Non-formal vocational education and training


Non-formal learning can be defined as learning ‘that is not provided by an education or training institution and typically does not lead to certification. It is, however, structured (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support). Non-formal learning is intentional from the learner’s perspective’ (European Commission 2001). It therefore differs from formal learning in terms of the general institutional framework – that is, it takes place outside of the state-regulated education and training system. Nonetheless, because it differs from informal learning in terms of its targeted, intentional and planned nature, non-formal learning still requires structures such as defined learning sites, curricula, teachers and trainers.

Non-formal vocational education and training is characterised by diversity and flexibility

Non-formal vocational education and training is provided by a wide range of organisations, including non-governmental organisations, church institutions, profit-making education and training providers, companies, and employer and employee organisations. Governments also finance and run vocational education and training programmes that operate outside the formal education and training system, for example as part of an active labour market policy or efforts to promote the private sector and reduce poverty. The courses on offer cover a broad range of skills and take many different forms, including distance study programmes, integrated training and coaching, and classroom-based lessons at night school. It is this diverse range of provision and the flexible design of training measures that characterise non-formal vocational education and training and make it so key to the skills development of those working in the informal economy. Options such as flexible scheduling, shorter and more targeted practical courses and, in some cases, financial support make it easier for young people and adults to access vocational education and training. Private and public-benefit training providers also operate where formal education and training institutions do not, such as in rural areas and slums. They are often more effective than formal education and training institutions in gearing their training provision to the needs of their target groups and responding to new labour market requirements.

There are usually no statistical records of non-formal vocational education and training in developing countries, as it often involves relatively small providers or largely uncoordinated local projects and programmes that are outside state control. However, a small number of non-formal education and training programmes have been implemented on a large scale and extensively evaluated. One example is the Jóvenes programmes for disadvantaged young people aged 16 to 29 in Latin America. These programmes combine courses and internships with additional support, such as learning materials, medical care and subsidies for travel expenses. Evaluations show that these programmes can increase a participant’s chance of employment by up to 21 percent, depending on the country in question. Those who complete this training also find more secure and better-paid work than those who do not (Adams 2007, 30).

Experience from a whole range of scenarios shows which approaches are particularly effective

Nonetheless, non-formal vocational education and training also involves a number of pitfalls. Quality in particular is not always sufficiently high to generate real added value for learners, who sometimes lack reliable information to enable them to compare different offers. Employers are also very limited in their ability to assess the value of the education and training courses completed by applicants. Against this backdrop, many countries are seeking to introduce recognition mechanisms for certifying skills acquired in a non-formal context. These mechanisms aim to make skills visible by having them identified externally on a standardised basis at the end of training programmes and courses. Formal qualifications should make it easier for individuals to make the transition to the formal vocational education and training system or to higher-quality work.

Non-formal vocational training is an important area of work for international donors and non-governmental organisations, which have gained wide experience with projects for the particular target group of the informally employed. Research into completed development cooperation projects shows the importance of a bottom-up approach that encourages the involvement of learners and other actors locally. This is the only way to ensure that offerings are genuinely geared to the personal situations and living environments of the target group. The older the participants, and the less prior learning they have, the more important it is, for example, to use a combination of general education measures, vocational training, and teaching of practical skills relevant to business and everyday life. Generally speaking, it is particularly beneficial to disadvantaged target groups to combine technical and business skills with life skills. The most sustainable impact is achieved by including additional provision such as job placement, assistance for business start-ups and help for individuals in implementing what they have learned in their own company (Adam and Hiltmann 2013).



Adam, S. and Hiltmann, I. (2013), Non-formale Bildung: Auswertung von Erfahrungen der deutschen und internationalen Entwicklungszusammenarbeit.

Afeti, G. and Adubra, A.L. (2012), Lifelong technical and vocational skills development for sustainable socioeconomic growth in Africa: Synthesis paper, Triennale on Education and Training in Africa, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Adams, A.V. (2007), The Role of Youth Skills Development in the Transition to Work: A Global Review, Washington, D.C.
Europäische Kommission (2001), Ein europäischer Raum des lebenslangen Lernens, Amt für Amtliche Veröffentlichungen der Europäischen Gemeinschaften, Luxemburg.

Hiltmann-Richter, I. (2011), Die Bedeutung non-formaler und informeller Lernprozesse bei der Entwicklung von life and work skills: Diskussionspapier, Eschborn.

ILO (2011), 4 in 1: Handbook for non-formal training providers, ILO, Jakarta.
Langer, K. (2013), Technical and Vocational Skills Development in the Informal Sector: Contributions to the 4th Bonn Conference on Adult Education and Development (BoCAED), October 2013, Bonn.
Youth Employment Inventory