Julia Pérez joined GlobalCAD’s team eight years ago as a specialist in the promotion of inclusive business, entrepreneurship and SMEs Development. She is one of the GlobalCAD consultants that implemented the action research on the change processes and lessons learned of the implementation of the pilot Skills Development Fund (SDF) in Uganda.
Between 2018 and the end of 2020, she worked with other colleagues in the assessment of the SDF’s response to national challenges in the field of Technical and Vocational Education, and how it contributes to the wider Skilling Uganda reform agenda. Her work discovered and capitalized on best practices and key lessons learned for decision-making. The conclusions of the Ugandan case in this regard are clear: developing the entrepreneurial skills of young people fosters economic inclusion.
We spoke with her to understand the scope and main results of this research published recently.
GC: What is the Skills Development Fund?
JP: The Skills Development Fund (SDF) is a pilot fund financed by the Belgian cooperation agency ENABEL, the European Union, the Irish Aid Agency and the German Cooperation Agency (GIZ). Its activities were implemented in different regions of Uganda by ENABEL in close collaboration with the Government of Uganda. The overall objective of the SDF was to create an enabling environment for training providers to implement quality and inclusive technical and vocational training programmes.
These programmes are aimed at developing technical and life skills relevant to society and the local labour market, as well as stimulating partnerships between different types of public and private sector organisations. To achieve this objective, the SDF funded different types of technical and vocational training programme modalities targeting vulnerable youth, women and girls in the country.
GC: What has been the main outcome of this project?
JP: The main outcome of the research on the change processes and lessons learned from the Skills Development Fund (SDF) in Uganda was the production of a report highlighting best practices and key lessons learned from the implementation of the SDF. In addition, based on the findings of the report, policy advice notes on the relevance, quality, access, effectiveness and efficiency of capacity-development training programmes were developed for key decision-makers in the field.
GC: What was the most important finding of the report?
JP: The main objective of GlobalCAD’s research was, on the one hand, to generate evidence on which training approaches work best to achieve high quality and inclusive skills development for beneficiaries; and on the other hand, to determine whether the SDF was managed efficiently to achieve its intended results. This evidence, gathered through the research, will be used for the design and operation of a National Skills Development Fund that will replace the current SDF and will involve various sectors of the Ugandan Skills Development field.
In this context, it can be said that this report has revealed important evidence of the significance of SDF activities, the main finding being that the creation of public-private partnerships effectively helps to increase the relevance of skills development training programmes, especially when these programmes have a practical focus and are geared towards covering skills relevant to the local labour market.
GC: What is the greatest strength of the SDF?
JP: In my opinion, I consider that the Skills Development Fund (SDF) is a relevant instrument for improving skills development programmes in Uganda for several reasons: first, its approach is quite innovative, as it seeks to connect the world of training and the world of work through innovative modalities. Second, it encourages partnerships between institutions offering technical education and training, and the private sector, so that beneficiaries can undertake internships in companies and/or small businesses at the same time while they are studying at the training centre. Thirdly, because of their reach: the training programmes financed by the Skills Development Fund target vulnerable populations that, in many cases, lack access to the formal education system in Uganda. These vulnerable groups are mainly young people, women and girls, and sometimes they also suffer from additional vulnerability, such as illness or belonging to ethnic minorities.
GC: In which areas can the SDF be improved?
JP: Despite having achieved the desired results and having had a significant outreach (more than 10,000 people have benefited or are benefiting from the training programmes funded by the SDF), through our research we detected several areas for improvement. Among them, the ones we consider most relevant are those of internal management and those of managing the relationship with SDF grantees to develop and implement the training programmes. Regarding the former, management processes need to be clearly defined and established in order to achieve efficient management. As for the second, the SDF, or such initiatives in general, should pay special attention to the allocation of resources (both human and financial) to develop the capacities of the organisations that apply and/or receive funding from them. This would ensure a real sustainability of the results achieved by such initiatives.
