Social Innovation

Could coding classes help tackle youth unemployment?

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Intensive coding bootcamps are helping to close skills gaps and equip young people for careers in technology. Image: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Cecilia Paradi-Guilford
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The International Labour Organization estimates that 73.4 million people aged 15-24 do not have a job (43% of global youth), and three times as many young people are underemployed. At the same time, 40% of employers report skills shortage for entry level vacancies, according to McKinsey (Social Initiative 2015). Hence, skill gaps have become an issue to both employers and the unemployed. This trend is exacerbated by technological advancements which are rapidly replacing manual jobs, leaving millions of young people unprepared to participate in the 21st-century knowledge economy.

Three aspects of the skills gap problem need to be addressed in order to find a sustainable solution: urgency, proficiency in technology, and job market readiness. The 2016 World Development Report finds that returns to education are particularly high for ICT-intensive occupations. The wage premium for working in ICT-intensive occupations is around 5% for both men and women in developing countries (WDR 2016). This suggests a tremendous potential of technology education for reducing poverty and boosting prosperity in the developing world.

Emergence of Coding Bootcamps

In response to this challenge, a new model of intensive technology trainings emerged: coding bootcamps. Bootcamps are effective skills accelerators that teach specific technical skills (from coding to digital marketing) through intense fast-track courses with a strong career focus.

The bootcamps approach, which lies at the core of rapid technology skills training programs, covers all three facets of the skills gap problem. Firstly, it focuses on rapid training - 9-12 weeks, after which graduates are prepared to undertake the job in the industry. Secondly, it focuses on applied skills - from digital marketing to programming. Thirdly, it places a strong emphasis on career readiness, as bootcamps typically emerge in response to job market needs. Some of them also provide guidance on soft-skills, such as preparing participants for job interviews through career coaching and by helping them build their professional portfolios.

Bootcamps Spreading in Emerging Economies

Pioneered in the US, coding bootcamps are now expanding into Latin America, Africa and the Middle East and North Africa region. In Latin America, World Tech Makers, a coding bootcamp, runs its programs in Bogota, Sao Paulo, and Santiago. In Kenya, the Moringa School teaches the curriculum of Hack Reactor, one of the most popular US bootcamps. In Lebanon, LeWagon, a French bootcamp provider, as well as a local, low-cost alternative by the SE Factory have launched coding bootcamp programs.

The emergence of bootcamps in developing countries signals determination of local people and businesses to participate in the digital revolution, but does not guarantee immediate results. The potential impact on employability can be substantial, but needs further testing. Recognizing the need to better understand the impact of bootcamps on employability, the World Bank ICT Innovation Team launched a Rapid Technology Skills Training Program focused on programming skills, which are among the most demanded (and the most deficient) by employers.

Rapid Technology Skills Training

The Rapid Technology Skills aims to measure the impact of rapid skills trainings on youth employment and economic activity in emerging economies. The Rapid Technology Skills Training Program is funded through a Jobs Multi-Donor Trust Fund at the World Bank, and is being piloted in three countries: Colombia, Kenya, and Lebanon. The program seeks to establish a framework of best practices for future projects in technology upskilling in the developing world. The initiative is being implemented in collaboration with the key players in tech innovation ecosystems in Lebanon, Colombia, and Kenya.

To achieve its goal, the initiative relies on four main components:

1. Assessing the impact of coding bootcamps on local, young job-seekers to secure quick employment and income generation opportunities thanks to the coding bootcamp,

2. Comparing employment patterns of bootcamp participants to those in a control group who have not received the training.

3. Identifying key success factors of coding bootcamps and devising a methodological toolkit for designing a coding bootcamp from scratch based on an overview of existing tools and best practice methods.

4. Informing policymakers in emerging markets on how to support the establishment, implementation, and growth of demand-driven rapid tech skills trainings for youth employment.
Through these components, the Program seeks to lay the foundation for a swift response to boost demand-driven labor market trainings that are necessary to tackle youth unemployment in today’s fast-changing world. Solving developmental challenges by effectively embracing technology has become not just desirable, but inevitable.

This activity is led by Cecilia Paradi-Guilford (ICT Innovation Specialist) and Victor Mulas (Lead, Innovation Acceleration Program), and the team comprises Elene Allende Letona (ICT Innovation Consultant), Hallie Applebaum (Open Innovation Consultant), Yegana Faramaz (ICT Innovation Consultant), Marta Khomyn (ICT Innovation Consultant), and Scott Henry (ICT Innovation Consultant). The team is also grateful to Siddhartha Raja (Senior Technology and Jobs Specialist) and Caio Piza (Economist) for their continued advice, as well as to its research partners at the University of Rice for their inputs to the experiment design.

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Related topics:
Social InnovationJobs and the Future of WorkEducation and Skills
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