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Encouraging Youth to Participate in an Employment Program in Ethiopia


  • Programs that aim to help youth find employment often fall short of their potential due to low participation and completion rates.
  • Behavioral science can inform light-touch solutions that make programs easier to navigate and complete.


The Challenge

High youth unemployment is a major concern in countries, as it can exacerbate many complex social problems like poverty. In Ethiopian cities, unemployment has reached 26%, and is disproportionately made up of youth with at most a secondary school education. In response, the government established the Youth Employment Program. The program offers youth ages 19-25 their first formal employment opportunity by providing training and placement in a six month apprenticeship. However, participants commonly drop out of the program before completing the training and apprenticeship and gaining the crucial employment experience. 

Governments spend millions of dollars on programs that aim to support people in building skills and finding employment, but such programs often fall short of their potential. Our work finds that the behavioral barriers job seekers face may make it hard for them to take full advantage of these programs. This work accentuates the need for governments to design labor programs that account for human behavior, thus making it easier for job seekers to find employment.


Our Approach

In partnership with the World Bank and the Government of Ethiopia, we sought to understand the barriers youth face in completing the Youth Employment Project. Through interviews and discussions with youth, their parents, and employers, we found that several common barriers led participants to drop out. Youth often overweigh the immediate costs of participation relative to the long-term benefits, and because they perceive that their actions won’t change their future, they don’t see the point of participating. Many youth have also participated in other employment programs and not benefitted, leading them to perceive the Youth Employment Project negatively.



To address the barriers that make it difficult for youth to complete the Youth Employment Program, we designed a Journey Notebook for participants. The notebook had elements intended to correct potential misperceptions and break the program down into smaller steps to make it more manageable. The notebook also included affirmation activities to build participants’ confidence in themselves. In a pilot, the majority of participants who received the Journey Notebook reported that it helped them improve their communication and problem-solving skills.  



Interested in learning more about this work applying behavioral science to a crucial social problem? Email or reach out to us on X at @ideas42 to join the conversation.