Informal educational strategies for skill acquisition in West Africa:

A review of the literature and of recent significant research results




This study examines the current and emerging patterns of collaboration among the different public and private stakeholders involved in nonformal education in West African countries. It looks at the main actors and the roles that they are playing, as well as what form of nonformal education in which each actor is involved. It then asks if the traditional roles of government are shared in substantially different ways. The final section draws lessons from the relationships and implementation arrangements of nonformal education.


This study focuses on training needs and learning patterns in the micro-business and unregulated portion of West African economies commonly referred to as the "informal sector." Its purpose is to contribute to answering key related questions concerning on-the-job skill acquisition in these poorly-understood but critical and fast-growing areas of West African society.

This study is principally addressed to policy makers, researchers, nonformal educators, development specialists and others interested in assisting in the development of West Africa, particularly in the development of the capacity of the various actors in the informal sector to cope with the present and future skill demands of informal sector employment and income generation. It is hoped that the results of this study will be useful in identifying potentially effective strategies for education and training in the informal sector in West African countries. The conclusions drawn here, however, should be considered more as a general guide to further study in the context of any particular locality of interest than a search for approaches having regionally-wide validity.

Though its definition is hotly debated and its effects on development are alternately lauded and contested, the informal sector is a truly pervasive phenomenon in West Africa. Widespread emergence of unregulated, informal modes of p roduction of goods and services began to attract attention over twenty-five ago, but it is only in the last decade that serious efforts have been made to understand the foundations of the informal sector, the reasons for its continued importance and its p otential for the future. As Sanyal points out, earlier development planners generally assumed that the informal sector "was a transitory phenomenon [destined to] disappear in the course of economic and political modernization" (Sanyal, 1991, p. 42).

But the evidence shows quite the contrary, and though estimates of the extent of informal sector employment vary by country and by analyst, all testify to its importance. In 1985, the ILO calculated that informal sector employment i n sub-Saharan Africa stood at 12.7 million and accounted for approximately 60% of the urban labor force. Employment in the sector was judged to be growing at the rate of 6.7% annually (Fluitman, 1989, p. xiv). In Senegal, the 1988 census suggested that mi cro-enterprises in Dakar and its environs alone employed over 57,000 individuals (Lubell and Zarour, 1990, p. 388). In Chad, it was estimated at the beginning of this decade that the informal sector accounted for 28% of GDP, and that in the capital (Ndjam ena) it contributed more to output than all formal sector activities combined (Panhuys, 1990, p. 31). In the Living Standards Survey conducted in Ghana in 1991-92, 32% of urban employment was found to be in the informal sector (World Bank Ghana SAR, 1995, p. 7).

Such data can always be debated, but these statistics are in fact more likely to be underestimates than exaggerations. The unregulated and unreported nature of the informal sector poses inherent difficulties for measurement: partici pants do not necessarily want to be identifed and counted. Findings are also dependent upon which activities and units of production are included: if one considers family farms, cottage industries and casual workers, part-time as well as full-time workers , etc., the informal sector appears to encompass as much as 90% of the economically active population (King, 1988, p. 153).

The origins of the informal sector in West Africa lie on the one hand in the commercial activities that the majority of the populaiton had to take on under colonial rule in order to pay taxes, and, on the other; in the traditions of castes and transmission of non-agricultural occupations like blacksmithing, praise-singing and religious instruction that characterize most ethnic groups of the region. The shift away from agricultural occupations was greatly accelerated, however, over the last thirty years by severe drought, depressed farm prices and the southern advance of the desert. In fact, what is presently called the "informal sector" in West Africa has only a rather tenuous relationship with traditional systems of trad e occupations, for these were limited in spread and generally restrictued to certain ethnic groups or castes, whereas the current informal sector has become a very widespread phenomenon crossing virtually all categories of the population. It follows that the word "traditional" may not apply and that apprenticeship habits typical of trades may not be relevant. &&&&&& An additional factor fueling the growth of the sector has been the breakdown of central State functions in many West African countries over the last decade, increasing democratization and recourse to a market economy, and the related emergence of what is now called "civil society": institutions, organizations, businesses and groups founded and operat ing independent of State initiative. Economic liberalization in a context of severe poverty and structural adjustment has proved as likely to produce a proliferation of borderline subsistence businesses catering to the survival needs of the population as it has to lead to the establishment of well-endowed firms and the emergence of a standard middle class. Young people who can no longer count either on a civil service job at the end of their educational career or on a position in non-competitive local ind ustry increasingly detour or are impelled into all manner of alternative employments and small trades.

If development strategy and educational policy must begin in large part with people where they are, then on both sides of the coin it is essential to take careful account of the dynamics of the informal sector. A realm that accou nts for a major slice of GNP and of youth employment cannot be ignored in efforts to improve the lot of West African countries or ensure relevant "Education for All." Physical, monetary and human capital are the main ingredients in the productiv e equation of any firm or sector. In this paper, we focus on the "human capital" side of the informal sector: how those involved acquire the skills they need to make their enterprises productive. After a word on the methodology of the study, we shall examine the topic in three stages: first, a section on the nature of the informal sector and of skill requirements for its workers drawn from available literature and documentation; next, an examination of data gathered in Senegal and Chad in order to validate and cross-check these findings; and, finally, a series of conclusions and recommendations regarding ways to better meet informal sector training needs and lessons for nonformal education.



This study was initially designed and proposed as a literature review dedicated to deriving from available documentation the best possible current understanding of the training needs and patterns of informal sector businesses. A vailable funds did not permit field investigation of the topic. When, however, parallel field studies were undertaken in West Africa for the ABEL Project, opportunities for "piggybacking" at least limited field validation of our conclusions appe ared. Two small studies were thus commissioned in Senegal and Tchad and meetings were held in the field with leaders of both research teams.

As a consequence, the data gathered and analyzed to answer the underlying questions of the study are of three types:

In addition, use was made of related data gathered in five African countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Senegal) for the PADLOS-Education Study just completed under the direction of Florida State University.

In general, the procedure was to derive tentative conclusions from the literature and documentation available and then confront them with insights derived from the field studies in order to validate tendencies and deepen perceptions . Further details on the methdology are given in Annex A.



What exactly is the "informal sector" anyways? While it is clear that millions of people in West Africa gain their livelihood through economic activities that are not officially registered or connected with formal aven ues of training and finance, the notion of the informal sector has some of the disadvantages of any residual category: it is essentially defined but what it is not and therefore may include everything from soup to nuts. Sometimes it seems that the only common denominator to the variety of activities lumped at different times in this capacious realm is that they are identifiably not modern and not directly connected to formal urban institutions.

Fidler & Webster reflect this minimalist approach well, when they say that the informal sector is "simply shorthand for very small enterprises that use low-technology modes of production and management" (1996, p. 5). T his spare definition does capture some of the key characteristics of informal sector enterprises, which are usually small in scale but not necessarily deficient in other ways. Fluitman, in fact, votes for cashiering the whole definitional game. The term "informal sector," he maintains, derives its usefulness according to circumstances which differ from place to place and in time. Meanwhile, practitioners in the field "know an informal sector when they see one" (1989, p. xiv).

But training needs cannot be analyzed without some awareness of the conditions under which they arise and the circumstances to which skills must be applied. It is, in fact, possible and useful to say a little more about the nature o f the informal sector in West Africa than the minimalists suggest. Consideration of some of the leading characteristics and sources of variability in the African informal sector, in the attributes of those who work there and in the nature of what they do will set the stage for us to examine what has been written about learning patterns and learning needs in the broad fringe of the West African economy.

Characteristics of the Informal Sector: Common Denominators and Sources of Diversity

We begin with a table that contrasts the formal and informal sectors. This table delineates the basic differences between the two sectors.

Table 1 Characteristics of formal and informal sector enterprises



Formal Sector

Informal Sector

Entry barriers




Capital intensive

Labor intensive







Work hours



Wage labor







Usually fixed

Often negotiable

Financial services


Personal, informal

Fixed costs



Customer relations



Government subsidy

Often large



Often export

Rarely export

(Source: Webster & Fidler, 1996, p. 6)

The informal sector is a heterogeneous phenomenon which encompasses many economic activities that are usually overlooked in economic statistics: all sorts of manufacturing activities, construction, trade and commerce, repair and oth er services, etc. Economic activities in the informal sector are carried out by businesses which are typically:

(Fluitman, 1989; King, 1977; Muskin, 1997; Portes, et. al., 1989; Webster & Fidler, 1996)

At the same time, informal sector economic activities are obviously quite diverse. A list of some of those most often encountered in West Africa brings out this variety:

(Fluitman, 1989; King, 1977, Portes, et. al., 1989)

One can see that these activities attempt to cover most of the needs of clients in the informal sector. At the same time there are many different skills and competencies necessary to provide these activities. Many of the skills nece ssary to produce many of the products and services above can no doubt be learned in formal schooling. King notes, however, that the most of the skills listed above can be acquired more or less rapidly through on-the-job training (1977, p. 47). For product ion purposes, however, many of the basic commodities for low income households, such as tin lamps, kitchen utensils, and cooking stoves, are produced only in the informal sector.

Variation in informal sector activities can be usefully portrayed along a series of continua portrayed below and briefly discussed in the following paragraph. Where individual firms situate themselves along these continua wil l obviously have an impact on the kind of training their employees and owners may require.






