Almost every African country is running Active Labour Market Programmes (ALMPs) to reduce unemployment and promote employment for young people. Following the framework of analysis from the preceding section, ALMPs can be classified into three categories, addressing labour demand, labour supply, or labour market mediation and matching.

  • Programmes addressing labour demand aim to create jobs through promoting entrepreneurship; but also through direct jobs creation (public works programmes).
  • Programmes addressing labour supply generally aim to increase the productivity and employability of young people by providing skill training, and improving the educational system. 
  • Programmes addressing labour market mediation and matching improve the functioning of the labour market and link demand and supply through better matching services. 

Figure 6.38. shows that programmes addressing labour supply and skills training are most frequent. In the sample 31 countries have programmes that address labour supply while 27 run programmes to promote entrepreneurship and 20 conduct direct job creation programmes. Measures to make the labour market work better for those seeking their first job are less frequent, involving 22 countries. Generally governments do not limit themselves to one field of action only but most of them undertake several initiatives.

Figure 6.38. Initiatives targeting youth employment

However, the track record of many programmes is poor and coverage is low. Among 36 AEO country experts, 21 said programmes implemented to tackle youth unemployment are dysfunctional and have a low coverage; programmes are well developed covering more than 50% of young job seekers in only one country (Morocco). According to a survey carried out in 19 countries (Afrobarometer, 2008) 69% of respondents think that their government handles job creation badly while only 27% find that their government is dealing well with the matter. The country notes accompanying this report as well as the literature on the promotion of youth employment in Africa, much of it discussed in preceding sections, identify the following shortcomings shared by many government programmes:

  • Responsibilities for youth employment policies are split between too many government actors with insufficient co-ordination among them;
  • Lack of data and understanding of the challenges young people face, especially in the informal sector;
  • Lack of evidence on what really works and therefore programmes that are poorly designed and funded;
  • Piecemeal programmes that are not sufficiently comprehensive to address all the major bottlenecks that hold young people back.

Box 6.12. presents experiences with success and failure in promoting youth employment from UNDP’s regional programme for youth employment in West Africa.

Box 6.12. UNDP YERP: Lessons of success and failure in youth employment initiatives

Established in 2009 the Regional Programme for Youth Employment and Social Cohesion (YERP) is a project managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Service Centre based in Dakar, Senegal.

In spite of its recent creation YERP has achieved some notable successes. One example is the training of youth and provision of credit for the development of agri-businesses in Guinea. The project aims to train 200 Guinean youths over the next two years. In collaboration with IFAD, ILO, UNIDO and WFP, and the Songhai Centre in Benin, YERP is offering training in youth entrepreneurship, self-employment and project design in agricultural projects. Thanks to her training at the Songhai Centre, Fatimatou Saidou Diallo, a 34-year Guinean young mother, has expanded her farm, where she produces chickens and eggs. A revolving loan from a microfinance institution established by UNDP to support agricultural entrepreneurship allowed her to buy 3 000 chicks and 1 700 laying hens for her farm. In addition to a higher income, she now employs six youths full time and has trained a large number of others. She also offers continued advice and monitoring services to four chicken farms in the area. During a January 2012 visit to her farm, the UNDP administrator hailed the courage of young people like Ms. Diallo who take the risk of borrowing and investing in sectors where their elders do not see opportunity.

The key to the success of this project and similar ones is the collaboration of several institutions, each contributing its specific expertise. More important, however, the integration of training, post-training coaching and access to low-interest credit is the most important aspect of this success story. Through YERP’s revolving fund, the trainees are able to start their own businesses. The fund is deployed through six local micro-finance institutions selected by a steering committee. Since the beginning of the programme, 3 406 young people – 1 845 young women and 1 561 young men have benefited from the revolving fund to create and develop their own businesses in sectors including retail trade, textiles, agri-business, food industry and breeding. The rate of loan recovery is very high, making the fund self-sustaining.

A case where success has been less obvious can be seen in that of a skills training initiative developed in The Gambia to promote youth employability. YERP targets women and youth with the objective of reducing unemployment, underemployment and poverty. GAMJOBS (Gambia Priority Employment Programme), in collaboration with the National Training Authority (NTA), is implementing a Master Crafts Persons Apprenticeship Training Programme that promotes education as well as technical and vocational training (TVET) in several fields: textiles, cookery, hairdressing, mobile telephone repair and information technology, agriculture, tie-and-dye, soap making, food processing, auto mechanic, agriculture/horticulture, carpentry, construction, electrical installations and fisheries. All skills training programmes offered under this project are NTA accredited. The objective was to offer women and young people the opportunity to increase their skills, giving them the tools to seek employment or become self-employed at the end of their training. Currently, out of the initial target of 1 000 young men and women, 388 have been trained in entrepreneurship but have had to wait a long time before accessing funds to start their own business.

