February 2017 Feature Story – BRAC

GCYE Featured Member February 2017

Each month, the Global Center for Youth Employment (GCYE) highlights the work of one of its members in tackling the issue of youth employment. This month, we have chosen BRAC as our featured member. BRAC was recently ranked the #1 NGO in the world for 2017 by NGO Advisor, an independent media organization that scores, ranks, and rates nonprofit organizations based on their impact, innovation, and sustainability. Below is a summary of an interview conducted with BRAC. The interview provides an overview of the organization and highlights some of their current workforce projects targeting youth.

What is BRAC and how does the organization tackle the issue of youth employment?

BRAC was founded in Bangladesh in 1972 and now reaches a majority of the country’s population with diverse anti-poverty programs. With two million young people entering the labor market every year in Bangladesh, most end up with irregular and low-paying informal jobs.

Through the Skills Training for Advancing Resources (STAR) program, which is in line with the National Skills Development Policy 2011, BRAC is providing Competency-Based Training (CBT) that follows the National Technical Vocational Qualification Framework (NTVQF) in the informal market. The STAR project offers a dual apprenticeship model that supports entrepreneurship development and provides on-the-job skills training to youth through apprenticeship in the informal market. Each learner is placed under a Master Crafts Person (MCP) (an experienced shop owner or worker within a particular trade) for six-months of hands-on training.

Additionally, the project provides classroom-based soft-skills training once a week. Training sessions focus on financial literacy, market assessment, basic communicative English, and other core skills. After the training, the project links participants with potential employers. For those interested in self-employment, BRAC offers information, guidance, and technical assistance.

Ten percent of STAR program participants are persons with disabilities (PWD). Inclusion of persons with disability at the work place is rare in Bangladesh. PWDs are selected for the STAR program and are provided specialized assistance needed to complete the training. For example, 17-year-old Shormila was given a hearing aid to enable her to complete a 6-month apprenticeship in tailoring.

Shormila, 17, lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh and will never forget the day that changed her life. “I was in the second grade when my teacher slapped me hard across my face.” Shormila developed a high fever the next day and became deaf. “My family knew there was treatment for me, but we didn’t have the money,” she said.

Are you experiencing barriers in your implementation of workforce projects for youth (ages 15-35)?

At the onset of the program we had a difficult time establishing consistency across the apprenticeship program. This was due to the varying relationships between the shop owners and their apprentices. In some cases, the shop owners did not understand the extent of their role as a mentor to the apprentices, while in others they expressed difficulty in building trust.

As noted above, we are also using a Competency-Based Training (CBT) that follows the National Technical Vocational Qualification Framework (NTVQF) to help our learners become certified in specific competencies and allow their skills to be more widely recognized. Unfortunately, many of our learners are still uncertified, due to an enormous backlog in the government certification process. We are working with the government to address this bottleneck, but the delay is frustrating for the learners.

What are some of the best practices or key lessons learned you have developed as a result of these barriers?

Early on in the program, we determined that it was not enough to place young people in the apprenticeships, because they were not gaining the soft skills they needed through the technical training. To address this, BRAC launched a soft skills development component. Today, the learners are trained through an apprenticeship model five days a week and spend one day a week at a BRAC training center, where they work on soft skills development.

We also realized that the MCPs themselves needed additional guidance on how to deliver the curriculum in their shops, and particularly in how to mentor the learners. Accordingly, we developed a tailored training program for the MCPs and coached them on the importance of mentorship and building trust with their apprentices.

What has created your environment for successful implementation?

The STAR program began in 2012 and to date, about 12,000 underprivileged youth have been trained. Another 7,500 will complete their training by the end of 2016.  Denied other opportunities, BRAC supplied these promising young people with on-the-job training through apprenticeships. This was augmented by theoretical classroom training on various trades, life skills, and workplace-based English-language classes. Preliminary findings show the intervention succeeded in its aim to increase labor market participation and earnings of participants, leading to a 46 percent increase in employment—about six times above the baseline. At the same time, interventions led to increased earnings and greater self-confidence among participants, and time devoted to earning activities increased by four hours per day.

During her six-month apprenticeship with the Skills Training for Advancing Resources (STAR) project, BRAC provided Shormila with an artificial hearing device. “My family needs me. My new device gives me the feeling I can achieve anything,” she said. Her trainer is also proud. “She works very quick and concentrated. She tailors trousers, her work is considered excellent by our customers," her trainer said. "She has a real talent.”

By the end of the pilot program, 95 percent of graduates were employed within one month of training, a figure that rose to 99 percent with the first 2015 graduates of the expanded Skills Development Program. About 15 percent of female graduates were employed in non-traditional jobs, including professions previously considered off-limits for Bangladeshi girls, such as motorcycle repair, graphic design etc.

Case studies show that there has been a significant decrease in child marriage, which is one of the most common consequences of young girls dropping out of school, particularly for girls from poor families. Access to income and the possibility for entrepreneurship opportunities have also motivated trained youth to start saving for investments.

Evidence showed that increased earnings of adolescents translated mostly into household welfare – as proxied by food expenditures and durable asset holdings. It also showed that the project positively impacted empowerment, self-confidence and the prevention of substance abuse. Furthermore, the intervention led to an improved work place environment and greater job satisfaction.

Are you using any current tools or measures target youth in program implementation? How and where are these tools being used?

We use the World Bank’s poverty map of Bangladesh to identify implementation sites. Most youth in the program come from marginalized families identified by BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra-Poor (TUP) program, which uses a “graduation” approach to lift people out of destitution. This way, BRAC can ensure that the STAR program is addressing the needs of the most marginalized in Bangladesh. BRAC uses household surveys to assess the needs of individuals and communities, as well as survey-based questionnaires to capture qualitative aspects of the program.The STAR program will also launch a Randomized Control Trial early in 2017 which will measure other likely impacts of the program, including a reduction in child marriage and delayed pregnancy.

Does your organization have an advocacy or communications platform that highlights youth unemployment challenges? 

We have a webpage where we share information about the STAR program. It can be found here: http://www.brac.net/sdp. We also regularly update our medium account with stories from the field: medium.com/@BRACWorldAdditional stories about the impact of the STAR program can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6hfNe39ifM&t