Production (Secondary)

Service (Tertiary)









Self-employed indivduals


Cooperatives and groups

Licit activities


Illicit activities


By examining briefly each of theses "axes of variation", we will be able to draw a better picture of the characteristics and variety of informal sector enterprises and of the setting in which their employees must acquire n ew skills.

Rural versus urban

Objections have sometimes been raised to the continuing portrayal of the informal sector as primarily an urban or peri-urban phenomenon which is conceptually separate from informal agricultural and non-agricultural activities in rural areas. Few development projects conceive of rural and urban activities within the same, single economy. But urban informal sector workers often share the same household with rural workers, reflecting the artificial division of the economy that rese archers and policy makers have created, as well as their lack of understanding of the multiple economic roles that individuals play in either urban or rural settings (King, 1989, p. 20).

The justification for this division, in practical terms, is that the urban informal sector is generally more accessible to researchers and thus more yields more complete data; moreover, when studying the informal sector with a view to education and training, it seems likely that greater coverage and efficiency can initially be achieved in the urban setting. Thus, while it would be overly ambitious to make recommendations about implementing programs which are feasible in urban, peri- urban and rural areas, it is hoped that the lessons learned in the urban context will be useful in the formulation of future comprehensive plans for development which takes place in rural areas.

Subsistence versus entrepreneurial

In an attempt to take the focus away from survival activities, some researchers prefer to describe the informal economy in terms of what it is not. While some workers are driven by desperate needs to provide subsistence m eans for their families, the informal sector should not be defined only as survival activities of destitute people on the fringes of society. Many informal entrepreneurs in both industrialized and less developed countries have relatively high incomes, and thus the argument can be made that the same concept is useful to describe situations as diverse as those of a street vendor in Africa or Latin America and a software consultant moonlighting in Silicon Valley (Portes, et. al., 1989, p. 12). McGrath, et. a l., also emphasize the distinction between subsistence and entrepreneurship self-employment by using a two-tiered model: in their framework the upper echelons of the informal sector are populated by relatively successful micro-entrepreneurs, whereas the c asual poor struggle to survive at the bottom tiers of the self-employed (1995).

Economic sector (primary, secondary, tertiary)

As described above, the production domain of the informal sector in West Africa includes activities such as making household goods, clothing, foods (including agroprocessing), etc. The service domain is characterized by the rend ering of services such as cleaning houses and doing laundry, running small restaurants and taverns, selling manufactured and hand-made goods in the marketplace, providing alternative schooling, etc.

"Traditional" versus "modern"

Some researchers’ descriptions of the sector imply that the informal sector is, by definition, not modern. It is important to remember that informal sector enterprises accomplish many of the same functions as formal secto r (i.e., "modern") enterprises, only on a smaller scale. In fact, informal sector activities can be seen as virtually indispensable to the functioning of the modern economy, as they include the consumption, distribution and maintenance of goods produced in the formal sector (Ferman, 1990); in this light, while some individual informal sector enterprises may be considered "traditional," it is difficult to characterize the whole sector as non-modern. It is also important to remember that much of the informal sector has arisen in response to the needs of modern economies in West Africa, and is thus a fairly recent, and by implication, modern phenomenon. Certainly the skills that informal sector participants need to succeed are "moder n" skills (such as business management, accounting and technical skills), even though many are working in "traditional" professions such as masonry, carpentry, blacksmithing, pottery, leather work, etc.

Gender composition

Women continue to play a limited role in the informal sector in West Africa at present, although their potential contribution, especially through further development of microenterprises, is considerable. It has been asserted tha t although women are more likely to be found in the informal rather than the formal sector, they are more likely to be found at the lower and less profitable levels of the informal sector (McGrath, et. al., p. 12). In Kenya in the late 1970s, King found t hat there were few productive or craft activities in either the formal or informal sectors that girls could enter, and that most women were likely to get stuck in service occupations such as bar maids, servants, prostitutes, tea and coffee picking, etc. ( 1977, p. 46).

Women’s participation in the West African informal sector today, while substantial and growing, still appears to be limited, as women are unable to enter some trades because of the usual restrictions of informal sector participants (limited markets, lack of credit, poor quality equipment and materials, etc.) as well as the limitations often found in West Africa on the legal rights of women. When women entrepreneurs seek credit to move from the informal to the formal economy, they ar e beset by the usual lack of assets for collateral and complex regulations, with the additional burden of sometimes having to obtain their husband’s authorization before being granted credit (Colleye, 1996, p. 156). There is also the common social prejudi ce about traditional roles and domestic and child care obligations. There is an obvious need for more research that documents how women in Africa are coping with the juggling act of balancing household responsibilities and economic activities in the infor mal sector.

There are, however, an increasing number of women who are succeeding with small enterprises throughout West Africa, especially those who are associated with the now numerous women’s voluntary associations (WVAs) that have sprung up throughout the region. These associations are playing a major role in providing opportunities for learning and group activities, not only in the traditional areas of intervention, such as literacy training, credit, and mutual economic activities, but also in new areas including training for new agricultural or production techniques, family planning, environmental conservation, support groups, etc. (Masemann, Mukweso & Capacci, 1997).

As to individual women entrepreneurs, one report says that entrepreneurial women are often better educated than men engaged in the same activity (Birks, et. al., 1994, p. 10). Although educated women in West Africa now have a wider choice of occupations, studies show that they still seem to be concentrated in traditional female trades, such as tailoring, food transformation and hair dressing (ibid.; Muskin, 1997, p. 6). Fidler and Webster point out that the sector is less egalitaria n than might be presumed, as women tend to work in the least profitable activities, and men tend to monopolize the sector’s most profitable jobs, perhaps because they have better access to education, capital, transportation and trading contracts (1996, p. 12).

In addition, women in West Africa tend to be less mobile, and many work only in home-based businesses. In general, women’s opportunities in the informal sector are limited by their lack of education, legal restrictions, large number s of pregnancies and children, and substantial responsibilities for agricultural production and home maintenance.

Individual versus collective: The growth of the "nonformal" sector

In this section a distinction is made in sector development between small businesses that are started by individual tradespeople or entrepreneurs in what might be called a "wildcat" fashion, and those businesses which are founded with the explicit intention and/or financial and technical support of donor agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). We will see later in the data section that many businesses today in West Africa benefit from the support of both sma ll and large organizations or NGOs, and that not unlike the distinction made between formal and nonformal education, the economic activities of these new businesses fall somewhere between informal sector activities and formal businesses, and could be thus considered as part of a phenomena constituting a "nonformal" sector.

Licit versus illicit

Legal status is considered an important component of the definition, and from this point of view, it is obvious that most informal sector activities are found outside the formal, regulated sphere for the purposes of avoiding tax ation or other regulations; some informal activities are no doubt illicit as well (Portes, et. al, 1989; Fidler & Webster, 1996). While the untaxed and unregulated dimension of the informal sector is certainly relevant to our inquiries, this legalisti c approach might lead us to a narrow focus of research that misses the considerable diversity of the sector and we have instead focused on the more practical aspects of the definition.

Current Debates and Controversy About the Informal Sector

Given its diversity, apparent magnitude and poorly-documented nature, the informal sector has also quite naturally been the subject of very animated debate among development planners and researchers. Several of the themes of thi s ongoing debate provide further relevant background to the consideration of training needs among its members.

The informal sector’s role in development: Springboard or dead weight?

Many development organizations and researchers have emphasized the informal sector’s role as a creator of jobs and an incubator of small and medium-sized enterprises. Seen this way, the sector acts as a safety net, or sponge, wh ich absorbs the shock of periodic economic expansion and contraction by soaking up excess labor and providing additional incomes for those whose real incomes have eroded by inflation and cuts in public spending.

Current development thinking includes microenterprise development as a major tool in reducing poverty. Promoting these very small businesses are considered an effective method of helping the poor in developing countries to increase their income. But there are concerns with the promotion of the informal sector as a development strategy. While the informal sector creates many jobs, these jobs are often of such poor quality that many microenterprise workers would be better off as emplo yees in medium and large companies. Another concern about promoting the informal sector is that although microenterprise support programs do raise income for the poor, only those individuals who are at or near the poverty line are positioned to benefit fr om them (Fidler & Webster, 1996, p. 8). One researcher says that programs that promote microenterprises are unlikely to benefit the very poor and that the poorest of the poor might actually be ill-served by credit programs that create debt among those who can least afford it (Hulme, 1995).

Relation to the State

Implicit in this debate is a lack of agreement about the relationship of the state to the informal sector (what it is and what it ‘should’ be). Some researchers believe that governments have deliberately ignored the informal sec tor for the benefit of elite interests represented primarily in the formal sector; others suggest a sort of "benign neglect," whereby governments’ endeavors to participate in the development and improvement of the informal sector have been limit ed due to insufficient resources. In either case, it is evident that the level and quality of state support (moral, financial and logistical) has serious ramifications for the future treatment of the informal sector, including programs for education and t raining. Despite reluctance -- unwillingness or inability -- of the state to fully acknowledge or attempt to address these issues, it is clear that the informal sector cannot be considered as marginal to, or separate from, the formal sector in planning fo r national development and growth. As Priscilla Connolly aptly notes, "in the context of the Third World, informal sector is not really about minority groups, anomalies or exceptional cases but rather touches on the fundamental problems of developmen t, employment and poverty" (1985, p. 56).