The impact of this initiative has been limited by its delay in implementation. For example, it emerged that the tools and other equipment that were expected to be provided by the NTA to Master Crafts Persons and some of the protective gear for the trainees had not been procured in time, negatively affecting the quality of the training, its duration and retention of trainees. Moreover, unlike the integrated approach adopted in the Guinean case, vocational training was not integrated into The Gambia’s funding strategy for youth employment. Furthermore, the lack of co-ordination between training initiatives, procurement process for training equipment and micro credit meant that the trainees could not mobilise the required start-up capital to start their own small businesses. In the end, a number of trainees did not benefit immediately from their training.


Source: UNDP.

Government action to promote youth employment needs better co-ordination. The lack of institutional co-ordination and the heterogeneity of the actors intervening in the fight against youth unemployment are a major obstacle in Africa. In many countries the responsibility for youth employment policy is split among a wide range of ministries and agencies, often operating in isolation and with little co-ordination. The lack of a coherent strategic approach results in fragmentation of efforts and wasted resources.


Efforts to improve availability and quality of employment data in Africa are crucial. In most African countries employment data are very scarce, preventing a better understanding of what young people need to obtain good jobs. As discussed earlier in the context of the data used for this report, data on employment are notoriously difficult to obtain in Africa. Unemployment registers exist in some countries, but are often confined to urban areas and are not comprehensive, leaving household surveys as the only alternative to obtain comprehensive data. However, employment focused surveys, such as Labour force surveys (LFSs), are sparse in Africa. Only the better-off middle income countries in southern and North Africa conduct them regularly. Good panel surveys that follow individuals over time and provide data on the longer term impact of evaluation and the dynamics of movement between different segments of the labour market are even rarer. Where LFSs exist, they are often outdated (more than five years old) and do not contain adequately disaggregated data (by age, gender, location). In the country expert survey only six respondents considered the government to have very good knowledge of the situation of youth in the labour market. The governments of 14 countries are considered to have only little or no knowledge. The lack of data makes it difficult for policy makers to understand the nature of the employment challenge and take informed decisions on how to support young people in the labour market.

The scarcity of data on informal employment and entrepreneurship in particular is a major obstacle given the importance of this sector for youth employment. Box 6.13. presents the 1-2-3 survey experience in Africa, which should be replicated to improve the grasp of, and response to, youth employment challenges.

Box 6.13. The 1-2-3 surveys: a promising approach to fill the labour information gap

Measuring employment and informal economy: the 1-2-3 Survey experience in Africa


In spite of its universally-recognised role as a transmission belt between macroeconomic dynamics and poverty, information on African labour markets remains thin because of a lack of data. LFS, a core statistical tool to measure households’ economic activities in most countries in the world, are not well adapted to sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The predominance of the informal sector in African economies is a further hindrance to traditional survey tools. This sector is by far the leading job provider in urban areas, and the second in rural areas after agriculture. However the informal sector remains largely neglected, in need of sound, evidence-based policies.

The 1-2-3 Survey has been specifically created to fill this measurement gap. The 1-2-3 Survey is a mixed household/enterprise survey specifically designed to capture the informal sector in all its dimensions (Razafindrakoto et al., 2009). Phase 1 is an extended LFS, providing accurate labour market indicators which go beyond the unemployment rate. It includes main and secondary jobs by status of firm (formal/informal) and their attributes. Phase 2 is an enterprise survey, carried out on a representative sub-sample of informal firms identified in Phase 1 which seeks to measure their main economic and productive characteristics. Phase 3 is an income and expenditure type household survey, the sample of which is drawn from Phase 1 and the aim of which is to estimate the weight of the formal and informal sectors in household consumption. Since its debut in Cameroon in 1993 and in Madagascar in 1995, the 1-2-3 Survey has been conducted in 15 African countries, as well as in Latin America and Asia. Initially covering only the main agglomerations most of the surveys are now conducted nationwide.

The 1-2-3 Survey allows for varying configurations reflecting the needs and particularities of different countries. In some countries a panel data component has been included (Benin, Burundi, Madagascar). The survey can be used to construct ad hoc control groups to evaluate the impact of labour or informal sector policies and projects (for instance, microcredit in Madagascar). It has become a benchmark used in a wide range of applications, and some of its contributions (sampling and questionnaires) have been gradually incorporated into other types of household surveys.

