The modern labour market can be a challenging, competitive and complex place for young people to navigate. There are approximately 73 million unemployed youth globally (ILO.org). The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated the share of youth aged 15-24 not in employment, education or training (NEET) in 2020 to be at 23% globally and at 33% in Southern Africa, 31% in MENA and 11% in European Union member states (ILOSTAT). Successful engagement of young people in the labour market is essential for their own personal livelihoods and wellbeing and for social and economic change.
Girls and women face distinct challenges in their access to secure productive livelihood opportunities of their choice. Gendered norms and expectations shape both girls’ educational opportunities and the pathways available to them for training and employment. For instance, more priority may be given to the education of men and boys due to higher expectations of what they can achieve this can particularly be the case in ‘traditionally male’ subjects like STEM. These beliefs can mean that boys benefit from advantages like better access to employers, role models and the benefit of networks that facilitate easier access to opportunities. Marginalised girls in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) are the least likely to develop transferable skills, such as critical thinking, communication and problem solving during their time at school (UNESCO, 2012).
Careers education and guidance has a fundamental role to play in challenging gender stereotypes and building aspiration, but there is still a long way to go to achieve a future for children which is not restricted by gendered expectations. A recent survey conducted by the Lego Foundation in seven countries (China, Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, Russia, UK and USA) found that parents were almost six times as likely to think of scientists and athletes as men than women (85% compared to 15%) and over eight times as likely to think of engineers as men than women (89% compared to 11%). The children surveyed shared these impressions, although girls were more likely than boys to consider a wider variety of professions to be for both women and men (Lego Foundation, 2021).
There is a need to support all young people, including girls, to build their aspirations, gain the necessary skills and qualifications to succeed, develop their understanding of the current world of work and the confidence to navigate it. In this case study, we discuss how our programmes are designed to consider the specific needs of women and adolescent girls entering the workforce and how this enables more effective and relevant careers education and guidance for the next generation.
Effective careers education and guidance programmes develop a range of skills that enable young people and adults to proactively manage their own lives and careers, including pursuing a career path or aspiration free from gender stereotypes. This includes important ‘21st Century skills’ needed for learning, personal empowerment and active citizenship. For many young people entering work for the first time, the types of jobs they were raised to expect are at odds with what is available on the job market. Some young people also do not have the relevant skills or qualifications demanded by today’s labour market, and there can be little relevance between what students learn in school and the modern world of work. Particularly in low- and middle-income countries, challenges and barriers to education and training opportunities can mean that marginalised girls are least likely to learn foundational skills in literacy and numeracy, let alone develop the transferable 21st Century skills, such as critical thinking and strong communication that are needed to gain access to secure, safe, fulfilling and productive livelihoods (Rose, 2021).
Girls can be further held back by unequal access to education, training, and pervasive gender norms and expectations about the type of jobs or careers a girl or boy should do. Gender stereotypes start to shape children’s understanding of their worth and path in life from a very young age. However, in many contexts gender gaps in aspirations for children’s education and livelihoods start appearing around early adolescence. In Ethiopia for example, girls are more likely to be directed to work that is ‘typically female’ such as cooking and caring, while boys are directed to ‘male tasks’ such as livestock herding and farming (Boyden et al, 2020). In many contexts girls are less likely to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, which transfers into less young women following STEM career paths. The ILO School to Work Transition Survey found that 7% of young women surveyed in 34 countries had chosen a career path in STEM compared to 18% of young men (ILO and UNICEF, 2018).
Once in the labour market girls can be held back still further by gender discrimination in the labour market and lack of supportive policy and legislation such as minimum wage, maternity leave and childcare, safe transportation or discrimination in inheritance laws and access to financial services or credit. Women and girls internationally are also less likely to access vocational education opportunities. A study in rural Bangladesh found that only 3% of girls were enrolled in vocational training, compared to 6% of boys (Presler-Marshall & Stavropoulou, 2017). International evidence on the long-term impacts of careers programmes in LMICs is limited, but literature from high-income countries shows that life skills, vocational training and livelihood interventions can be effective in facilitating adolescent girls’ transition to work. There is less evidence around what works in supporting disadvantaged girls’ transition to work in low- and middle-income country contexts.
The next sections look at how we are embedding gender sensitivity across some of our careers programmes and particularly how we work with young people, schools and employers to tackle gender norms and stereotypes early.
Tackling gender stereotypes is integral to the work of EDT’s school careers programmes in the UK. We offer tailored solutions for schools looking to enhance their careers programmes and help schools to build gender transformative careers services.
For example, we work closely with organisations such as Primary Futures and STEM ambassadors who offer resources, workshops and/or facilitation services to enable schools to tap into a diverse range of volunteers and positive role models.
Our Inspiring Careers programme has supported 44,000 girls in schools and colleges to explore their career aspirations and develop career management skills to achieve their goals. Professionally qualified careers advisors actively challenge and promote non-traditional options for all our beneficiaries, both male and female, for example women into engineering or men into nursing. One element of this work in our two Careers Clusters has been working with employers to provide both virtual and physical work experience and longer-term six-month employer pilots where selected employers provide activities and tasks as part of coordinated project for schools and colleges. To date, 371 girls have taken part in work experience and 529 girls have taken part in employer pilots. Positive role models are used to encourage female participation, including alumni, women in STEM and Brunel University female ambassadors.
Meanwhile our North East Ambition pilot in 70 UK primary schools has explored how to sow the seeds of ambition from an early age by supporting schools to develop an age-appropriate career and personal development programme.