In an era where many African countries have been hard hit by adjustment, debt crisis or civil strife, more governments seem to be interested in promoting basic education and technical training for the informal sector. This new empha sis on promoting nonformal education and training for informal sector participants is even more relevant to African governments whose formal sector growth has remained sluggish.

What has led to the state’s changing view of the potential of the informal sector? McGrath, et. al., point out that the new awareness of the characteristics of informal sector actors -- their diversity, tenacity and sheer numbers - - must be seen in conjunction with greater stress on market forces and entrepreneurship emanating from the North, mediated by trends in the development assistance community (1995, p. 1). Ironically, the state’s formal education and training systems are no w being asked to intervene in planning for what was traditionally unplanned, i.e., the acquisition of diverse knowledge and skills useful for the informal economy.

Transitory phenomenon or long-term player?

Although the widespread evolution of unregulated, informal modes of production of goods and services began to attract attention over two decades ago, it is only recently that serious efforts have been made to understand the foun dations of the informal sector, reasons for its continued importance and its potential for the future: in previous, more optimistic versions of prospects for national economic development, "…no one referred to the role of the UIS [Urban Informal Sect or]; and in so far as its presence was noticed, the UIS was viewed as a transitory phenomenon that would disappear in the course of economic and political modernization" (Sanyal, 1991, p. 42). The view that the informal sector would gradually wither and disappear in conjunction with a move towards a liberal market economy and democratic political system has often justified its neglect by national governments and donor agencies in terms of provision of social services, including education and training .

Contrary to this earlier opinion, evidence from recent years demonstrates that the informal sector is certainly not transitory, but rather, at an early stage in its transition or evolution. In 1985, it was estimated that informal se ctor employment in sub-Saharan Africa stood at 12.7 million, approximately 60% of the urban labor force, and was growing at the rate of 6.7% annually (Fluitman, 1989, p. xiv). According to the Ghana Living Standards Survey for 1991-92, 32% of urban employ ment was in the informal sector (World Bank Ghana SAR, 1995, p. 7).

In Chad, it was estimated that the informal sector accounted for 28% of GDP, and in the capital of N’Djamena, the informal sector is said to contribute more than all formal sector activities (Panhuys, 1990, p. 31). The magnitude of the sector is no less impressive in Senegal, where a 1988 census showed that micro-enterprises in Dakar and its environs alone employed over 57,000 individuals (Lubell and Zarour, 1990, p. 388). One should keep in mind, furthermore, that many of these sta tistics are likely to be underestimates; the unregulated and unreported nature of the informal sector poses inherent difficulties to measurement. Measures are also dependent upon which activities and units of production are included: if one considers fami ly farms, cottage industries and casual workers, part-time as well as full-time workers, etc., the informal sector appears to encompass as much as 90% of the economically active population (King, 1988, p. 153).

Accepting the fact that the informal sector is, and will continue to be, one of great importance in the economic development of West Africa, the question remains as to the kind of education and training which is useful in providing individuals with the competencies and skills necessary to succeed in it.

Most critical needs: Credit or training?

Although to this point we have focused largely on better training and education to prepare individuals for sustainable informal economy activities, there are other possible interventions to consider. This has often led to a deba te as to the most effective intervention from the many factors that are not directly related to education and training, including: low cost credit, new and improved technologies, and a whole host of factors linked to what could be considered an "enab ling environment" for micro-enterprise (McGrath, et. al., 1995, p. 13).

It is important to consider, however, an approach that seeks to identify the specific needs of the specific target group in the specific context. The development of an enabling environment, for example, might be seen as creating the context for the successful implementation of a package of interventions. As informal sector actors often face a working environment which is strongly disabling, these packages of interventions will be successful only to the extent that it resonate s directly with innovations and initiatives from within the informal economy itself. In this way, interventions by the state or NGOs may be seen as formal sector support for and valuing of a direction and initiative that has already been taken by the info rmal sector (McGrath, et. al.).

This new enabling environment is emblematic of positive changes that have occurred over the past several years in the delivery of financial services to poor and low income people in developing countries. Let us look for a moment at the impact of credit programs for microentrepreneurs. The question arises as to why financial institutions in most developing countries do not reach low-income clients, and there are basically two sets of constraints. The first constraints are mainly inst itutional: the financial sectors of most developing countries are marked by shallowness and fragmentation and centered on providing services for the import and export trades. There are also usually strict government controls on deposit and lending rates. They are also constrained by the high cost of small transactions that typically involve microenterprises; moreover, few financial institutions in developing countries are interested in entering these new markets, perhaps due to a lack of competition (Webs ter & Fidler, p. 22).

A second set of constraints to lending to low-income people is the characteristics of the potential lenders that make them difficult to serve. Microentrepreneur borrowers typically:

(Webster & Fidler)

In sum, low-income people working in the informal sector are difficult clients to serve, particularly for large banks in developing countries.

In recent years, however, small, "microfinance" institutions have sprung up in various parts of the developing world to deliver credit and savings services to poor people. Examples include the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh an d the FINCA (Foundation for International Community Assistance) banks in Latin America. Successful microfinance institutions have achieved high levels of outreach, and many have also moved beyond dependence on donor subsidies to full financial sustainabil ity. While the impact of microfinance programs are often questioned, the limited research suggests that clients of these programs generally do better financially after participation, and many women participants realize many social benefits such as enjoyin g better health, feeling less marginalized, having more opportunities for improving their children’s education, et (Fidler & Webster, p. 23).

In addition, many microfinance institutions seem to prefer women clients as studies have shown that loans to poor women in developing countries improve the welfare of their families, and the women are good clients, paying back their loans on time. In any event, informal sector intervention strategies would do well to consider programs that seek to create an enabling environment by combining interventions such as credit and training, targeting the needs of individuals in specific con texts.


Skill and Resource Requirements in the Informal Sector

All three traditional factors of production -- land, capital and labor (or at least appropriate varieties of them: usable land, fongible capital and skilled labor) -- are typically in short supply in informal sector enterprises. In fact, modest endowment in this regard is, as we have seen, one of the defining characteristics of the sector. With the exception of certain rural-based activities, which may have abundant land of low economic value (though even there increasing demogr aphic pressure is rapidly changing the picture), such enterprises are typically confined to tight quarters or exist on properties they do not own. If land tenure is a hot issue in rural areas, it can be an impenetrable jungle in urban ones, where many fir ms are "squatters" from any legal point of view.

The precarity of land tenure may in addition complicate already-severe shortages of the second main factor of production -- capital -- like those noted in the section on "credit versus training" above. Entrepreneurs who ar e unsure of the value or security of this underlying form of fixed capital are often less interested in reinvesting the proceeds of their activities in developing their plant and equipment -- or saving in order to be able to do so -- and correspondingly m ore likely to accumulate profits in other forms.

The third factor of production, skilled labor, with which we are most concerned here, is likewise subject to severe limitations, despite pervasive underemployment in African countries and the ready availability of potential employee s. The problem is both their lack of relevant skills and experience and, in the absence of labor market institutions that structure worker-employer relations, lack of entrepreneur confidence in them. Formal schooling is usually viewed as the principal pla ce for learning the skills used in the informal sector workplace, and educational attainment is perceived as an indicator of success in the sector. Large discrepancies, however, appear to exist in the level of educational attainment among workers in the i nformal sector: in Lubell and Zarour’s Dakar study, only 21% of the apprentices surveyed had been to primary school, while the World Bank statistics for the informal sector in Ghana showed that 36% of informal sector entrepreneurs had completed 10th< /SUP> grade, and 10% had had some tertiary education (Lubell and Zarour, 1990, p. 392; World Bank Ghana SAR 1995, p. 8). There is consistent evidence that skills needed for the informal sector are learned on-the-job, rather than through formal instruction .

According to the World Bank’s 1993 study on vocational education and training in developing countries, "[a]lmost by definition, entry into self-employment in the lower tier of the informal sector (both urban and rural) requires few skills. Those that are required are easily learned informally. In upper-tier enterprises, however, especially those in manufacturing and repair, higher skill levels are essential" (Middleton, Ziderman & Van Adams, 1993, pp. 23-24). That the skills required in the informal sector are different from those required in modern sector workplaces is hardly surprising. On the other hand, there is the surprising possibility that informal sector workers may need an even more demanding set of skills as the smallness of microenterprises compels workers to regularly perform a wide range of technical and business tasks. Thus, for example, a wayside auto mechanic will talk with a customer, diagnose mechanical problems, delegate some tasks to other workers and do some tasks himself, calculate the repair charges, etc., while these same tasks would likely be divided along rigid, specialized lines in the service department of a large automobile dealership.

Informal sector enterprises are different from modern firms in many ways and most importantly, their survivability depends on:

(Middleton, et. al., 1993, p. 24)



Characteristics Of Informal Sector Workers And Employers

Workers in the informal economy tend to have characteristics that Portes, et. al., subsume under the general heading of "down-graded labor" (1989, p. 4). The general profile of owner-operators and apprentices in the in formal sector in West Africa reveals an endemic poverty in both financial and technical status. The literature notes the poor conditions of businesses (infrastructure, equipment, materials, etc.) in the sector and the quality of the products and services offered. Most micro-entrepreneurs are poor and have few material possessions. The field research from Chad confirms this, as Chadian owner-operators generally use only low quality materials, tools and equipment. Only 32% of microenterprises surveyed in Ch ad had electricity (Muskin, 1997, p. 7).

