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Macedonia, former Yugoslav Republic of

The three transitions of the Western Balkans

Ivailo Izvorski's picture
The small, open economies of the Western Balkans* are at various stages of progress on three transitions: the transition to market economy, the transition to EU membership, and the transition to high-income status. The first transition started in the 1990s and its ultimate completion will help advance the second. Progress on the second transition, the EU integration, will unleash the EU convergence machine that has seen all but two countries in Europe achieve and sustain high income status.

Apply for SAFE Trust Fund grants

Soukeyna Kane's picture



The SAFE Trust Fund application (Word document) is now open until 27 February 2015.
 
What is SAFE?
 
SAFE means Strengthening Accountability and the Fiduciary Environment. It is a Trust Fund group administered by the World Bank and established by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and the European Commission with the aim of improving public financial management in the Europe and Central Asia region. This Trust Fund group provides support for activities to assess public financial management (PFM) performance, identify and implement actions to achieve improvements and share knowledge and good practices across countries in the region.

The Best School for Entrepreneurship is on the Job, Not in the Classroom

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

This has been a very engaging debate and I want to thank Omar as well as the organizers and contributors. In this concluding statement, I’d like to highlight both those areas where we agree and those where we still end up with different perspectives.

We can agree on the following:
 

Skills Gaps and Jobs Strategies

Omar Arias's picture
Working at a call center in Romania The blog I posted to debate with my Bank colleague Wolfgang Fengler the chicken-and-egg question of which comes first, skills or jobs, generated a rich exchange and contributions. While the question was framed around tackling the problem of unemployment in the Western Balkan countries, it naturally applies to almost any country. I want to thank all of those who took the time to write, whether or not they agreed with my main thesis: that countries should invest and strive to develop the basic skills that lay the foundation for the technical or job-specific skills that should be in turn acquired a la par with the changing needs of labor markets.
 

How to Break the Curse of Unemployment: Jobs First or Skills First?

Omar Arias's picture

Some Skills should Come Before Jobs, Others Develop with the Job
 
Students work on an engine at Sisli Vocational High School To be clear from the onset: I will not oversimplify the unemployment (or inactivity) problem in the Western Balkan countries as solely due to a lack of skills in the population. Low employment rates result from both insufficient creation of jobs by enterprises and too-high a fraction of the workforce that is ill-equipped to take on the jobs that a modern economy creates. Both issues are intertwined. Solutions, therefore, require efforts on several fronts to enable a more vibrant private sector –including improvements in the business environment, enterprise restructuring, integration in global markets and promoting entrepreneurship— as well as to prepare workers for new job opportunities.

Why Jobs Need to Come Before Skills

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

The Western Balkans Case

When I travel to the Balkans for work, the journey typically begins with a cab ride to the airport from my home in Vienna. The taxi company I use is run and operated by Serbs living in Austria. It’s a great company: very reliable, clean cars and friendly drivers who are always keen to discuss the politics and economics of the Balkans. When I arrive in Belgrade, I’m picked up by drivers who have very similar skills to those of their compatriots in Vienna. However, the former have better salaries and opportunities simply because the company they work for operates in an environment that is much more conducive to nurturing and growing a business. In Austria, unlike in Serbia, a company can operate efficiently, is subject to a relatively fair tax treatment and knows the industry standards it needs to comply with. In turn, this explains to a large extent why workers, at any given levels of skills, are more productive in Austria – a basic intuition which William Lewis develops in his book The Power of Productivity, projecting the gains that Mexican construction workers make when moving to the USA.

At the Heart of the Matter: Improved Market Access to Food Supplies

Bill Gain's picture
Hi-Las workers weighing and sizing mangoes. Source -

At the Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference held in Bali on December 2013, all WTO members reached an agreement on trade facilitation and a compromise on food security issues, a contentious topic which had previously stalled talks during the 2008 Doha Development Round. The “Bali Package,” as it came to be known, was quickly heralded as an important milestone, reaffirming the legitimacy of multilateral trade negotiations while simultaneously recognizing the significant development benefits of reducing the time and costs to trade.

Seven months after the Bali Ministerial Conference, however, the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) has yet to be ratified as India is concerned that insufficient attention has been given to the issue of food subsidies and the stockpiling of grains. India maintains that agreements on the food security issue must be in concert with the TFA.
 
Despite the current impasse in implementing the Bali decisions, the food security concern at the heart of the matter sheds light on the importance of improving the agribusiness supply chains of developing countries to ensure maximum efficiencies. Consider the fact that in 2014, farmers will produce approximately 2.5 billion tons of food. Yet, 1.3 billion tons are lost or wasted each year between farm and fork, while 805 million people suffer from chronic hunger.

In the School-to-Work Transition, Can We Teach a Growth Mindset and Grit to Help Youth Succeed ?

World Bank Mindset Team's picture



How can we best help children and youth succeed in life?
This question is a top concern among parents, educators and policymakers all over the world. Growing attention has focused on the key role of socio-emotional skills, such as grit (perseverance) and motivation to overcome obstacles and failures, in the path to success. Recent prominent examples of the spotlight on this topic are Salman Khan’s (of the online Khan Academy fame) Huffington Post blog on the subject, and the recent LinkedIn post by  World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

From Paper to Practice: How Easy Is It to Ease Doing Business

Borko Handjiski's picture

A storefront that specializes in nuts The stroke of the pen is powerful indeed; it has led to wars, peace, and lots of other things in between, including changes in a country’s business environment. A large part of what defines the environment for doing business in a country is set in legislation. In many countries around the world, business regulations are more difficult than necessary, and some have taken great efforts to remove unneeded impediments with the aim of stimulating entrepreneurship and investment.

The Balkans: Not Enough Skills or Not Enough Work?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

City bus arrives at a station World BankIn many economies of the Balkans high formal unemployment is often blamed on insufficient skills in the labor force. But this intuitive diagnosis glosses over two fundamental questions, namely: why are workers not training themselves to find jobs, and why aren’t firms investing in upgrading the skills of their employees? In other words, the market seems to be failing by not allocating resources where high returns can be found. In this blog post, we cast doubt on the diagnosis and look beyond the skills gap explanation to high unemployment in the Western Balkans. But this is not unique to the Balkans. Take the US construction industry, which is among the most productive in the world even though it employs many relatively low skilled workers, often immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, who improved their individual productivity several fold by migrating – not upgrading skills.

There is no doubt about the problem as throughout the region unemployment – particularly formal – remains unacceptably high. Serbia is a case in point: Out of a population of 7.2 million people and a workforce of 4.5 million, only 710,000 Serbians have a formal, private sector job. If you add some 380,000 ‘sole proprietors’ – basically people who run mini-shops – you get to around 1.1 million people in the formal private sector. That means that the livelihood of the whole country is built around this 15 percent of the population. Can it really be that firms are still not able to find sufficiently skilled employees in the large remaining pool, especially given that Serbia has decent education results? If finding skilled workers in Serbia is like looking for needles in a haystack, there are surely a lot of needles to be found.
 


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