Entering the workforce can be daunting — if not seemingly impossible — for young people in a modern world where work opportunities are rapidly changing. That’s why youth workforce development practitioners are working in countries around the globe to help young people develop the hard and soft skills that will help them succeed in the 21st century workplace.
But, as in all development work, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Young people in one country may face a different set of obstacles from their peers in another country — and they may require different skills to overcome those obstacles. Context is essential.
In a new report, World Learning provides that context for the Algerian workforce, where young people face challenges such as regulatory obstacles, nepotism, gender discrimination, and more. Authored by World Learning’s Senior Youth Workforce Specialist Dr. Catherine A. Honeyman, the report asked: “What skills do youth most need in order to gain employment in Algeria?”
According to the qualitative research there are 12 soft skills and 6 functional job skills that can make a difference for Algerian youth seeking employment.
The research process — which was conducted by World Learning’s field office staff in Algeria — included interviews with Algerian employers as well as surveys and focus groups conducted with 90 employed and unemployed young men and women in six wilayas (administrative divisions) of Algeria who have taken part in trainings through World Learning’s Youth Employment Project (YEP), supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative. This qualitative research builds on the project’s large-scale quantitative tracer studies, reaching thousands of YEP graduates every six months.
“Local perspectives matter,” Honeyman wrote in the report. “While there may be robust international and regional research findings regarding the priority soft skills to emphasize for youth employment, the experiences of youth in a particular context — and the perspectives of their prospective future employers — must be taken into account in order to truly understand how to address the youth employment challenge.”
Soft skills were a key focus of the research.
In recent decades, there’s been a rising awareness in the global development community that soft skills make a difference in youth programming sectors such as workforce development, sexual and reproductive health, and peacebuilding. Large-scale literature reviews — such as one recently undertaken by USAID’s YouthPower initiative — have led to recommendations emphasizing five key soft skills that help improve youth workforce outcomes worldwide: positive self-concept, self-control, social skills, communication skills, and higher-order thinking skills.
These recommendations have solid grounding. Yet, as Honeyman notes in the report, “global recommendations can also sometimes miss the mark of what matters most to particular groups of youth in particular contexts — such as Algeria.”
Algerian youth participants in the study identified nine priority soft skills that they felt to be crucial for finding employment in their country: positive self-concept, self-motivation, goal-orientation, social skills, communication skills, perseverance, adaptability, managing emotions — especially stress, and planning or time management. Employer interviews echoed many of these and also revealed a need for three additional soft skills: conscientiousness or work ethic, problem-solving, and professionalism.
“While some of these skills map onto the recommendations made in the international research literature, others highlight less-often prioritized skills,” the report notes.
Skills like perseverance and adaptability are particularly critical in an Algerian context. Not only is there a limited availability of entry-level work, but the work that does exist often pays low wages. Additionally, the country’s National Employment Agency — which serves as an intermediary between job-seekers and employers — often slows down the job search with regulations like residence requirements.
In these conditions, young job-seekers have found that soft skills pay off. As one young man recounted, “I decided to go volunteer at this factory. I went in every day even though they weren’t recruiting. I just helped around and filled in for any tasks they needed. They ended up hiring me because of my persistence.”
In addition to soft skills, the report also identifies six functional job skills the Algerian youth need to improve in order to enter the workforce. These include, in order of the research data’s strength of evidence, language (English and French), general IT skills and software specific to their professions, career planning, job search strategies, CV and online profile creation, and job interviewing skills.
Though many of these skills are useful for job applicants anywhere, Algerian youth face a special challenge when it comes to language skills. Respondents indicated that they needed to improve in French or English — or both — in order to land jobs, even though neither is an official language of the country. For some, learning French is an emotionally charged task due to the country’s colonial past. “I hate French so much that I can’t really study it or learn it properly,” one participant noted.
So how can youth workforce development practitioners use the recommendations from this report to make a difference in the Algerian context?
Though YEP is already working to develop soft skills and functional job skills among Algerian youth through the WorkLinks Employability Skills Curriculum — which has reached more than 8,000 young people to date — the findings of this report will help World Learning staff refine that curriculum to meet the specific needs of Algerian job-seekers. (See the new curriculum in the chart below.)
With the help of this research, World Learning will continue building a future in which all young people and adults are equipped to find or create decent work.