Many workers in the informal economy have correspondingly limited technical ability due to their low levels of education and literacy. Informal sector workers and apprentices in West Africa are likely to be from the marginalized cla sses; many are school dropouts. Apprentices surveyed in Chad constitute a mixed bag in terms of educational attainment, as the researchers found that, contrary to what might be expected from a relatively young group of workers, they did not have significa ntly higher levels of education than the owner-operators, and many were dropouts. The researchers posit that this likely due to the deterioration of the school system during the Chadian civil war.

There are other aspects of characteristics of the informal sector workforce that lead researchers to think more hopefully about the current state of educational attainment and skills of informal sector workers. The common portrayal of the informal sector as anti-modern and essentially inferior to the formal sector gives rise to the notion that all jobs within the informal sector require minimal skills and competencies, and that basic literacy and numeracy training may be all that is required for informal sector workers to operate. As was noted above, to the contrary, many entrepreneurs in the informal sector are often called upon to perform a much broader range of functions, from manual labor to bookkeeping to customer service: &quo t;Informal sector operators -- rural or urban -- must learn to integrate more diverse aspects of the trade and the business, acquire minimal technical competency more quickly and solve unique practical problems more often than a typical worker in a modern sector establishment" (Middleton et al., 1993, p. 24).

This conception implies that informal sector workers may actually require, in some ways, a much more comprehensive kind of education and training than their formal sector counterparts. There is support for this idea in recent data c ollected in Chad for this and related studies, where informal sector entrepreneurs and apprentices/employees were surveyed about specific training needs (See Chad data section below).


Training Patterns In The Informal Sector

Given the open and unregulated nature of the informal sector, working conditions are generally characterized by labor mobility. Workers naturally move around within the informal sector itself, as well as into modern sector emplo yment and also in the reverse direction. One study shows that there are workers in the informal sector who do well enough to become business owners themselves; some high-wage earners in the formal sector accumulate enough capital to start small businesses in the informal sector (Mazumdar, 1987). The fact that many microentrepreneurs have experience working in wage employment positions shows that mobility patterns are quite diverse in developing countries.

Average earnings in the informal sector are less than those of the formal sector, but as stressed above, informal sector employment is not necessarily low-income employment. Studies show that in African informal sector businesses, p aid employees earned one to two times the official minimum wage; small business owners earned from two to eight times the minimum wage (Charmes, 1990).

As we have seen above, the informal sector is an important source of income for women, both as workers and entrepreneurs, but they tend to earn less than men and they are concentrated in occupations traditionally seen as women’s wor k.

In West Africa, traditional apprenticeship is the most common means of skill acquisition for informal sector workers: "a remarkable blend of work, practical training and moral upbringing, [it] is the main avenue to self-employm ent in micro-enterprises and thus a cornerstone of informal sector development" (Fluitman, 1992, p. 1). In Ghana, for example, it has been estimated that approximately 55% of informal sector workers learned their skills from informal apprenticeships (World Bank Ghana SAR, 1995, p. 8); Daniel Bas cites a 1985 study by Maldonado and le Boterf which found that 84% of small entrepreneurs in the urban informal sector in Francophone Africa learned their trade through traditional apprenticeship (Bas, 1989, p. 486). Terms of apprenticeships such as cost, duration, physical working conditions, and substance of the training vary significantly among countries and trades, depending upon such factors as the relative supply and demand for such positions in a part icular trade in the given location, and on whether or not the master is a relative (Fluitman, 1992, p. 5).

There are, nonetheless, some common features in traditional, informal sector apprenticeships in West Africa which are outlined below. (Note: "trainee" and "apprentice" are used interchangeably)

(Bose, 1990; Fluitman, 1989; King, 1977; Muskin, 1997; Portes, et. al., 1989)

The last item begs the question of whether master trainers sometimes take advantage of their trainees by not paying them for work or increasing the period of apprenticeship. The cheap labor of apprentices and the frequent prolongati on of the duration of apprenticeship certainly contribute to the high incomes of some informal sector entrepreneurs which is sometimes seen in African urban areas (Bose, pp. 32-33). In some situations, apprentices constitute an important but vulnerable se gment of the workforce, lacking any government protection, and the trainees’ output sometimes benefits the master more than the trainees themselves.

The lack of a broad training perspective, seen above, where a hands-on training approach dominates and where many apprentices do not learn a craft but only how to create certain products, leads to an apprenticeship system that produ ces mainly semi-skilled workers who lack general competency in reading and writing, math, etc. Many researchers, therefore, propose changes in apprenticeship to include the learning of some basic skills and literacy training in addition to a hands-on appr oach to practical learning.

While "training-cum-production schemes" in apprenticeship can be advantageous, argue Kanawaty and de Moura Castro, certain precautions are required "to avoid a situation in which either training becomes excessively ac ademic (leaving production a residual or artificial activity) or production for the market becomes the sole objective, with the consequent downgrading of the training component" (1990, p. 763). Such disjunction of the skills provided by classical sch ooling with the requirements of the labor market has, in fact, been cited as a problem in developed as well as developing countries. There is much discussion in the literature that addresses the "mismatch" between the skills gained in formal sch ooling and their application in workplace, especially in the informal economy.

One suggested strategy for minimizing the mismatch between an overly academic focus and a production-oriented focus has been the use of so-called dual training systems, which combine a certain level of formal academic education with on-the-job professional training. Though this approach has been highly successful in some settings, especially in Germany, it remains unclear how such programs could be implemented in the African informal sector where there is extreme variability in both the skills possessed by entrants into the sector and the competencies required in various enterprises. (See recommendations)


Dynamics Of Teaching And Learning On The Job

When considering the traditional apprenticeship which predominates in Africa, one shortcoming appears to be a lack of consistency and adequate content in the training that apprentices receive. Little attention is paid to deliver y of instruction and to consideration of learning styles and educational theory in the training of apprentices in the informal sector in West Africa.

Important questions arise: Is the basic instructional strategy employed by master craftsmen (observation, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, ... etc.) a purposeful pedagogical choice to emphasize praxis (learning-in-acti on) over theory? Or is it rather a measure of the owner-operators’ inability to provide anything more than practical training -- given the way that they themselves were trained -- and/or the lack of technical mastery in their craft? The evidence points to the latter explanation as the most likely scenario.

In any event, these questions raise the issue of inclusion of discussions on learning theory when considering changes in traditional apprenticeship systems or in training for the informal sector. The concept of experiential learning -- where the learner is actively involved in constructing knowledge, skill and value from direct experiences (Luckman, 1996, p. 7) -- may be a useful starting point in discussions on devising new training programs for apprentices and owner-operato rs in the informal sector.

The ideas of the progressive American educator John Dewey may be valuable to these situations today. His emphasis on experience-based education seems a natural one for implementation in training programs, and one is left to conjectu re as to why experience-based or experiential education is not a larger focus of the educational curricula in practical training situations. Adults in the informal sector of developing countries will need more opportunities today for learning in order to remain lifelong learners able to cope in their environment. Considering the fast pace of change around the world, especially in technology in the workplace, adults need more skills and knowledge to cope in both the formal and informal sector, and experien tial learning opportunities should be more readily available.

There are also debates and discussion about how a developing country uses its limited resources for education. Vocational education has been the traditional vehicle for transmission of skills necessary to the workplace, and as speci fic preparation for self-employment. There are discussions about whether vocational education (which is generally seen as more expensive to provide) should be encouraged to the detriment of basic education.



Field research was undertaken in Chad and Senegal essentially to assemble additional references more easily available "on the ground" (particularly, relevant "grey" literature: that is, agency reports, workin g documents, and evaluations not published in book or journal form) and to obtain by selective on-site inquiry perceptions and inputs that might either confirm or modify and enrich the insights gained from the literature review.

The Setting: Chad and Senegal

Chad and Senegal face many problems typical of Sahelian countries: young populations; high infant mortality rates and low life expectancy; environmental degradation (soil erosion, desertification, etc.); simmering ethnic tensions; unstable economies based on exports and crippled by external debts; high unemployment; emerging and fragile democracies; etc.

In physical area, Chad is the fifth largest country in Africa and the largest among the countries of former French Equatorial Africa, stretching from the desert regions bordering Libya in the north to a near-rain forest environment in its southernmost sections neighboring the Central African Republic. Chad is totally landlocked and constitutes the eastern outpost of what are commonly thought of as Sahelian countries, members of the Interstate Commission for Drought Abatement in the Sahel (CILSS). One of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita income of approximately $200 in 1993, Chad has an economy almost exclusively based on agriculture which provides the principal livelihood for 78% of its population (Banks, et. al. , 1996, p. 170). Cotton accounts for most export earnings and CotonTchad, a state-owned enterprise, dominates the formal industrial sector, which contributes 18% overall to Chad’s GNP (Sananikone, in Webster & Fidler, 1996, p. 105). Despite foreign ai d from many different sources, widespread civil war throughout much of the 1970’s, 1980’s and early 1990’s in Chad precluded any measurable economic development. The war is now over and with several political parties participating in democratic elections in 1996, there is hope for a more stable environment for development (U.S. Dept. of State, 1996).

