Oyuntungalag Nemekhbayar is a 29-year-old single mother in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. For many years she lived with her son in a ger*. She recently bought a small detached house, with a fence. “I bought this house thanks to my current job,” she says.
After high school and without any specific vocational training, Oyuntungalag worked in a variety of low-paid temporary jobs. Four years ago she completed a vocational training program in hairdressing, and, she says, it changed her life.
The Mongolian government introduced the short-term vocational training programs (VTPs) in 2003 to tackle the high levels of unemployment in the country, particularly among young people such as Oyuntungalag.
The VTPs offer training in 80 vocational skills including hairdressing, cooking, and various types of construction. Training courses vary from 20 to 45 days. They consist of classroom training followed by an internship that provides on-the-job experience.
For Oyuntungalag, the VTP training meant she could get a job as a hairdresser. Her average monthly income has almost tripled compared to before the training, making life more comfortable for Oyuntungalag and her son.
PEP research to address evidence gap
In 2012, one year before Oyuntungalag completed training to become a hairdresser, the Mongolian Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (MLSP) was considering replacing the scheme.
At this time there was no proof that the VTPs were effective. No research had been done to assess the program in terms of its impact on earning, job quality, and the likelihood and duration of youth employment.
A team of local researchers was granted PEP support under the first Policy Analysis on Growth and Employment (PAGE) initiative, to conduct an experimental impact assessment of the VTPs in Ulaanbaatar.
The main objective of this project was to assess whether the programs were effective in promoting youth employment.
The team received intensive training and mentoring, international peer-review, and policy engagement and communications guidance as part of PEP’s support through the PAGE initiative.
Findings help VTP to better target youth unemployment
Through their PEP-supported research project, the team found that the vocational training programs increase the employment rate, monthly earnings, and skills match (as an indicator of job quality) of participants.
For the first time, the team was able to provide empirical evidence to the Mongolian government that the VTPs are effectively achieving their purpose. The team’s findings are summarized in their PEP policy brief, and presented in detail in Working Paper 2017-12.
Preliminary findings also indicated that the program was not reaching its target audience. Just six weeks into the project, the research team shared this information with the Ulaanbaatar Metropolitan Employment Department (MED), as the main implementation agency of the VTP.
The MED responded to the team’s findings, recognizing that many unemployed young people do not have a well-developed network in the job market. The MED simplified the registration process and dropped the “potential employer” requirement.
Dropping the "potential employer" requirement also made the VTPs more attractive to young entrepreneurs, like Enktur Myagmarsuren. Since completing a VTP in car mechanics, Enktur, 29, has changed careers and started his own car repair business. His monthly income has more than doubled, and he is already planning to expand the business.
As well as working with the MED, the team consulted with the MLSP. Following the team’s findings that the government-sponsored VTPs increase youth employment and monthly earnings among those who participate, the MLSP has committed to the VTP policy.
During a national policy conference organized by the team, the MLSP Deputy Minister stated that the government is currently revising the VTP design with support from the World Bank and that the PEP team’s findings would inform this work.
The impact assessment of Mongolia’s VTP scheme was the first project to receive PEP support in the country. It was also the first study led by local researchers in Mongolia that used the randomized controlled trial (RCT) method.
Prior to the study, knowledge and use of RCT methods were practically inexistent among local researchers and policymakers. As such, developing in-country expertise and experience in policy impact evaluation was part of the team’s core objectives and motivations for seeking PEP support.
Following the success of this project in providing high quality evidence for policy, the research team members have become national experts in their field.
They have been solicited to provide training and consultation on using experimental research methods in other contexts. The team has already provided special impact evaluation and survey methodology training workshops to officers of several institutions, including the MLSP.
Furthermore, their new expertise led to multiple invitations to present their PEP project and findings at the national and international levels. They won 2nd prize for best presentation by Low and Middle-Income Country researchers at the 2014 ADB/3iE international conference on “Making Impact Evaluation Matter".
The project also led to significant promotion of the researchers' careers, including high-level appointments and nominations within the Mongolian scientific community.
For VTP participants like Oyuntungalag Nemekhbayar, the initiative has already had a significant impact on her life. However, the research team was keen to highlight potential improvements to the program.
Following the team’s recommendations, the changes to the registration procedure have already made it easier for young people to access the program.
It is now in the hands of the MED and MLSP to make the initiative more effective, particularly in reaching youth who are at the greatest risk of being unemployed.
*A traditional Mongolian round tent-like shelter.