Giving Girls the Right Skills for the Job

The Digital Skills to Careers Programme helps girls and young women find jobs, launch careers, and support themselves. With proven results in the Middle East and North Africa, this innovation has its eyes on expansion.

Two girls take part in the UNICEF supported Digital Skills to Careers programme in Jordan.
01 February 2022

The Middle East and North Africa have the world’s highest rates of youth unemployment. In Lebanon, 1 out of every 3 young people is unemployed. In Jordan, more than half of young people are unemployed. These numbers are expected to increase in the coming years as a result of the pandemic, worsening youth unemployment, which is already a major concern.  

Unemployment is caused by several different factors, one of which is the large gap between what students are learning and what the job market is seeking. Globally, more than 70% of children have never set foot in a secondary school—the place where practical, job-related skills are generally acquired. Young people need more than basic math and reading skills to attract employers.

These challenges are felt more acutely by the vulnerable. In fact, children and adolescents from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to lack digital skills, which are a requirement for many jobs. And girls are even more disadvantaged. Across the world, unemployment rates among girls are significantly higher than boys. There are many reasons for this imbalance. For example, boys are 1.5 times more likely to own a phone than girls, and among those who do own phones, boys are more likely to own smartphones. This in and of itself creates a skills discrepancy between the genders, making girls less digitally literate than their male counterparts.

UNICEF’s Digital Skills to Careers Programme aims to address youth employment, with a strong focus on empowering girls. The programme develops digital skills through a series of locally adapted courses. Participants receive job-related training on data entry, digital accounting, graphic-design, web-design, and other digital skills. The initiative’s blended format—which offers in-person support as well as online training—aims to reach all girls and young women, including those with disabilities and those living in rural areas that normally would not be able to access quality technical and vocational education. Once participants graduate from the programme, UNICEF matches them with freelance jobs. This allows students to build on-the-job experience and launch their careers.

"This programme provided me with a job opportunity. I acquired new and very strong skills while working from home and generating income. This is what helped me and my family in these tough times.”

Mira, programme graduate in Lebanon

And this approach works. The Digital Skills to Careers Programme was piloted in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tajikistan, where UNICEF and its partner Luminus have helped more than 600 young people (mostly young women) secure work. In total, 80% of programme graduates received jobs. This high placement rate is likely thanks to the programme’s direct engagement with employers—UNICEF reached out to companies and asked what skills and knowledge they need. This innovative, market-driven approach allowed the programme to identify specific skills shortages, then train people to fill them. With more and more jobs moving online, the possibilities are endless. A young woman in a remote part of Jordan can do digital archiving for a major tech company in the United States. Someone in Lebanon can work with a leading consulting firm in Dubai. These aren’t hypotheticals, these are real examples of jobs secured by programme graduates.  

A girl looks at the camera as she holds her smartphone in Jordan.
Nusaiba, originally from Sudan, started the digital skills training in December 2020 in Amman, Jordan.

Digital Skills to Careers has demonstrated how quality technical training can uplift girls. Following success in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tajikistan, UNICEF aims to expand the programme. Baseline data is already available for Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, which means the initiative could scale quickly across the region. The programme will be tailored as it is rolled out, corresponding to local training and labour market needs. Once scaled, this innovative approach to skills development has the power to uplift thousands of young people, especially girls and young women.

The Digital Skills to Careers Programme houses the B.O.T. initiative, or Bridge.Outsource.Transform, the first-ever impact outsourcing platform in the Middle East and North Africa Region—and the first self-sustainable social enterprise developed by UNICEF.

Digital Skills to Careers is also part of the Gender Equality Innovation Portfolio at UNICEF. The Global Innovation Portfolios align technical and financial resources to promising projects that can accelerate results for children in key focus areas, including Learning, Water and Sanitation, Maternal and Child Health, Climate Change, Youth, Immunization, Humanitarian, and Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellbeing. By bringing these proven solutions to more countries, UNICEF’s Office of Innovation strives to strategically and efficiently address some of the biggest challenges facing children. 

Continue exploring the Office of Innovation website to learn about the many innovative solutions and technologies the team is bringing to scale.