Senegal is the diametrically opposite western outpost of the Sahelian region, facing the Atlantic Ocean. It was the debarkation point of French colonialism south of the Sahara and for many years the captial of French West Africa. It inherited therefore at independence in 1960 a large capital city entirely out of scale with the support capacity of its own more limited territory and economy. The population of Senegal has been growing at an extremely rapid rate (3 % annually) over the last decade and presenlty stands at 9 million. Children under 15 make up 45% of this total (U.S. Dept. of State, 1996), and a quarter of the population resides in or immediately around Dakar, a proportion aggravated in recent years by a steady dream of ou t-migrants from impoverished rural areas. Literacy among adults stand at about 38% (25% among females), only 59% of school-age children attend primary school, and only 16% attend secondary school (World Bank, 1994, pp. 302-303). With three-fourths of the Senegalese people engaged in agricultural work, many adults have few opportunities other than farming, and lack of literacy and education further hamper their opportunities (U.S. Dept. of State, 1996). As the Sahelian country having the longest history of contact with the West and remaining, in some respects, the most accessible to intercontinental exchange, Senegal has experienced a great variety of donor activity, including, in the last twenty years particularly, a rapid multiplication of the efforts an d programs of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The informal sectors of both Chad and Senegal are large and growing and play a sizeable role in the overall economic health of the nation. In Senegal, informal firms far outnumber formal ones in the private sector. It is estimated that 60 percent of Senegal’s GDP and 90 percent of the labor force comes from the informal sector (Labat-Anderson, 1990, p. 4). Three factors over and beyond the regionwide set of influences fueling informal sector growth have spurred this acceleration in Senegal.

The development of the informal sector in Chad has also been spurred by particular historical influences. Major civil war over an extended period beginning in the late 1970s, aggravated by drought and a precipitous drop in world pri ces for cotton, Chad’s staple export, wrecked havoc with the economy, deprived the country of any functional government and impoverished much of the population. These same factors, however, contributed to growth of the informal sector, as rural population s uprooted by strife or famine migrated to urban areas and families and communities sought all manner of expedients to survive. (Sananikone, 1996, pp. 106-7). Today a large and dynamic informal sector is estimated to account for two-thirds of Chad’s GDP, including most of the agricultural, trade and services output (World Bank, 1994a).

In fact, in Chad informal provision of goods and services has had impacts in ways only beginning to appear in other Sahelian countries. Education is a prime example. When civil war disabled government, the State was no longer to pro vide teachers, materials or operating funds for its primary and secondary schools throughout much of the country. After a moment’s hestiation, numerous communities set about re-establishing or creating their own schools, run on local resources and directe d by community committees. The experience has become widely known as an example of what the local population can do to meet "Education for All" goals (Fass 1994).

Training Needs and Learning Patterns in the Chadian Informal Sector

We turn now to data from the field, derived from studies carried out by our own researchers and current interview and survey data from other recent studies. Consideration will be given first to the situation of owner-operators a nd then to that of their apprentices and employees.

Characteristics and Learning Needs of Chadian Owner-Operators

Two recent research studies (Ganghnon 1997; Muskin 1977) offer considerable data on characteristics of owner-operators in the Chadian informal sector and of their employees or apprentices. The information comes from interviews ( including a questionnaire and reading, comprehension and mathematics tests) conducted with 349 microentrepreneurs and apprentices in 1996.

Owner-operators in Chad were generally quite poor and technically deprived. The sector’s poverty is evident in the condition of infrastructure, materials and equipment, as well as in the quality of products and services offered. Jus t under one-third had electricity in their (mostly urban) workshops; only 16% had it at home. About half owned their own homes, but only 6.3% owned a car, another 34% have some form of motor bike. (Muskin, p. 7).

Low levels of education, literacy and math achievement were the rule. About one in four owner-operators surveyed claimed to have finished primary school, but an equal number had had no formal schooling at all. Sixty-four percent man aged to read a simple paragraph in French administered to them during the interview, but thirty-eight percent reported that they spoke French poorly or not at all. As for math knowledge, the average owner-operator managed to handle additions, substraction s, some multiplication and simple division, but had difficulty with long division and with problems that combined operations. (Muskin, 1997: 7).

The research by Ganghnon attempted to paint the portrait of the average micro-business, owner-operator, and apprentice/employee in the Chadian informal sector.

The typical owner-operator is a man who:

(Ganghnon, 1997: 35)

As for estimates of training needs, they differ sharply between observers and owner-operators themselves. While most informal sector workers are able to explain what they need to do, they are much less articulate about what t hey need to know in order to get such things done effectively. Their actions thus appear to be dictated by a combination of rote repetition and trial-and-error rather than by any conceptual mastery of the profession.

This fact may not be of great concern to most informal sector businesspeople, who, as we have seen, tend to identify lack of credit, materials and clients as much more pressing needs than further training. Among owner-operators, thi s situation appears to be due in part to the urgency of those material concerns and in part to the fact that these informal craftsmen themselves learned their trade through repetitive practice and never had occasion to study or evaluate what they did. As a consequence, "technical trainng" is really not a category in their analysis of their own situation.

As a consequence, the attitude of informal sector enterprise owners seems a bit uncertain or schizophrenic. On the one hand, when questioned about their interest in undergoing training, they avow that it is a need (94% concurred, while opting for short-duration varieties), and the Chadian sample even expressed a willingness to pay for good quality offerings. On the other hand, when training is ranked alongside other pressing business needs, it scarcely comes off first. If asked to take sides in the credit-training debate described earlier, most would clearly come down in favor of credit. In a recent survey (Gaghnon, 1997), Chadian owner-operators were asked about factors that are most likely to yield financial rewards for them, and thei r responses are ranked by frequency below:

  1. Lack of access to credit (especially formal credit)
  2. Access to better, higher quality, lower cost materials, tools and equipment
  3. Access to other inputs that are of higher quality and lower cost
  4. Some control on foreign imports
  5. Some control on entry into the informal sector
  6. Increased purchasing power of clientele
  7. Access to information
  8. Access to markets
  9. Training opportunities

Training comes out dead last in this inventory. Instead, owner-operators attributed their current poor circumstances principally to economic factors, evoking with near unanimity the general lack of access to credit. Other factors me ntioned included the unregulated entry of participants into the sector and the extremely low purchasing power of the Chadian people. It seems clear from the situation faced by informal sector actors that in their eyes the prospect of training alone consti tutes a rather feeble response to the challenges that face the sector.

It is a topic of interest to the researchers in question, however, who undertook to observe owner-operators in the performance of their jobs in order to identify areas of technical weakness and training need. Specifically, the resea rchers asked about and observed the different actions, techniques, tools, equipment and products associated with each enterprise to derive a more adequate list of the skills, knowledge attitudes necessary for mastery of each vocation. The result was an an illustrative enumeration of what should be mastered for exemplary vocational performance, without specific reference to specific trade. The most prominent derived needs were the following:

(Muskin, pp. 9-10)

Under these circumstances, how do owner-operators go about learning and upgrading their skills. What kind of "professional development" do they ensure for themselves? The most common approach for professional advan cement and learning is to use a trial-and-error method. Artisans tinker and experiment, and although this can result in innovations, there is usually little motivation to innovate given the limited purchasing power of the marketplace. An exception to this occurs when a new technology appears in the sector from outside, introduced by the marketplace or by a development or training organization. In this case, a viable market for the technology is already proven (or other measures are taken to minimize the r isk, as with intervention by NGOs), and the entrepreneurs are encouraged to learn the new technology. The discussion of professional development for entrepreneurs is also seen in the next section on priority needs.

The owner-operators were asked specifically about what they do to improve their professional knowledge. Their response, reported in Table 2, reveal a predilection for trail and error methods, but also a willingness to consult others and occasional technical documents. The modalities of learning seem to be ranked as much by accessibility for a busy and resource-strapped person as by anything else.

Table 2: Methods of Professional Development employed by Owner-Operators in Chad


Methods Employed by Owner-Operators


Experimentation / Trial and Error


Consult with other Entrepreneurs


Consult Technical Documents


Consult Technical Experts


Take a Course





Characteristics and learning needs of employees-apprentices

The research studies also furnish information on characteristics of apprentices and employees working in the informal sector in Chad. The information comes from interviews (including a questionnaire and reading, comprehension an d mathematics tests) conducted with over 1400 apprentices and employees in 1996. Apprentices and employees in the informal sector in Chad are generally young people with an average age of 16.5 years at the start of their apprenticeship. They are overwhelm ingly male; the researchers found only 13% of the apprentices to be girls or young women (only nine percent when supported workshops with more of a training mandate are excluded), and virtually all were learning "traditional" female activities: pottery, food transformation, hairdressing and tailoring (Ganghnon, Muskin).

