Whitney van Schyndel & Essene Tighe - Aug 10 2021
How Businesses Can Engage More Meaningfully with Youth

Credit: Challenge Fund for Youth / Uganda Healthy Entrepreneurs 

Too often, employment and skills building programs are designed for youth, without actually involving youth. This happens across both international development projects and in private sector-led initiatives. Programs end up with solutions based merely on assumptions about what youth want rather than what they need. This is a risky approach, and all too often bound to fail.

It can negatively affect a company’s profits and growth, with major investments in training going to waste through high youth employee turnover rates.

In this case, ‘youth’ are considered to be anywhere from 15 to 35 years of age, a large population that’s either just preparing to enter the job market or are in the early stages of their career. Both are critical junctures in someone’s career and life, requiring support and thoughtful engagement from their current and future employers.

It’s no longer enough for businesses to attract young employees with the promise of in-office perks or flashy benefits, there’s a need for thoughtful onboarding, upskilling, and training that prepare young people for careers with longevity.

According to Essene Tighe, Youth Engagement Empowerment Resilience Coordinator with VSO, a successful youth program integrates and embeds a youth-centred design approach by amplifying young people’s voice in the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation processes, “What underpins a successful youth program is the economic and social empowerment of youth, ensuring there is the right environment and platforms for meaningful participation.”

“There must also be a focus on building the resilience and capacity of youth to ensure they’re prepared to adapt to any changes in both their personal and professional life,” Tighe adds.

Increasingly, the development sector is realising the importance of youth engagement, empowerment, and resilience and many organisations are taking active steps to include and amplify youth voices. The most ambitious are even striving to ‘shift the balance of power,’ giving them the space to be their own agents of change.

“First and foremost, youth voice is a fundamental right. The UN declaration of Human Rights clearly recognises that a young person has a right to say what they feel, to voice out their opinions,” notes Faith Akao, Youth Champ, Challenge Fund for Youth Employment.

“Secondly, enhancing youth voice is very important, especially in the program design. This enables you to conduct a needs assessment of your target population, in this case, the young people. This enhances the relevance, it helps to create ownership and increases the sustainability of the program. You simply cannot design programs for young people without the young people. Nothing for us, without us,’’ she adds.

Filling the Employment Gap with Decent Work

“There must be a focus on building the resilience and capacity of youth to ensure they’re prepared to adapt to any changes in both their personal and professional life.”

Youth employment initiatives launched through programs such as The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE), the flagship program for the Youth@Heart strategy of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs offer youth, particularly young women, opportunities for decent work that delivers better prospects for personal development, is productive, and offers a stable income, social protection, and safe working conditions in low and middle-income countries.

But in order for them to be successful, solutions must be built around approaches designed to bridge the mismatch between the demand for high quality jobs and the supply of skilled labour. They must also be aligned with the aspirations and needs of those young women and men looking for jobs.

This means, first and foremost, identifying employment opportunities in growth sectors, youth aspirations for employment, the main barriers they face in achieving them and trying to gap the bridges between barriers and opportunities with strategic investments.

But why make the effort? Businesses require new insights and innovative skill sets to remain competitive in today’s markets. This isn’t only good for business; it also strengthens the workforce to operate in complicated environments. In addition, youth are agile, which is essential in rapidly changing business conditions and as tech-natives, can better develop technical skills.

“Young people have the potential to do anything,” notes Bisrat Fikadu, a CFYE Youth Champ. “If they’re engaged in program designing, delivering, monitoring, and evaluating, I promise you, they have the potential to do anything. They only need the opportunity and engagement.”

To help the private sector effectively employ youth, CFYE encourages businesses to incorporate five building blocks in their strategies:

1. Find out how to best reach youth and understand their motivations for joining your workforce.

2. Encourage young employees to come forward. Listen to their ideas on how to improve and accelerate your business.

3. Select the most promising ideas and start piloting.

4. Enable young employees to build their skill set and get experience with various parts of the business.

5. Nurture and build the next generation of managers that will help you to grow your enterprise and make it resilient and future-proof.

For those businesses looking to integrate young people into their strategies, Fikadu advises to start by listening, “Listen more than you talk and ask them what they have to say. They are eager to change the world, to change your business, to change your organisation’s productivity,” he says. “So, don’t talk about them, just listen to them.”

The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE or the Fund), the flagship program for the Youth@Heart strategy of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has pledged to make a difference. The Fund aims to create a prosperous future for 200.000 young women and men in the Middle East, North Africa, Sahel & West Africa, and Horn of Africa. This will be achieved by supporting youth employment initiatives in these regions. For more information, contact info@thepalladiumgroup.com.

Whitney van Schyndel, CFYE Communication and Marketing Manager, works closely with experts such as Essene Tinghe to disseminate knowledge from within the consortium working on the Fund. Notably, both van Schyndel and Tinge are still considered youth themselves.