How can NGOs and governments improve youth unemployment, especially women’s labour force participation? This is a significant challenge in most developing countries. Informal jobs are often the only way to address this issue, though most provide low pay and offer little security. Skills training programs have grown in popularity. While most focus on technical or numeracy skills, some are increasingly emphasising the relevance of non-cognitive or ‘soft’ skills, such as behavioral and life skills. However, the evidence for such programs is limited.
Using a clustered randomised controlled trial (RCT), our PI team, in collaboration with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), evaluated the Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise (STRYDE 2.0) program in Tanzania - a large-scale soft skills training program for youth to develop skilled employment. The program was implemented by TechnoServe and reached over 53,000 youth across East Africa between 2015 and 2019.
STRYDE 2.0 was an intensive three-month classroom training focused on developing soft skills (self-awareness, goal setting, and social skills), financial skills, and career skills (agribusiness, entrepreneurial behavior, writing a business plan). The classroom training was then followed by a nine-month period of technical assistance, which includes follow-up visits and personal advice by the trainers, support to link participants with employers or to develop their own micro-enterprises and a Business Plan Competition (BPC) where winners are awarded cash grants.
Our study consisted of 4,537 (mostly) rural youth in 135 villages. We found large impacts from the program, but only for women. After two years, women’s economic outcomes, including savings, engagement in the labor market, and quality of jobs, all improve substantially. We found no effects on economic outcomes for men. We also found significant effects on soft skills for both women and men. From a monetary perspective the training program is very cost-effective, paying for itself within 16 months when targeting only women.
Why did the program have large economic effects, but only for women? We found evidence that the training’s strong focus on building self-awareness and confidence was key. These results suggest that expanding the content and intensity of such trainings can have positive impacts on participants.