Levels of educational attainment among apprentices and employees in the informal sector in Chad are quite diverse. While the researchers found that a plurality of apprentices (about 37%) reported having a secondary school education, the next largest group (29%) had received no schooling at all. The most likely explanation for these low levels of previous schooling is the recent civil war in Chad, as the education sector suffered dramatically during that tumultuous period. The test results showed similar patterns of disparity. The proportion of apprentices able to read the test paragraph in French was only slightly weaker than the proportion for owner-operators (60% compared to 64%), whereas competencies in mathematics were on the whole somewhat weaker (the average student getting no further than basic multiplications); but the variability was greater, ranging from those with no schooling through those who retained some of their secondary education learning.

Degree of family relationship between apprentices and owner-operators is also of considerable interest. As the data in Table 4 make evident, only 16% had no previous relationship with the employer. The large majority were family mem bers of some description – 18% being close relations and 51% more distant relatives in the African extended family frame of reference (and so at least people from the same ethnic group and geographical vicinity). Another 15% were from the families of &quo t;friends." It is also interesting to note that only 9% pay for their apprenticeship training, and that 31% -- coinciding largely, perhaps, to the "friend" and "none of the above" categories -- were from countries other than Chad.

Table 4: Characteristics of Apprentices in the Informal Sector in Chad


Relationship to owner-operator


Brother or sister to owner-operator


Cousin of owner-operator




Spouse or in-law


Other familial relationship


Friend of family


Not previous relationship



Many apprentices spend a relatively extended time completing their apprenticeship. These are claimed by owner-operators to last only 2 years, but the average duration reported by apprentices and employees interviewed was 2.6 years, and some had been in the same situation in excess of four years. Morover, 43% of apprentices remained with their employer after the end of this probationary period, though 60% of those interviewed spoke of a desire to start their own independent businesses.

Overall, the apprentices and employees seemed to put much more importance on training needs than did their employers. In addition, they wanted government regulation of apprenticeships. The study by Abdelkader found that 84.5 percent of the apprentices questioned would support a more regulated apprenticeship that would address in a more structured way important facets of apprenticeship training, including the length and course of training, and its content (1997: 15 ).

Regarding specific training needs, employees cited a number, including (in descending order of importance): technical skills, management, regulatory knowledge, accounting, drafting, and literacy and math skills. The detail is portra yed in Table 5.

Table 5 -- Specific Needs of Employees and Apprentices in Chad


Need for New Skills and Abilities in:

Cited by Apprentices / Employees

Technical Areas




Regulatory Knowledge




Literacy and Basic Math Skills




(Abdelkader, 1997: 14)


It is of interest to note that needs were much more frequently expressed in technical areas and management than in literacy and basic math skills.

As for the actual acquisition of skills through the apprenticeship process, the sequence of stages in the training of apprentices was remarkably similar across the vocations in Chad. The owner-operators in the survey identified the following fundamental steps in learning trades:

  1. Familiarization with the tools and materials of the trade;
  2. Performing rudimentary tasks such as cleaning pieces, and gathering and handling tools;
  3. Disassembling different components or items;
  4. Performing simple tasks, especially parts of a larger job, including assembly;
  5. Basic diagnosis (for repair vocations) or design (for production vocations); and,
  6. Progressively more involved or sophisticated levels of steps 3, 4, and 5

(Muskin, p. 12).

The owner-operator claimed full responsibility for the instruction of apprentices in 81 percent of the cases viewed by the researchers (ibid.). Specific training techniques employed follow the stages outlined above and reflect the h ands-on, practical nature of the traditional apprenticeship process. At the same time, the rote, repetitive and static nature of training in the informal sector in Chad is reflected by:

Training with another master craftsman is a way of complementing or broadening an apprenticeship experience, but nine out of ten owner-operators surveyed never encourage apprentices to do this (Ganghnon). Only 8.5% of apprent ices interviewed had in fact received some formal technical training. This finding is symptomatic of the sector’s lack of opportunities for learning as well as evidence of an enclaved approach where owner-operators usually train the way they themselves we re trained, in a manner largely closed off from outside influences. (Ganghnon, 1997, pp. 33-35; Muskin, pp. 7-8).


Analysis of training in the Chadian informal sector

The provision of training in the informal sector in Chad appears to be as landlocked as the country itself, cut off from outside influences, whether it be complementary training, new technologies, or a vision that aspires to ind ependent innovation. This characterization seems to be equally applicable to the training of apprentices under the traditional system and to the professional development of practicing owner-operators; and it may also describe the exchange of information a nd know-how among members and within the sector. The obvious result of this sectoral closed-mindedness (whether imposed or voluntary) is the promotion of a technical conservatism, pushing the system toward an endemic technological inertia.

There seems to be little external motivation or capability (individual or externally supported) for the sector’s participants to progress in performance or in improving their methods. There does seem, however, to be a growing recogn ition of the detrimental effects of the these attitudes -- likely due in large part to the efforts of the government and the NGO community – at least on the part of the employees. Capturing and encouraging this self-professed enthusiasm is one of the chal lenges currently being tackled by the government with its international development partners, most notably the ILO, the World Bank, and Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA), and this challenge is a considerable one.

As noted above, the apprenticeship system in Chad is dominated by a hands-on, practical approach, preferred by the owner-operators who generally claim full responsibility for training and were trained in the same way. The repetitive and static nature of this kind of training has been noted, as well as the lack of experiential methods emphasizing discovery and experimentation. The rarity of outside, complementary training or the practice of having apprentices work on mock products, a nd the basic strategy of observation and imitation likely will translate into a disinterest and/or inability to learn or innovate in the workplace.

How can the institution of apprenticeships and the technical capacity of informal sector businesses in Chad be improved. Our researchers in Chad favor envisage a stronger role for the Chadian government, which would be responsible f or

  1. encouraging private organizations to launch initiatives in technical and professional training;
  2. impelling owner-operators of micro and small businesses to organize themselves, by trade or profession, into unions or associations;
  3. sponsoring new regulations in conjunction with existing trade unions or associations to evaluate the current traditional apprenticeship system, especially in the areas of --

(Abdelkader, 1997)


5. Training Needs and Learning Patterns in the Senegalese Informal Sector

The research conducted in Senegal focuses on a different face of the informal sector: craft, trade and industrial activities started by local associations, cooperatives and "groupements", often with the support of nati onal or international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which are increasingly important actors in West African development. These economic activities have many of the hallmarks of the informal sector, as they are generally low-technology, low-credit undertakings, where initial technical skills are limited and clientele is largely in the subsistence sector of the economy. But they differ in some significant respects as well:

Such enterprises are increasing in number in both rural and urban Senegal under the title "Groupement d’intérêt économique" (GIE) and seem to constitute a sector midway between the small unregulated worksho p and the formal business enterprise. We have chosen therefore to call them "nonformal sector" endeavors, using the traditional distinction in educational parlance among formal, nonformal and informal types of instruction.

The Senegalese research touches briefly on the evolution of the informal sector in West Africa, noting that it became an economic factor when populations grew and urban migrations took place. As large commercial enterprises came to be dominated by expatriates, many Senegalese entered into other kinds of activities -- many artisanal in nature, such as tailoring, shoe making, masonry, construction, woodworking, agroprocessing, jewelry making, soap making, blacksmithing, etc. -- which fall within the category of informal economy activities and provided a living for growing segments of the population.

The emergence of nonformal sector institutions

Along with this expansion of the sector came the development and growth of local institutions which sought to promote action in support of informal sector actors. These groups try to intervene on behalf of their members to impro ve business practices, and have even taken over areas of training, such as literacy and management training, which are traditionally dominated by technical training centers and NGOs. Thus, individuals and groups in the informal sector of Senegal are attem pting to integrate new elements of technology and management (taking as model methods from developed nations) while at the same time remaining true to traditional culture (Diène & Samba Tine, 1997, pp. 7-8).

In this way, these groups promote another dimension of the informal sector, i.e., they constitute a nonformal, nongovernmental approach to support individuals in the sector. These groups take on roles traditionally associated with r esponsibilities of the state and often act as a safety net to organization members. This includes the provision of training through adult education centers which focus on a particular trade (e.g., the Centre de Couture in Thiès, which provid es training for girls in sewing and tailoring), health care and health education village savings and banking centers, and the promotion of communal business projects as well as the creation of artisanal cooperatives which facilitate group purchases of mat erials (Diène & Samba Tine, pp. 24-26).

Two case studies encapsulated in Boxes 2 and 3 hereafter convey a sense of the nature of these enterprises.


Analysis of data from Senegal

Our researchers focused on three reasons why the informal economy will continue to play an important role in the Senegalese economy as well as acting as a bulwark against poverty:

  1. The informal economy in Senegal furnishes employment that the formal economy seems to be less and less capable of providing, as the Senegalese economy comes in contact with strong competition due to the globalization of world market s.
  2. The informal economy will continue to expand because of the high and increasing cost of expansion in the formal economy, i.e., hiring new workers.
  3. Goods and services provided by the informal economy service important consumer needs in Senegal. Often these goods and services are of poor quality but they meet the needs of consumers of modest means. Some products for sale are repackaged in very small portions or by the piece and this permits poor customers to buy certain items, usually food, in affordable quantities. Examples of small packaging include selling sugar by the cube, buying coffee or powdered milk in small pla stic bags, etc.

(Diène & Samba Tine, 1997).

This said, it does appear that emerging cooperatives and nonformal enterprises organized among and by informal sector artisans offer an intriguing path for improving working conditions and productivity and providing a more favorable environment for training.