Relevant high impact provision is provided through a combination of talks, site visits, mentoring, hands-on experience of producing a product or service, and work experience for older pupils. Stereotypical thinking about gender is addressed in various ways through the programme and staff are trained to utilise counter-stereotypical examples when sourcing volunteers or using online resources to explore a range of careers. For example, the whole school programme developed by one primary school included discussion of the difference between modern and Victorian gender views, including now employing men and women in the same roles. Role model examples built into STEM lessons included a range of female scientists including Margaret Hamilton and Rachel Carson.
The programme is broadening pupils’ horizons, raising their aspirations and supporting them to develop the knowledge, skills and understanding to be successful in the next stage of their education and beyond, regardless of their starting point. Evaluation at the end of the second year of the programme (July 2021) has shown significant progress in tackling gender stereotypes and implementing the relevant Gatsby Framework Benchmarks:
In Jordan we have recently completed the pilot of a careers education and guidance programme, which took lessons from our work in the UK and the latest international evidence of effective careers education and guidance in schools and applied them to the Jordanian context. We worked closely with the Ministry of Education and local partners in Jordan to deliver and scale a pilot careers education and guidance programme in secondary schools. The 12-week pilot, Future Ready, reached over 500 grade nine students in six girls’ schools and two boys’ schools in Amman and Zarqa.
Jordan’s female labour force participation rate is the third lowest globally: 16.9% compared with 62.7% for men.
(World Bank, 2017)
Future Ready took a holistic approach to careers education and guidance which involved the whole school, families and employers, as all these actors are part of the solution for young people. The pilot aimed to get girls out to experience the world of work and give them the confidence they need to aspire to work in male-dominated sectors, while equipping them with the 21st Century skills, career management skills, and attitudes of lifelong learning that will encourage girls to continue to grow and develop as the labour market continues to evolve.
Resources were developed for teachers and school counsellors to use in lessons and sit independently on an e-learning portal for students and parents to engage with at any time. These resources include case studies, videos, role models and information that actively promotes female participation in non-traditional roles. They are designed to challenge stereotypes, such as a female plumber or car mechanic and male hairstylist.
School leaders, teachers and counsellors received training in gender awareness, including recognising gender bias and how to identify and challenge gender stereotypes. Parents were also provided with materials that facilitated discussion around gender norms and roles within families including material around vocational training and alternative professions for girls.
Parents supporting girls in the vocational sector
One of the parents was against the idea of vocational training even though his daughter’s academic achievement is weak and she cannot pass the secondary stage. He decided to keep her home if she did not progress academically. However, after communication, discussion, and completing many tasks in the parents’ handbook, designed to facilitate consideration of alternative professions, the father was convinced to allow his daughter to go with her peers to visit the Vocational Training Centre and observe the potential future professional choices which the student can follow.
Case study: Alquds Girls’ School
Seventy-six students and 14 employers took part in a job shadowing day, designed to build confidence and awareness of different sectors and jobs. Students believed that participating in the job shadowing raised their awareness of the types of qualifications and skills they need to do certain jobs.
In addition to exposure to employers and information about options for technical and vocational training, the project involved enriching maths and English curricula with careers information and work-learning, allowing students to see how the skills and knowledge in the classroom are applied in the workplace.
Impact evaluation of the pilot found that Future Ready has made positive steps in challenging gender stereotypes among students and created more inclusive attitudes – although there is still work to be done.
“My daughter is now motivated to pursue her dream of being a fitness and football coach after Future Ready.”
Parent in a focus group discussion
For more information on our expert research and impact on girls’ education, please visit our girls’ education page here Girls' education - Education Development Trust
Boyden, J., Porter, C., and Zharkevich, I. 2020. Balancing School and Work with New Opportunities: Changes in Children’s Gendered Time Use in Ethiopia (2006–2013). Children’s Geographies, 1–14
Fadel, C (2008) “21st Century Skills: How Can you prepare students for the new global economy?” Presentation presented at the OECD/CERI Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Paris, May 2008.
ILO Youth employment (ilo.org)
ILO and UNICEF. 2018. GirlForce: Skills, education and training for girls nowhttps://www.unicef.org/sites/default/files/2018-10/Unicef_DayoftheGirl_Brochure_R7.pdf.
ILOSTAT Statistics on youth - ILOSTAT
Joynes, C., Rossignoli, S., & Fenyiwa Amonoo-Kuofi, E. (2019). 21st Century Skills: Evidence of issues in definition, demand and delivery for development contexts (K4D Helpdesk Report). Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5d71187ce5274a097c07b985/21st_century.pdf
Lego Foundation (2021) Girls are ready to overcome gender norms but society continues to enforce bias that hamper creative potential https://www.lego.com/en-id/aboutus/news/2021/september/lego-ready-for-girls-campaign/
Mastercard Foundation (2020) Secondary Education in Africa: Preparing Youth for the Future of Work. https://doi.org/10.15868/socialsector.35972
OECD Development Centre (2018) Youth Wellbeing Policy Review of Jordan https://www.oecd.org/dev/inclusive-societies-development/Youth_well_being_policy_review_Jordan.pdf
Presler-Marshall, E., and Stavropoulou, M. 2017. Adolescent Girls’ Capabilities in Bangladesh: A synopsis of the evidence. Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence. Available from: https://www.gage.odi.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Adolescent-girls%E2%80%99- capabilities-in-Bangladesh-A-synopsis-of-the-evidence.pdf.
Rose, P et al (2021) Exploring the School to Work Transition for Adolescent Girls. REAL Centre. University of Cambridge. https://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/centres/real/publications/School%20to%20Work%20Transition%20for%20Adolescent%20Girls%20Full%20Report.pdf
UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012. Youth and Skills: Putting education to work. Youth and skills: putting education to work, EFA global monitoring report, 2012 - UNESCO Digital Library
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