1-2-3 Surveys have allowed researchers to address a wide range of issues in multi-country studies, such as returns to education, skills-jobs mismatches, vulnerability in employment, labour market segmentation and formal/informal earnings gaps, ethnic and gender discrimination, migration in its different components, job satisfaction, intergenerational transmission and inter-sector and intra-sector equality of opportunities. Some of these contributions are gathered in a book on urban labour markets in SSA (De Vreyer and Roubaud, 2012). Based on Phase 2, informal sector potential, constraints (economic, institutional and social) and heterogeneity have been investigated in depth in the frame of a multi-partner international research programme (Grimm et al., 2011b).

Among the challenges ahead, first, LFS and informal sector surveys should be institutionalised and conducted with a greater frequency. The 1-2-3 Surveys should be implemented in non-francophone countries. Second, the survey results should serve as inputs to enlarge the depth of national accounts, by measuring consistently the informal economy’s contribution. Finally, the surveys should serve to elaborate, monitor, evaluate and expand specific policies dedicated to improving labour market functioning and supporting the informal sector.

Source: François Roubaud, DIAL, Paris.

Policy makers and programme designers need much better evidence of what works and what does not in youth employment promotion. Despite abundant international reporting on ALMPs, evidence of long-term benefits and cost-effectiveness is insufficient, as most programmes remain largely unmonitored and unevaluated. Any programme aimed at bringing young people into employment is based on an assumption of what the main obstacles to youth employment are and how they can best be removed given the country context and target group. Implementation puts these assumptions to the test and most often reveals additional factors that had not been taken into account at the planning stage. Without good monitoring and evaluation, however, these additional factors remain in the dark. Programmes fail, but the reason for such failure remains unknown. Without understanding the causes of failure, corrective measures are not possible and new programmes will repeat the same mistakes. Similarly, programmes might show the expected results, but at a high cost (see Box 6.14 on public works and cost effectiveness). Cost-effectiveness analysis is necessary to design programmes that get the best results for a given amount of resources. The current level of knowledge on which programmes are the most effective in the different contexts of LICs and MICs is very low. In a global review of evaluations of ALMPs targeting youth, Betcherman et al. (2007) found that sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa region had the lowest coverage and quality of evaluations of such programmes. More and better evaluations mixing control group designs with participative methods and cost-effectiveness analysis are needed to help policy makers identify what really works best.

Box 6.14. Public works programmes: Better for social protection than promoting youth employment

Faced with insufficient labour demand and many youth in NEET, governments use public works programmes as short-term fixes to create jobs. Evaluations show, however, that they are generally better suited to provide a social protection floor than to promote youth employment. In terms of job creation, most programmes provide only short-term employment opportunities. There is little evidence that participation in public works programmes improves the transition to formal private sector employment (Dar and Tzannatos 1999; Betcherman et al. 2004). Finally, public works programmes can create dependency on cash transfers, hindering beneficiaries’ transition to unsubsidised employment (Puerto, 2007).


One example of a public works programme is AGETIP Senegal (Agence d’Exécution des Travaux d’Intérêt Public contre le sous-emploi), a USD 33 million initiative created in 1989. The programme was conceived primarily as a means of providing employment to young people. Although largely regarded as a success, an evaluation of the programme showed an average cost of US$ 37 per job per day (World Bank 2007b). Given that a large share of Senegal’s population lives on less than USD 2 per day (PPP) and that most of these jobs remained temporary, the cost-effectiveness of this programme is low.

In contrast to AGETIP, the PSNP (Productive Safety Net Programme) in Ethiopia, launched in 2005, was conceived primarily as a means to distribute transfers both in cash and in kind to chronically food-insecure households, while at the same time creating community assets through a required employment component (Holmes and Jones 2011, Koohi-Kamali 2010). Two recent evaluations of the programme showed an asset-protection impact. Beneficiaries of the programme showed higher growth in income and assets than non-beneficiaries (Sabates-Wheeler and Devereux 2010, Devereux and Guenther 2009). The evidence from PSNP, and other similar initiatives indicates that programmes designed primarily as a means of cash transfer are more successful than those aiming to provide employment.

Programmes to promote youth employment can be most effective when addressing all important constraints, not just one. Evaluation shows that programmes based on a single initiative are unlikely to work for the unemployed young. Instead, programmes are most effective when they address financial and skill gaps at the same time. Skill building and temporary employment programmes need to be followed by job placements. Strong co-operation with the private sector to understand employers, needs and create opportunities for young people in the form of apprenticeships and internships are crucial.