By Bradley Noble and Catherine MacLeod

Stable employment and career opportunities are critical components of development, but many people living in developing countries still lack access to them. To combat this, countries institute labor programs to match job seekers with employers, but too often these programs fail to design for the context in which job seekers actually behave. As a result, these well-intentioned and essential programs may not be as impactful at alleviating unemployment as they could be. To reduce inequality of opportunity in the labor market, our Global Development team recently worked with Egypt’s Network for Employment Promotion (NEP) to help more youth find stable employment.

Youth unemployment is an urgent issue in Egypt. With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, there is serious risk to sociopolitical and economic stability if the problem persists, and unemployed youth remain excluded from the benefits of having a stable income.

Despite Egypt’s high youth unemployment rate, Egyptian employers across all sectors struggle to recruit workers to fill their vacancies. In response to this need, the NEP designed a program to connect youth job seekers with these open vacancies in the blue-collar sector. But the program faced challenges such as a high drop-off rate—of the 78% of job seekers who received a nomination for at least one job that was pre-vetted to match their interests, only 27% were ultimately placed in a job—preventing job seekers from successfully completing the program and gaining employment.

Why do so many capable job seekers fail to land jobs? To identify and address the barriers preventing job seekers from completing the program, we interviewed job seekers and NEP staff to better understand job-seeker behavior. As a result, we found that job seekers struggled to identify their unique skills and strengths that would qualify them for a job placement—an important component of interviews with potential employers. This discovery was paramount, leading us to understand that negative self-perceptions were seriously harming job seekers’ ability to persevere through the program and gain employment.

Overcoming these barriers required designing behaviorally informed solutions to boost job seekers’ self-esteem and help them preemptively plan for key moments along their job-search journey. Unsurprisingly, interviews revealed that job seekers had many of the relevant skills needed for the jobs they were interviewing for, despite feeling as though they were lacking. Through an affirmation activity, we prompted job seekers to consider their experiences outside of a formal work or educational setting, including skills gained from hobbies, sports teams, or even family settings. From experience playing on a team to teaching a family member how to use their phone, this activity allowed job seekers to uncover and reframe their unique skill sets. In addition to the affirmation activity, we designed a job interview checklist that demystified this unfamiliar process, helping job seekers to feel prepared for interviews as opposed to discouraged, and a flier that prompted job seekers to remember why they were seeking employment through the program, as job seekers may weigh the immediate costs of finding a formal job higher than the long-term benefits.

In the end, job seekers who received the designs were 192% more likely to persist to an additional job interview if not placed in the first round and 58% more likely to be successfully placed in a job, underscoring the significant benefits of designing for the human experience.

Though labor market programs like the NEP are designed to address a critical need, in order to be most effective they must be designed with the complexities of the job seeker’s experience in mind. Our partnership with the NEP confirmed that using behavioral science to design interventions that centralize job seekers’ experiences can help more people find stable, supportive jobs. With this evidence in hand, we encourage more labor market access programs to consider human behavior from the outset—designing programs that help job seekers feel equipped with the skills they need to navigate their job search.

Learn more about our work using behavioral science to improve labor programs by reading the project brief, visiting, or contacting