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How does technical and vocational education and training (TVET) influence dynamics of mobility and conflict? Lessons from the Horn of Africa

Abebaw Minaye Gezie, Padmini Iyer

In the Horn of Africa (HoA), investments in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and other employability programmes are typically predicated on the assumption that these activities will: a) provide alternatives to migration and reduce young people’s incentives to follow irregular

migratory routes; and b) reduce young people’s incentives to become involved with violent groups, thus contributing to conflict prevention and stability in the region.

This study considers the assumptions underlying TVET and employment generation programmes funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund (EUTF) in Africa by examining the influence of these programmes on young people’s decisions around mobility and engagement in conflict. The primary objectives of the study are: to examine the key assumptions of the EUTF and implementing partners about TVET programming; investigate the mechanisms that link engagement in TVET and young people’s practices regarding mobility and conflict; explore the positive and negative outcomes in changes to mobility and conflict following engagement in TVET; and distil lessons learnt from such programming in the HoA.

The review systematically brings together data collected from the EUTF’s two learning components, the Monitoring and Learning System (MLS; managed by Altai Consulting) and the Research and

Evidence Facility (REF). The study’s methodology included a review of existing literature on the link between TVET, conflict and migration; analysis of existing datasets from the REF and Altai/MLS and interviews with key informants. The projects examined for this review were drawn from EUTF interventions in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and the cross-border area of the Mandera Triangle.

Key Findings

  1. The central assumptions underpinning EUTF interventions on TVET and employment revolve around a few key mechanisms thought to be responsible for conflict and unsafe or irregular migration. These are: grievances as a result of marginalisation (political – in relation to the wider context); exclusion or lack of opportunities (social – in relation to reference group, comparisons with peers); lack of money or economic prospects (economic – in relation to household and individual survival and reference group); and absence of alternative activities, leaving young people idle (psychological – in relation to individuals’ aspirations and mental wellbeing).
  2. Overall, the data show that engagement in TVET and other forms of employment-related trainings has a positive impact on the prospects of finding employment and labour market integration. Beneficiaries of these programmes reported income generation, ability to find work and provide for themselves and their families, thanks to their involvement in the interventions.
  3. TVET and other employability-related interventions in the HoA also show an increase in young people’s engagement in the community and enhance their self-perception, in addition to providing economic benefits. TVET and employability programmes, especially when combined with life skills and other ‘soft’ training, tend to produce several non-material benefits for participants. Trainees and graduates report increases in levels of self-confidence, self-esteem and a positive influence of the training on their standing in the community. As these programmes also bring together diverse groups of youth who may or may not have the opportunity to interact on a regular basis, they also positively influence socialisation and intergroup behaviours.
  4. Despite these successes, key informants expressed uncertainty about the prospects of beneficiaries acquiring satisfactory employment opportunities, as trainings do not guarantee employment. Although the programmes provide several non-financial contributions, such as a positive influence on youth self-esteem and confidence, the longer-term impact on propensity to engage in negative behaviours (including joining gangs and violent extremist groups) remains unclear.
  5. Due to the short-term nature of these projects and the lack of robust follow-up mechanisms, the long-term impact or sustainability remains uncertain. While several successes have been noted – in terms of the number of youth trained, number of businesses launched, number of youth who were employed/self-employed – evaluations of programmes tend to privilege output-level achievements rather than overall impact .
  6. TVET and employment programmes may also have unintended negative impacts. Those who are left out of these programmes, as a result of beneficiary targeting criteria, may become resentful of others benefiting from the programming and this may lead to incidents of conflict. There is also preliminary evidence of such training disturbing the status quo in some households by empowering women (financially); this has reportedly led to incidences of gender-based violence.


  1. Focus on Impacts rather than Outputs: Independent, third-party evaluations that investigate the longer-term impact of TVET and employment interventions on conflict and migration dynamics and behaviours are essential. Rather than evaluating projects only at their close, a longitudinal perspective must be adopted, tracing the employment outcomes of participants and graduates at several different time points – ideally after at least six months, one year and two years.
  2. Apply a ‘Do No Harm’ principle to programming in contexts of actual or potential conflict. A comprehensive conflict sensitivity assessment, which includes an analysis of the context, sources of conflict, and the interaction between the programme and the context is critical (e.g. in the beneficiary selection process). Subsequent to the assessment, projects could devise ways to ensure that conflict mitigation mechanisms are integrated in the framework.
  3. Promote employment prospects including ‘positive migration’ of graduates. In evaluating the value of TVET programmes, it is important not to equate the migration of graduates as evidence of a failure. Economic migration undertaken by skilled individuals who have a realistic chance of finding employment and travelling safely is wholly different from irregular, unsafe migration; equipping people with the ability to undertake the former form of ‘positive’ migration may be a positive outcome of TVET projects that helps people to avoid being compelled to move through irregular and unsafe channels.
  4. Gather further evidence about the link (if any) between TVET and irregular migration. Research on employability should also explore whether graduates are more or less likely to be engaged in conflict activities (formal or informal) as well as regular or irregular migration. While there is some literature on the link between TVET and employment generation and conflict, studies on the impact of such programmes on irregular migration are generally scant.
  5. Promote linking of TVET initiatives with wider advocacy around decent work conditions. Often TVET activities are implemented as discrete projects without being linked to wider efforts to promote decent work conditions including reform of legal frameworks and labour codes, adherence to international labour conventions, and integration with social protection programmes.

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Image source:  Albert Gonzalez Farran/UNAMID

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