Here, however, it should be noted that the SDF, in particular, is a complex initiative, as it has objectives that can be considered ambitious, involves a wide range of actors from different sectors and is also pioneering an approach of bringing together private and public sector actors to deliver skills development training programmes. Moreover, the country’s own context for skills development programmes is not very favourable: there are no clear policies on technical vocational training, together with a prevailing lack of coordination between actors and of information on real labour market needs, and a lack of job offers accessible to vulnerable groups.
GC: What are the needs that this fund aims to address?
JP: The SDF was set up to contribute to the Government of Uganda’s efforts to address the challenges mentioned above. The main objective of the fund was basically to bridge the gap between the world of school and the labour market through the provision of innovative, flexible, quality and labour market relevant training modalities to vulnerable groups. In other words, the SDF aims to provide equitable and inclusive access to technical training programmes to vulnerable youth, women and girls in Uganda so that they can be better prepared for the labour market. Since its creation, some 10,000 vulnerable people have accessed SDF-funded training programmes. In addition, around 68% of the beneficiaries have found a job or started their own business after they participated in a training. Although much remains to be done to achieve equitable and inclusive access to quality technical and vocational training programmes in Uganda, we can say that, through the SDF, this access has improved.
GC: Could this project be replicated in other contexts and in what way?
JP: This question is not easy to answer. In theory, we believe it could, but it depends on the starting point from which it is answered. The evidence gathered through research shows that the SDF approaches do work and achieve the desired outcomes for this type of initiative. On the other hand, due to the complexity of the initiative and its ambitious objectives, the specific context of each country must be taken into account when implementing this type of initiatives. The level of development of public and training institutions, the private sector, as well as the needs of the market are aspects to be considered in the design and implementation of a Skills Development Fund.
GC: What was GlobalCAD’s role?
JP: GlobalCAD’s role in this project was to carry out the overall coordination of the research, as well as the analysis of the data collected and the subsequent elaboration of the report and policy advice notes. My colleague Nina Retzlaff and myself formed the team of international consultants required for the implementation of the project.
GC: How has the project been implemented? (Missions, partners, collaborators)
JP: In this project we worked in collaboration with the Ugandan research centre Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) between October 2018 and the end of 2020. They represented the local team of consultants and were in charge of data collection for the report. To this purpose, focus groups were conducted with around 800 beneficiaries of training programmes and more than 140 interviews were carried out with key actors from government, private sector, ENABEL staff and training providers, among others. For the report, the engagement of representatives of all stakeholders was crucial in order to obtain varied, contrasted and relevant information for the final conclusions and recommendations.
To kick start the action reasearch, Nina Retzlaff and myself undertook a mission to the Ugandan capital, Kampala, to deliver a training workshop for the data collection team and conduct interviews with key stakeholders. Initially, we planned other missions to conduct workshops with ENABEL and other key stakeholders, but due to the mobility restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, these were conducted online.
GC: What do you consider GlobalCAD’s expertise in this area?
JP: GlobalCAD has extensive experience in the evaluation of development programmes in different areas. Although the study was not an evaluation as such, the methodology used was very similar, and we worked mainly with specific research hypotheses and criteria. This has contributed to an improved development of the appropriate data collection and analysis tools in order to obtain the necessary information and elaborate the subsequent report.
GC: What is your personal take-home message from this project?
JP: Personally, this project has given me a lot. I can say that it has been one of my favourite projects implemented with GlobalCAD, especially because of the Skills Development theme. So far, as a consultant, I have worked on several technical assistance and research projects on entrepreneurship, and I recognise its importance for the economic development of countries. However, with this project, I have learned a lot about “entrepreneurial skills”, which is not the same as entrepreneurship, and about the importance of including them in training programmes for skills development in order to contribute to a better preparation of the beneficiaries for the labour market.
During the interviews and presentations made during the implementation of the project, we have been able to perceive the relevance of our report and the interest of the different actors involved in using the information obtained to carry out actions that will influence the improvement of the technical and vocational training sector in Uganda. My hope is that, based on the evidence we have been able to gather, public policies will be created and implemented with the aim of improving the quality and access to skills development training programmes in this country.