6. Synthesis

While the field data are limited in this report to findings from two countries in West Africa, they seem to confirm many of the document research conclusions, including:

Reformed apprenticeships: A solution?

Both groups of researchers have spoken of a "reformed" apprenticeship program ("apprentissage rénové") as a potential means of addressing the gaps between the ways actors are trained in the info rmal sector now, and the perceived needs in skills and training for the sector. Given the important role that apprenticeship plays in the training of workers for the informal sector, through the basic method of observation and imitation of the master craf tsman, this "traditional" approach to apprenticeship is considered by many incomplete and in need of reform.

A reformed apprenticeship would complement the traditional apprenticeship methods, borrowing from non-formal and informal education strategies. It would seek first of all to address, in a participatory fashion, the overall needs of the apprentices, including the need for basic literacy skills and a general background in all the technical areas that they would encounter in their work. This new kind of apprenticeship would give apprentices the opportunity to learn a craft in a practic al setting and hopefully provide them with more skills (both work-based and literacy) and more relevant work experience than traditional apprenticeships.

This new approach would seek to involve more actors in the community including private businesses, non-governmental organizations and the formal school systems, etc., while tapping as many community resources as possible. It is impo rtant, however, that the master trainers be seen more as educators than bosses in the training process. If any changes are to made in the apprenticeship system is clear that the master trainers/owner-operators should be involved in the effort, and this co ncern is discussed more fully in the section that follows (Diène & Samba Tine, 1997; Abdelkader, 1997).

7. Conclusions and policy implications

The informal sector continues, and will continue, to account for a very significant portion of West Africa’s GDP. It is estimated that a majority of African workers will be working in micro or informal sector enterprises by the year 2020 (Birks, et. al.: 9). Because of this reality, the consensus found in the literature and validated by our researchers is that the informal sector should be helped and supported, provided with appropriate improvement programs, and allowed to grow. The educational levels of actors in the informal sector is seen as an important factor for employment and business creation in the informal sector today in Africa. Education, at the primary school level and especially at the nonformal and informal levels , in the form of new education and training programs for young school leavers and adults, emerges in this study as an important area for possible intervention on the part of West African governments seeking to promote the informal sector.

The question remains as to programs that governments, donors and NGOs should employ to encourage higher education levels for their people. One obvious recommendation for change within the formal education systems in West Africa woul d be to attempt to make the secondary school curricula more relevant to the needs of youth, especially those school leavers who are forced to look for their livelihood in rural areas and the informal sector. One practical way to do this (but perhaps less feasible politically) would be to change the focus of African national secondary school terminal exams in order to favor the skills needed in the informal sector (King, 1989: 9-10).

Promoting nonformal education programs

Another aspect would be to encourage nonformal education and training programs. To do this it is first important to fight the perception, certainly not limited to developing country settings, that education and learning take pla ce only in formal settings. The evidence shows that while it usually looks quite different from formal school settings, learning can occur in very diverse settings in the informal sector. Experienced nonformal trainers make the following suggestion s of aspects to include in developing training programs for the informal sector:

(de Moura Castro, 1989: 204-205).

Changes in the apprenticeship system

The traditional apprenticeship system remains the most common institution for educating workers in the informal sector. There are possible benefits to changing the apprenticeship system to make it more responsive to the needs of present and future apprentices in the informal sector. Any changes, however, should be carefully chosen to take into account the strong social role that apprenticeship plays in African society. Apprenticeship training serves much more than a purely econo mic function in many African countries. The prominence of family ties between the owner-operators and their apprentices, the scarcity of fees charged, and the common tendency of apprentices to stay well beyond the time that might reasonably be necessary t o master a vocation, show clearly the extent of the social role of traditional apprenticeship (Muskin, 1997: 17).

As alluded to above, it will be essential to involve the owner-operators in the reform process, including efforts to provide them with opportunities to upgrade their own professional skills. As current owner-operators will no doubt be active in the informal sector for many years to come, it would be unwise to ignore them, for this could exacerbate inequities as well as create hindrances to improvements in performance and efficiency. There is also the possibility that master trainers might oppose the advanced training of their apprentices and employees unless they are given the opportunity to improve their knowledge and skills.

These two factors cited above imply greater coordination and cooperation within the informal sector as well as in the individual vocational areas. There is also a clear value to involving governmental and nongovernmental agencies an d the private sector in supporting the informal sector. This coordination and cooperation may be difficult to achieve.

As a start both countries should be encouraged to establish greater national training capacities and include both private and public sector participation. Any public-private collaboration should first identify priority training need s, as well as institutional structures for unifying the sector and the different vocations. Any policy strategy should include mechanisms for ongoing dialogue between the private and public sector.

There is also the call for governments to get involved in informal sector training in order to help eliminate the occasional abuse of workers and trainees that sometimes arises, as well as the possible institution of government regu lations as to the duration of apprenticeship, its training content, remuneration, etc.

Finally, there are several initiatives to improve training for individuals in the informal sector as a way to improve the performance of the sector. One would be to continue to provide assistance to the sector’s participants, as wel l as to related trade associations and the government, in the assessment and articulation of particular training needs. This assistance should continue to address the familiar question: What are the specific skills, abilities, knowledge and technologies r equired at the sectoral and individual levels?

The question remains as how to improve the quality of apprenticeship training. This would mean providing a sound theoretical foundation for trainees and ensuring an overall mastery of the knowledge, know-how and affective dim ensions of the particular vocation. One proposal that should be considered as a way of addressing the quality question would be the adoption of a "dual" system of training that would combine practical work-based training (the more traditional ap proach) with formal training in theory and more modern technologies.

There is also the proposal to push for adoption of a new approach to apprenticeship (also called "reformed apprenticeship"), discussed above, which would bring some manner of formal guidance and support to the delivery of apprenticeship training. This approach would introduce the idea that training of informal sector participants should follow a commonly accepted set of skills, knowledge and overall capabilities. This support and/or regulation of training might include: 1) basic training content and methods to be employed by the trainer/owner-operator; 2) materials and equipment with which apprentices must learn to work; 3) the range of products, services and other skills (e.g., entrepreneurial) that should be mastered; an d, 4) criteria by which to confirm that an apprentice has completed training. This regulation could also include norms or rules related to the duration of training, the certification of an owner-operator to provide formally authorized training, the offici al certification of a completed apprenticeship, and policies and mechanisms by which to proceed from apprenticeship training to other nonformal and more formal training opportunities.



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APPENDIX A -- Field Research Data and Tables


Full Outline of Project Methodology

The methodology is drawn from these basic approaches to the research problem:


Research Methodology -- Senegal

Research Methodology -- Senegal

In Senegal, our researchers at Enda Graf created two working teams to conduct research in the Dakar and Thiès areas. Initial documentary research was carried out by researchers at the Enda library and at the ILO offic e.

The research teams interviewed actors in the informal sector and the interviewees were asked about the history of their businesses, training they had received and difficulties in obtaining training as well as their ideas on improvin g their businesses. The research teams met to discuss the results of the interviews.

The teams followed the principles of "Action-Research-Training" (Recherche Action Formation) which centers on the study’s subjects as the focus of research. The elements of this method include the notions that: anyo ne involved is capable of bringing a wealth of information to the research; every situation is a learning situation if time is taken to study it; lessons are more easily learned if they are combined with experience; experimentation with knowledge permits individuals and groups to develop skills and competencies; and, learning is a process in which everyone experiences and exchanges practical knowledge (Ndione, 1996). and the interviewees were asked about the history of their businesses, training they had received and difficulties in obtaining training as well as their ideas on improving their businesses. The research teams met to discuss the results of the interviews.

The teams followed the principles of "Action-Research-Training" (Recherche Action Formation) which centers on the study’s subjects as the focus of research. The elements of this method include the notions that: anyo ne involved is capable of bringing a wealth of information to the research; every situation is a learning situation if time is taken to study it; lessons are more easily learned if they are combined with experience; experimentation with knowledge permits individuals and groups to develop skills and competencies; and, learning is a process in which everyone experiences and exchanges practical knowledge (Ndione, 1996).

Research Methodology -- Chad

In Chad, our researchers created a working team to conduct research in the area of the capital, N’Djamena, as well as in the smaller cities of Moundou, Sarh and Abéché. The research was led by Khadidja Abdelkad er, who was able to tap recent studies directed by FSU researcher Joshua Muskin (assisted by Gary Liebert) for the World Bank, and in which she had participated. The latter project sent Ms. Abdelkader and three other Chadian researchers employed by a Chad ian group (Société Générale d’Etudes et de Conseils) into the field last year with a team of interviewers to do research on training needs in Chad for a cross-ministerial advisory team and the World Bank.

The research team conducted interviews with owners of small businesses and their apprentices and employees. The interviewees were asked about the history of their businesses or apprenticeship, training they had received and difficul ties in obtaining training as well as their ideas on improving their businesses.



