Taking a Systems Approach to Youth Employment in the Ghanaian Construction Sector: A Case Study

Ghana’s booming construction sector has been a key driver of the country’s impressive economic growth rate over the past decades, and is a major employer given its labor-intensive nature. While the sector’s growth is a source of new jobs, it faces a significant skills gap with the shortfall of artisans estimated to be in the tens or even hundreds of thousands. The Youth Inclusive Entrepreneurial Development Initiative for Employment (YIEDIE, Twi for “progress”) activity was designed to assist disadvantaged young people to capitalize on this need by offering training in the technical, soft and entrepreneurship skills that lead to employment in construction.

While the sector offers real possibilities for Ghana’s young people, regulatory, financial and market constraints pose some limitations to the opportunities created by the sector’s growth. For example, bureaucracy in tendering processes and payments hinder projects and restrict new players from entering the market. Foreign competition presents a significant challenge to local construction firms, mostly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with limited financial resources and access to credit. Subcontractors, many of which are not formally registered or licensed, provide the large volume of semi-skilled and unskilled workers needed by the sector, but are hampered in their ability to bid on formal contracts due to their lack of registration and limited skills in pricing and project management.

Given these realities, creating opportunities for youth in construction required a systems approach that went well beyond youth skill-building to include expanding networks, increasing institutional capacity and fostering a more enabling environment. In addition, YIEDIE was committed to facilitating sustainable improvements in the employment ecosystem that would create a model for youth entry and success in the sector, benefitting young people beyond the life of the project. This brief describes YIEDIE’s approach to implementing sustainable workforce development interventions at scale that targeted the informal construction sector where many of the opportunities available to the target youth are found. It outlines the key elements of the approach, assesses whether there are early signs of sustainability, and presents some lessons learned.