Access, skills development and transition

For many people living in developing countries, the informal economy is the only prospect they have of access to productive employment and a living wage. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) therefore prioritises the informal sector in its cooperation in the area of vocational education and training. Through skills development and counselling, vocational education and training can help individuals to become more employable, easing their gradual transition to productive and dignified work and supporting them in leading an independent life out of poverty.

The ‘Learning and working in the informal economy – access, skills development and transition’ Toolkit has been developed by the Technical and Vocational Education and Training program on behalf of BMZ by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH. It offers a structured overview of the latest research and of current development policy practice related to vocational education and training in and for the informal economy.


Foreword by BMZ

The informal economy is the only prospect of employment for many people living in developing countries. Promoting vocational education and training to improve their working conditions and boost their incomes is, therefore, a key approach to combating poverty. A substantial body of research has shown that better education and training for people in informal employment achieves two things: it paves the way to better opportunities within the informal economy and facilitates the transition to formal employment. In both cases, the outcome is often higher incomes and better working conditions.

For many young people, the informal economy represents their sole prospect of entering the world of work: it is where they can acquire on the job the skills they need for further employment. Recognizing these skills and supporting provision of initial and continuing vocational education and training can also open up prospects within the formal education sector.

In its 2012 position paper ‘Vocational education and training in German development policy’), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) prioritises support for individuals working in the informal economy. BMZ acknowledges the urgent need to gear development policy projects in the areas of vocational education and training as well as employment promotion more closely to the needs of employees and of the labour market within the informal economy.

In doing this, BMZ is helping to shape the international trend within development cooperation towards restoring the focus on learning and working in the informal economy. Global problems such as poverty and youth unemployment cannot be solved without more in-depth consideration of the informal economy. Many international organisations have recognised this and are currently working in this area, including the World Bank and the International Labour Organization. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization also focussed on this area in its 2012 ‘Education for All Global Monitoring Report’, acknowledging that substantial work remains to be done in the area of the informal economy.

This view was shared by experts meeting at the December 2012 day conference organised by GIZ’s Competence Centre for Vocational Education and Labour Market and by participants at the Bonn Conference on Adult Education and Development in 2013, organized by the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association. The latter addressed the topic of ‘Technical and Vocational Skills Development in the Urban Informal Sector’.

Against this backdrop, BMZ commissioned the Technical and Vocational Education and Training program to develop the Toolkit ‘Learning and working in the informal economy – access, skills development and transition’. The Toolkit offers all users – from practitioners in German development cooperation and their local partners to the staff of international organisations – a comprehensive overview of the theoretical framework and strategies for promoting development policy. The aim is that those involved in this area can address the issues in greater depth and engage with lessons learned from the past, making it easier to develop solutions for current practice.

The process of putting the Toolkit together reflects the breadth of its audience: those involved in developing it include not only GIZ, KfW Development Bank and Sequa but also a range of German non-governmental organisations, including Brot für die Welt – Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst, Christoffel Blindenmission, Don Bosco Mondo, dvv international, Kindernothilfe, Kolping international, and Misereor. The initiative also had the support of many leading experts, who have made selected contributions from their specialist areas of expertise.

The Toolkit can be accessed by a wide range of experts and is available in both German and English. It is helping BMZ to raise the profile of learning and working in the formal economy. It is also helping to harmonise approaches with those of other donors by making available experience and tried and tested instruments for broad use in practice.

Author: Roland Lindenthal

Toolkit authors


Adams, A.V., de Silva, S.J. and Razmara, S. (2013), Improving skills development in the informal sector: Strategies for Sub-Saharan Africa, Directions in development: human development, The World Bank, Washington, D.C.
Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2012), Berufliche Bildung in der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit. Positionspapier. Strategiepapier 8, Bonn.
ILO (2013), Measuring informality: A statistical manual on the informal sector and informal employment, Geneva.
Jütting, J. and Laiglesia, J.R.d. (Eds.) (2009), Is informal normal?: Towards more and better jobs in developing countries, Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris.
UNESCO (2012), Education for All Global Monitoring Report: Youth and skills. Putting education to work, Paris.

For further reading

BMZ, Was wir machen: Berufliche Bildung.
Bonn Conference on Adult Education and Development “Technical and Vocational Skills Development in the Urban Informal Sector”.