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Work-relevant education and training is crucial to successful school-to-work transitions

Findings from a number of PEP projects indicate that education and, particularly, working while studying are key factors for smoother school-to-work transitions in developing countries, corroborating the conclusion from the ILO’s Global Employment Trends for Youth Report.

Education and work-relevant skills can significantly smooth youth’s path from finishing school to obtaining (decent) employment, says the International Labor Organization (ILO) Global Employment Trends for Youth Report 20171. Recent findings from research supported by PEP under the PAGE initiatives (co-funded by DFID and IDRC) in several countries (including BeninBotswanaZambiaMongolia and North Macedonia), generally support the ILO’s findings while providing further insights into the causes, consequences and forms of school-to-work transitions.

The school-to-work transition is a critical stage for all youth aiming to find a stable and fitting job. Decent jobs for youth are key to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development2. In particular, target 8.5stipulates: “By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities”. The ILO’s findingthat the transition to a stable job is quicker and smoother for youth in advanced economies than in developing economies4 demonstrates the need for evidence-based policy recommendations from and for developing economies, as provided by the PEP-supported projects.

School-to-work transitions are longer in the developing world

There is unanimous evidence, from PEP and the global research community, that the school-to-work transition is generally longer (i.e., less smooth) in developing economies, than in advanced ones. The average duration has been estimated at 11.8 months across all developing economies. However, recent PEP research from North Macedonia finds these times are further exaggerated in Eastern Europe, ranging between 22 and 26 months. There is no doubt that a long break after graduating and before a job is found, particularly a decent job, leads to scarring for later labor-market outcomes5. Scarring effects can include reducing the probability of (formal) employment and wages, which can lead to long-term unemployment for young adults. For example, the research from North Macedonia finds that the probability of a young person who is unemployed for more than two years finding a job is 61.2% lower than of a peer who was unemployed for less than a week, i.e. with no transition period. 

Vocational training, whether during or after formal education, supports better transitions

PEP researchers have found that vocational training during schooling has beneficial impacts on school-to-work transitions in several developing countries. A palette of instruments has been shown to work in a number of contexts to various degrees. These instruments include career counseling, internships, apprenticeships, teaching particular vocational skills in specific modules (e.g. entrepreneurship, etc.). For example, a recent study in Benin finds that working while studying is a strong predictor of shorter transition spells, particularly among secondary educated individuals, among men and when the work has been undertaken during school holidays. Furthermore, working while studying combined with apprenticeship proved particularly powerful. Likewise, pursuing an internship during schooling in North Macedonia was found to increase the likelihood that youth exit unemployment. Research in Zambia is exploring the role of work-study and internship programs in reducing the mismatch between possessed and required skills, as the latter is a serious constraint to decent employment.

Research from Mongolia indicates that vocational training (partially provided on the job) also increases employment chances, earnings capacity and skill match. However, the medium-term effects were less clear. This resonates with findings from developed countries that unemployment duration is favorably affected by the workplace education6.

The importance of career counseling

Work-relevant skills may be essential to finding decent work, yet they may not be sufficient. Young people make seek adequate and well-paid jobs, but how far is this from reality? A study in North Macedonia found that the longer university graduates waited for a matched position, the greater the probability they would end up in a position for which they were overeducated. In Mongolia,when labor market information was offered alongside vocational training the courses were more successful. Career counselling– another early investment for smoother labor-market transitions – proves important. It is especially important as ‘wrongly’ skilled youth may suffer dissatisfaction and low wages, pushing them to the brink of poverty.

The negative impacts of underemployment among youth

Undeniably, an absence of job ‘decency’ among employed youth, generally known as underemployment, may erode human capital, as a research from the Western Balkans demonstrates. Underemployment—when a person works less than he/she would like to, or experiences skill mismatch, job insecurity or dissatisfaction—has been well documented but rarely investigated, and evidence from developing economies has been particularly lacking. PEP’s research in this domain corroborates the notion that education reduces the frequency of underemployment, but it also strengthens youth earning potential, supports their self-confidence and ultimately delivers favorable development outcomes—the objective of every government’s efforts.


Find out more about the projects featured
Country Project Title PEP Policy Brief
Benin PMMA-20083 Easing school to work transitions in Benin

Policy Brief 184

North Macedonia PMMA-12800 Labor market scarring for youth in Macedonia  Policy Brief 149
North Macedonia PMMA-12699 Skills mismatches and unemployment spells:
The case of Macedonia’s youth
Policy Brief 140
Mongolia PIERI-12375

The impact of vocational training programs on
youth unemployment in Mongolia 

Policy Brief 147

Western Balkans PMMA-19985 Highly educated but low paid: Youth in Macedonia,
Montenegro and Serbia

Policy Brief 193

Zambia PMMA-20280

‘Work-study’ and Educational Mismatch among
youth: Evidence from Zambia

Coming soon
Botswana CBMS-20068

Determinants of Youth Unemployment and
Labour Market Transition in Botswana

Coming soon


External Sources

1 International Labour Office (ILO). 2017. Global Employment Trends for Youth 2017: Paths to a better working future. International Labour Office – Geneva: ILO
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
3Decent work and economic growth
4 ILO 2017, p.8.
OECD. 2019. Work-based learning and school-to-work transition among at-risk youth.
Lopez-Mayan, C. and Nicodemo, C. 2013. The Transition from Vocational Education to Work: Evidence from Spain. IZA/SOLE Trasatlantic Meeting of Labor Economists in Ammersee.




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