, a sector in which I had little prior experience. By integrating with a team of hardworking and mission-oriented individuals, I have refined both the soft interpersonal skills and hard technical skills necessary to launch my own professional career. However, upon attending this year’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities (GYEO) Summit, I came to understand that my position is one of privilege. Compared to those in the United States, opportunities for youth to learn on the job can be few and far between in the developing world. The dearth of these hands-on experiences worsens the mismatch between labor market needs and candidates’ skills, exacerbating youth unemployment.

Reflecting on my current internship and the themes highlighted at the GYEO Summit, it strikes me that experiential learning offers one promising avenue for bridging this skills gap. Specifically, discussion from the conference demonstrates how improved school programs, entrepreneurship, and public-private partnerships serve as three effective ways through which development actors can promote “learning by doing” in their youth-oriented projects.

GYEO Summit 2018: Themes

This year, conference presenters of the 12th GYEO Summit doubled down on employer engagement and work-based learning to prepare youth for the future workforce. The subtopics that emerged were twofold. First, speakers discussed the various employment models and program methods to best prepare youth for a lifetime of learning and earning. Entrepreneurship programs featured prominently in this space. Second, there was a call for active partnerships among educators, employment service providers, and the private sector to ensure demand-driven services, opportunities for work-based learning, and information about careers. Public-private partnerships were posited as potential mechanisms for meeting both the demands of young people and those of the new global economy.

Advancing Experiential Learning through Donor Interventions

From my own experience at Chemonics, experiential learning imparts not only technical industry-specific skills but also non-cognitive skills, such as grit, conscientiousness, and goal orientation, which research shows as being highly predictive of future success in the labor market. The good news is that these skills can be taught and learned not only on the job, but also in the classroom setting. One success story is Chemonics’ own Moldova Competitiveness Project (MCP). Co-funded by USAID and Sweden, MCP trains teachers to use robotics for educational activities and equips schools with LEGO robots, which are used in robotics clubs consisting of both younger and older students. Through this innovative approach, students not only learn programming and engineering skills but also develop non-cognitive skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork, which are less emphasized in the traditional Moldovan curriculum. By enhancing current school programs in Moldova, the project aims to equip youth with the skills needed for Moldova’s thriving information and communications technology industry, which promises well-paying jobs.

Entrepreneurship is another avenue through which youth can obtain real-life skills, especially when school curriculums are outdated or misaligned with market demand. The Ukraine Confidence Building Initiative (UCBI) project, implemented by Chemonics, offers a clear case study. UCBI supported the formation of Garage Hub, the first FabLab in Eastern Ukraine founded and operated completely by youth. The hub was first started by four engineering students who were disappointed by the impractical courses and outdated laboratories at one of the prestigious national universities in Kharkiv. Unable to change the curriculum, group members chose another path: they decided to create an independent laboratory in a rented garage, where they started assembling 3D printers and computer numerical control (CNC) machines from available materials. With donor support, the team successfully piloted an alternate educational space for fellow students to build marketable technical skills.

Experiential learning can also be bolstered through public-private partnerships. Researchers, development implementers, and the private sector can collaborate to provide practical, market-based strategies to sustainably increase youth opportunities. An example from the conference is the Youth Inclusive Entrepreneurial Development Initiative for Employment, which is a five-year project designed to create economic opportunities in Ghana’s construction sector for economically disadvantaged youth. The project uses a holistic approach to engage with the private sector, governments, financial service providers, youth-serving organizations, and youth themselves to enhance their employability. The project applies an integrated market systems model to improve the capacity of youth and service providers across the value chain through financial literacy training, business development services, and apprenticeships with local private sector companies. A combination of free trainings and hands-on training from skilled, industry-leading craftsmen ensure that Ghanaian youth are learning in-demand skills for the rapidly expanding domestic construction sector.

Preparing Youth for the Future

As I near the end of my internship at Chemonics, I can only marvel at how much I’ve learned about working in the development industry in just four short months. Through experiential learning, I am now equipped with a holistic set of skills that have prepared me to face an ever-competitive labor market. The GYEO Summit demonstrated to me that youth all over the world can similarly learn crucial work-related skills through creative donor interventions. Innovative school programs, entrepreneurship, and integrated public-private interventions are promising technical approaches to expand experiential learning for more youths in need of support. Tailoring such programs to other contexts will surely help create a more capable, productive, and inclusive twenty-first century global workforce.

Photo Credit: Information Technology and Communications Association (ATIC), Moldova Competitiveness Project

Posts on the Chemonics blog represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Chemonics.