The Broad Research Questions

On the basis of the initial literature review and the prior experience of the project personnel, the following agenda was formulated and shared with the researchers in the field as a basic guide to our inquiry:





As alluded to above, a preliminary review of the literature on the informal sector indicates that research and practice efforts in this area have been hampered by a lack of consensus on the definition of the term, either theoret ical or practical. Characterizations of the informal sector thus run the gamut: from neo-Marxist or other conflict theorists who portray the informal sector as the embodiment of capitalist exploitation of the masses through control of the means of product ion (see, e.g., Meagher 1995); to a conservative functionalist viewpoint which posits the growth of the informal sector as a "natural" and appropriate response to market forces in an increasingly competitive world economy; to a neoliberal econom ic depiction of the sector as an ‘employer of last resort’ which can nevertheless become a viable force through infusions of human capital and other external investments; and so forth.

Without getting too involved in what could be seen as an fundamental ideological clash among neo-Marxists, radical political economists, neoclassical economists and others, it is "informal sector," necessary to explicate at least a working definition of what is meant by the "informal sector" for purposes of this study. We took as one point of departure the definition in Jaime Mezzera’s 1989 chapter entitled "Excess labor supply and the urban informal sector ":

a heterogeneous set of productive activities that share the common feature of employing a number of people who would be unable to find employment in the modern sector and must generate their own employment with relatively little acce ss to the factors of production that complement the labor supply. (47)


This interpretation is sufficiently broad to be used in reference to activities as diverse as automobile repair and jewelry making, and units of production ranging from the independent street vendor to micro-enterprises employing a few people to small businesses with several "non-traditional" (i.e., non-salaried and non-permanent) employees. It also coincides to some degree with the conception of the informal sector as a "safety net," a term often evoked by organ izations such as the World Bank and the ILO. One should note, however, that the notion of the "safety net" has been criticized (see, e.g., Meagher 1995) for assuming a dualistic separation between the informal and formal sectors, and for portray ing the expansion of the informal sector primarily as a response to the failure of the free market as opposed to being part of a larger socioeconomic and political process.




There is increasing evidence that the informal sector continues to play an important role in the economies of many West African countries. Early in the next century, workers in small-scale informal sector enterprises will outnum ber workers in the formal sector and on farms in Africa. The process of acquiring skills and the relation of skills to success in the informal economy, however, are poorly understood at present. This study seeks to define more clearly the informal sector as well as give characteristics on enterprises, entrepreneurs, apprentices and workers.

Education continues to be a critical factor for employment or apprenticeship in a range of economic activities in the West African informal sector. With its significant contribution to the GDP in most African countries, the informal sector will interest governments in the region more and more, as they begin to feel pressure to assist the development of the informal sector through providing more training opportunities for workers in the sector. Providing training opportunities and de veloping the capacity to train will require a concerted effort on the part of the governments concerned, the donor agencies, and the non-governmental organizations.

There seems to be no lack of initiatives that seek to improve training for workers in the informal sector. As funding becomes available, new programs will be implemented, and results evaluated down the road. Despite enthusiasm gener ated by certain success stories of intervention and training in the informal sector, the training community must be cautious about transferring programs from one area to another. The context and setting, as well as the history and culture underlying each successful experience may not be easily transferred elsewhere.



The debate over the sector’s significance and contribution to development

Many development organizations and researchers have emphasized the informal sector’s role as a creator of jobs and an incubator of small and medium-sized enterprises. Seen this way, the sector acts as a safety net, or sponge , which absorbs the shock of periodic economic expansion and contraction by soaking up excess labor and providing additional incomes for those whose real incomes have eroded by inflation and cuts in public spending.

Current development thinking includes microenterprise development as a major tool in reducing poverty. Promoting these very small businesses are considered an effective method of helping the poor in developing countries to increase their income. But there are concerns with the promotion of the informal sector as a development strategy. While the informal sector creates many jobs, these jobs are often of such poor quality that many microenterprise workers would be better off as emplo yees in medium and large companies. Another concern about promoting the informal sector is that although microenterprise support programs do raise income for the poor, only those individuals who are at or near the poverty line are positioned to benefit fr om them (Fidler & Webster, 1996, p. 8). One researcher says that programs that promote microenterprises are unlikely to benefit the very poor and that the poorest of the poor might actually be ill-served by credit programs that create debt among those who can least afford it (Hulme, 1995).

Introduction to the literature review on the informal sector

4.1.1 Defining the Informal Sector

It appears to be difficult, if not impossible, to move from general notions to a precise and widely accepted definition of the informal sector -- a definition that applies to all countries, all sorts of economic activities and a ll stages of development. The informal sector in Africa is certainly different from those of Asia or Latin America, and within one continent, there are likely to be major regional variations as well.

Despite the lack of consensus on the definition of "informal sector," we have sought to draw some broad outlines of the term from the literature. Legal status is considered an important component of the definition, and fro m this point of view, it is obvious that most informal sector activities are found outside the formal, regulated sphere for the purposes of avoiding taxation or other regulations; some informal activities are no doubt illicit as well (Portes, et. al, 1989 ; Fidler & Webster, 1996). While the untaxed and unregulated dimension of the informal sector is certainly relevant to our inquiries, this legalistic approach might lead us to a narrow focus of research that misses the considerable diversity of the se ctor and we have instead focused on the more practical aspects of the definition.

Future of training in informal sector

We have returned, in a fairly circular fashion, to the question of what form training for the informal sector should take, and the concomitant issue of who should be responsible for providing and/or supporting such training. The re has been, for example, a good deal of speculation that the public sector (i.e., government), while responsible for providing at least partial financial support to such efforts, is not the best party to actually implement education or training programs in this sector. One author wondered "Is there not too great a contradiction between the circumstances and outlook of the public services and those of the informal sector to enable one to serve the other?" (Oxenham, 1984, p. 205). Many of the st udies on training in the informal sector warn that intervention by government or other outside parties into the apprenticeship system, which is often largely constructed around kinship ties and traditional practices of knowledge transmittal, may not be we lcomed and may in fact be opposed.

More formalized structures of vocational education and training, on the other hand, have historically been oriented towards modern sector employment; moreover, the cost of establishing and maintaining such institutions have proved to be prohibitive regardless of the results achieved (see, for example, Middleton et al., 1993, p. 69). The push towards a greater market role in training could lead to more flexibility and capacity in the state-run vocational training institutes. But there ma y be a danger in overstressing private enterprise’s ability to provide training that is appropriate for either the firm or the economy as a whole. As McGrath, et. al., note, a suitable model of training provision "...cannot be read off a single bluep rint for greater market orientation, but must be a judicious blend based on local and global realities" (1995, p. 4).

A variety of ‘alternative’ methods of training have been suggested, e.g. complementary in-service training for novice apprentices in areas such as management skills, theory and technology, expanded vocational guidance programs and " ;study tours" and exchanges among masters. (Fluitman, 1992, pp. 9-10). In this context, one objective of the present study is to determine to what extent such alternative methods are being employed, either separate from or in conjunction with more fo rmal means; of particular interest are the content and setting of such training, the characteristics of those offering and those receiving the training, and the benefits (actual and/or perceived) accruing to both parties as a result.


Worthy of mention in this context are the five factors identified by Mamadou Dia (through his case study research on African entrepreneurs) as key to the success or failure of African small enterprises: 1) ability to reconcile corporate and societal culture and leadership, 2) building social capital through sharing, 3) experiential learning and capacity building, 4) constraints due to the financial missing middle (i.e., the inability of formal financial institutions to meet the needs of informal sector enterprises) and 5) government attitude (Dia, 1996, pp. 160-169).

The literature speaks to problems with current skill acquisition strategies in the informal sector. It is clear that the majority of the labor force in the West African informal sector learn their skills not throu gh formal schooling but informally, usually through the apprenticeship system. The traditional sources of skill learning, the formal school system and the West African apprenticeship system, both have benefits and deficits. The effective use of public edu cation resources, including expanding access to basic and secondary education as well as expanding adult nonformal education opportunities, would go a long way in providing new opportunities and alleviating poverty in developing countries. The provision o f training for informal sector actors could play a significant role in determining new priorities; some researchers believe that skills training for the informal sector may contribute more to the alleviation of poverty than training for modern sector wage employment (Middleton, et. al., 1993 , p. 219).

The literature also describes programs that intervene in the training and skill acquisition process that have been tried in West Africa. When formal institutions initiate these kinds of programs they are often criticized, however, b ecause: a) they do not transmit marketable skills without further investment; b) they fail to appraise the detailed nature of the skill needed before devising an intervention strategy; c) they do not orient training to the level of technology available in the market; and, d) they have difficulty selecting clients, a process very important to the success of these intervention programs (McLaughlin, 1989).

As a final comment on training in the informal sector, we refer again to the World Bank-OECD-ILO project (Birks, et. al., 1992) in West Africa that sought to answer questions about the skills that microentrepreneurs use, how these s kills are acquired, and the promotion of skill acquisition in microenterprises. The finding that completion of primary school -- basic literacy -- as a key predictor of success is not terribly surprising. This led the authors to recommend that governments focus on providing universal primary education, paying particular attention to the inclusion of girls, rural children, and other underserved groups. They also recommended that formal training institutions reorient their curricula to include microentrepre neurs and specifically address their needs (Birks, et. al, pp. 12-15).

There seems to be general consensus among researchers that effective intervention programs for the informal sector could yield high returns through improved productivity and diversification. The key factors, as Birks, et. al, point out, seem to be proper management and "delicate and carefully targeted support" that takes into consideration local needs and conditions (p. 15).