The Effects of Vocational Training on Bias Towards Hosts and Refugees

Findings from Jordan and Lebanon

Two people working on a construction project.
August 12, 2021

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Mercy Corps Jordan believes that to achieve long-term sustainable change, youth should be at the core of all initiatives. Where appropriate, Mercy Corps takes a Market Systems Development (MSD) approach throughout the entire life-cycle of its programs. The MSD approach directly addresses the underlying causes of market dysfunctions, allowing project teams to indirectly facilitate change by partnering with key stakeholders within targeted ecosystems. The indirect facilitation ensures sustainability in the target communities where Mercy Corps participants live. If implemented correctly, this approach leads to reduced poverty, sustainable change and improved livelihood opportunities for all groups, especially poor and marginalized youth.

Under the Access to Justice and Jobs in Jordan (A2J) project, Mercy Corps adopted the MSD approach. The project team conducted a youth-led market assessment (YLMA) in 2017, allowing youth from target communities to assist the project team in collecting information about employment opportunities as well as insights on what skills employers look for in youth. The strong partnerships made under the Access to Justice and Jobs project allowed for a total of 697 vulnerable youth to be equipped with the valuable skills and experiences needed to obtain an employment opportunity.

The Access to Justice and Jobs selects its participants through a vulnerability assessment that takes into consideration: Age, gender, employment status, physical health as well as a person’s level of motivation to enroll in the program. Selection occurs on an ongoing rolling basis, once a participant is deemed eligible, they are automatically enrolled in either a vocational training course or matched into an apprenticeship. This matching process was based on the Youth-Led Market Assessment conducted during the planning phase of the program in 2017. The assessment identified industries, which have a high demand or willingness to hire youth employees (ages 25-30) as well as allow for non-Jordanians to work.

These employment interventions not only equip youth with valuable hard and soft skills needed for employment but also bring together Jordanian and Syrian refugees in a different context. Within the vocational training classrooms, Syrian and Jordanian youth are encouraged to interact and learn from one another. This level of interaction as well as one of the program’s high-level indicators posed the question of - “do the vocational training interventions create an unforeseen in-direct impact of improved cooperation and social cohesion between hosts and refugees?”

A smiling person wearing a hard hat holds construction materials.

The Access to Justice Project with support from the Dutch Government, designed a robust quasi-experimental research that aims to generate credible evidence on the attributable impact of program’s employment intervention on economic and social outcomes using game theory and surveys as the main methodology.

To gain a true understanding of the impact - data was collected directly from the participants to understand their own personal perceptions. In addition, their behavioral changes were measured by testing preferences towards others through game theory.

Attitudes and overall perceptions were measured in the form of surveys. Participants were asked questions about their life optimism, economic optimism, and willingness to engage individuals of other nationalities in both a social and economic context. Sample questions:

  • Life optimism: how likely they felt it was that their life would be better in 12 months.
  • Economic optimism: how likely they felt it was that their economic status would be better in 12 months.
  • Willingness to engage with individuals of other nationalities in economic and social activities.

Surveys are a great and reliable method to collect information from individuals, however not the ideal method to measure a person's perceptions and behaviors. Surveys collect information in the form of direct questions, which pose the risk of individuals not answering truthfully in fear of judgment or they might feel that an organization such as Mercy Corps (or any other INGO) is looking for certain answers. No formal evidence around this has been collected.

However, to measure the participants’ behaviors and perceptions game theory was used instead of direct survey questions. Two games were selected to measure the participants’ behaviors and levels of trust towards others:

  1. Dictator Game: This game measures perceptions towards others in inner and outer groups. In the Dictator Game participants were given approximately $7 USD in local currency, and were told they could divide the money between themselves and their partner as they saw fit.
  2. Stag Hunt Game: This game measures levels of trust between inner and outer groups. In the Stag Hunt game, participants can choose whether to coordinate with their partner so they can both receive a large payoff (approximately $7 USD), however they are not able to plan with their partner and they only receive this higher payoff if both players make the same choice. If only one player chooses to coordinate, that player receives no payoff. Otherwise, players can choose to go it alone and receive a lower, but guaranteed, payoff (approximately $3.50 USD). We chose to include both games to differentiate between preferences towards others (the Dictator Game) and beliefs and expectations of others (the Stag Hunt Game).

In total a sample size of 376 hosts and refugees was achieved. Data was collected at four points, during:

  1. Outreach: Before entering the program.
  2. Baseline: First day of vocational training.
  3. Midline: Last day of vocational training.
  4. End line: Six months after completing the training.


  • Acceptance into a vocational training does improve economic optimism initially at baseline, but acceptance into a training does not indicate an increase in overall life optimism. Youth’s level of optimism towards their life remained the same throughout the entire study. It is to be noted that the spike in economic optimism does decrease at the end of the vocational training (midline). This is to be expected, as a youth had a temporary positive outlook toward their economic situation upon being accepted into vocational training, however as they went through the course, the participants were reminded of the harsh labor market conditions and their economic optimism levels went back to normal. This is further supported when comparing optimism levels of control and treatment groups - Youth enrolled in the training have very close optimism levels to those who were not enrolled.
  • The youth behaved differently based on whether they were paired with someone of their own nationality or a different nationality. Although the program does not increase overall generosity to one’s partner, those enrolled in the vocational training give relatively less to partners from their own group, showing less in-group favoritism.
  • Those enrolled in the vocational training program are more likely to trust their partner, to also make a large investment. This information is important to note as their overall outlook is more positive and they are now interacting with the inner group. It didn’t matter the nationality of the partner, but because they were interacting together trust grew.
  • Less trust was seen amongst the youth who were not enrolled in a vocational training program.
  • Bias towards other nationalities is reduced amongst those who were enrolled in a vocational training course.

Results from the research were analyzed to ensure that future Mercy Corps programming better serves end-participants in the future. The following has been concluded:

  • Recognize the power imbalances between hosts and refugees when designing employment programs.
  • Employment programs can increase stability, if used appropriately: much research, including from Mercy Corps, has shown that employment programs do not consistently increase stability. Part of the explanation for why employment programs may not increase stability in certain contexts is that mobilization for violence is related to political ideology rather than for primarily economic reasons. Economic scarcity often drives negative attitudes about refugees.
  • Employment programs need to incorporate interventions that increase demand within the markets: research shows that investment in increasing employment opportunities, not just skills, is essential for sustainability.
  • Organizations should explicitly design vocational training programs to reduce bias among hosts and refugees: results showed how employment programs reduce bias between hosts and refugees where economic issues are not the primary driver of negative attitudes between groups. The reduction in bias was not as tied to economic gains, and a reduction in bias continues even six months after completing the vocational training course.