Vocational and Business Training to Increase Women’s Participation in Higher Skilled, Higher Valued Occupations in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: 3ie Systematic Review

Although women’s employment possibilities have improved with the rise of globalization, women in low- and middle-income countries tend to be overrepresented in informal labor markets, work in precarious conditions, are not well paid, and have few opportunities for learning and advancement. Women often perform jobs that have low skill requirements and frequently choose occupations that are highly feminized, tend to be less socially valued, and pay lower wages.

To improve the participation of women in higher skilled occupations—for example, in the formal labor market—development agencies have created a wide range of programs that aim to improve the skills of women, including vocational and business training. The development of women’s skills through vocational or business training can contribute to improvements in women’s labor market outcomes and economic growth by increasing women's participation in high-skilled labor. However, although several impact evaluations of vocational and business training programs have been conducted, there exists no systematic review about the mapping and synthesis of the effectiveness of these interventions to increase women’s participation in higher skilled, higher valued occupations.

A preliminary mapping of the evidence in Chinen et al. (2015) suggests that a large number of studies focus on the effectiveness of vocational and business training in stimulating women’s employment in higher skilled jobs and on structural barriers, facilitators and gender norms. This preliminary evidence support the relevance of conducting a full systematic review for policy and practice.

The Systematic Review

AIR collaborated with its research partners from the Group for the Analysis of Development (GRADE) in Peru to perform the systematic review. The review assessed the impact of vocational and business training on women’s socioeconomic outcomes. It not only synthesized quantitative evidence but also the qualitative literature by exploring how structural barriers and facilitators and gender norms influence the effectiveness of vocational and business training for women. This analysis will be of particular relevance for policymakers and practitioners who wish to improve the design of vocational and business training programs.

The review summarized evidence from thirty-five quantitative studies with an experimental or quasi-experimental design. The review also provides an overview of the impact of 30 interventions, containing data from over 80,000 women. The qualitative narrative meta-synthesis includes findings from 50 studies.

Key Findings

The systematic review found that vocational training had small positive effects on employment, formal employment, and earnings, while business training combined with other program components had positive effects on self-employment, as well as small positive effects on sales or profits. However due to how relatively small these effects are, they may be insufficient to justify scaling up vocational or business training programs.

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Image of Thomas de Hoop
Program Area Lead, Gender and Social Protection and Principal Economic Researcher