Our starting point is to deal with what we know – and the biggest challenge that the future of work faces – and has faced for decades – is the vast numbers of people who live day to day on casual labor, not knowing from one week to the next if they will have a job and unable to plan ahead, let alone months rather than years, for their children’s prosperity. We call this the informal economy – and as with so much pseudo-technical language which erects barriers, the phrase fails to convey the abject state of purgatory to which it condemns millions of workers and their families around the world.
Sandton Bridge separates two South African communities that are worlds apart; Sandton, an affluent area believed to be the richest square mile in Africa, and Alexandra Township, one of the poorest urban areas in the country. Credit: World Bank
Labor-intensive public works (LIPW) programs are a popular policy intended to provide temporary employment opportunities to vulnerable populations through work-intensive projects, such as the development and maintenance of local infrastructure, that do not require special skills. For a review of LIPW programs (design, evidence and implementation), see Subbarao et al. here. In fragile states, LIPW programs are also presumed to contribute to social and political stability. The developed infrastructure allows for the implementation of other development and peacekeeping activities, while employment opportunities may help prevent at-risk youth from being recruited by armed groups. Despite their popularity and presumed impact on beneficiaries, the evidence base of LIPW programs has been surprisingly weak.
The Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) unit, in collaboration with the Fragility, Conflict and Violence Cross Cutting Solutions Area (FCV-CSSA) and the Social Protection and Labor Global Practice (SPL-GP), is carrying out a multi-country set of 7 Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) of LIPW programs targeting around 40,000 households across 5 countries: Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, and Tunisia. This initiative is part of a broader research program on Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV) — a portfolio of 35 impact evaluations in over 25 countries that focuses on 5 key priority areas: (i) jobs for the poor and at-risk youth; (ii) public sector governance/civil service reforms; (ii) political economy of post-conflict reconstruction; (iv) gender-based violence; and (v) urban crime and violence.
Robots will take over our jobs, disrupt our industries and erode our competitiveness.
Such were commonly expressed fears about advances in automation, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing – key representations of exponential technologies – during the inaugural Global Innovation Forum that took place in Singapore.
While robots continue to bear the brunt of public skepticism, participants at the Forum also expressed optimism about the emergence of innovations that could dramatically transform the quality of life for the poorest people in society, particularly in Asia, the region that was acknowledged by many participants as leading the pace of innovation around the globe.
With the right kind of reforms, public employment services can do a better job of matching job seekers from poor households. In low and middle-income countries, individuals from poor households find jobs through informal contacts; for example asking friends and family and other members of their limited network. But this type of informal job search tends to channel high concentrations of the poor individuals into informal, low-paid work.
Job seekers especially from poor households need bigger, more formal networks to go beyond the limited opportunities offered by the informal sector in their local communities. This is where public employment services can help, but in developing countries many of these services just simply do not work well: they suffer from limited financing and poor connections to employers, and governments are looking for ways to reform and modernize them to today’s job challenges.
There are lots of cases where developing countries have improved their public employment services and these can serve as models. The lessons from these successful reforms can be distilled and replicated. Based on our recent publication, here are three case-tested strategies that improved the performance, relevance and image of public employment services.
It is said that some employees are hired because of their technical skills, but fired due to their behaviors or attitudes, such as arriving late or showing a lack of commitment to achieve the firms’ goals. This complaint seems to be frequently mentioned during our many discussions with Filipino employers.
But what does the hard evidence show, beyond anecdotal remarks? Do Filipino employers have difficulty finding workers with the right “soft skills” (socio-emotional skills, right attitudes and behaviors)? And if so, do we have evidence that it leads to better pay? And how are employers, employees and government responding to these labor market signals?
The business case for greater diversity and inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) staff is now well documented, and the corporate world is making solid progress towards LGBTI equality at the workplace. The message is also slowly but surely sinking into international organizations such as the World Bank Group, for which diversity is also synonymous with greater productivity, collaboration, innovation and creativity. In particular, LGBTI-supportive policies are linked to less discrimination against LGBTI employees and more open corporate cultures. Less discrimination and more openness (or less concealment), in turn, are also linked to greater job commitment, improved workplace relationships, improved health outcomes (concealment of sexual orientation is associated with increased psychological distress) and increased productivity among LGBTI employees.
Differentiating between effective and nominal access
A couple of months ago, one of our urban development colleagues wrote about the gap between effective and nominal access to water infrastructure services. She explained that while many of the households in the study area were equipped with the infrastructure to supply clean water, a large number of them do not use it because of its price. She highlighted a “simple fact: it is not sufficient to have a service in your house, your yard, or your street. The service needs to work and you should be able to use it. If you can’t afford it or if features—such as design, location, or quality—prevent its use, you are not benefiting from that service.” To address this concern, the water practice has been developing ways to differentiate between “effective access” and “nominal access”—between having access to an infrastructure or service and being able to use it.
In transport, too, we have been exploring similar issues. In a series of blog posts on accessibility, we have looked at the way accessibility tools—the ability to quantify the opportunities that are accessible using a transit system—are reframing how we understand, evaluate, and plan transport systems. We have used this method that allows us to assess the effectiveness of public transport in connecting people to employment opportunities within a 60-minute commute.
Incorporating considerations of cost
Yet, time is not the only constraint that people face when using public transport systems. In Bogota, for example, the average percentage of monthly income that an individual spends on transport exceeds 20% for those in the lowest income group. In some parts of the city, this reaches up to 28%—well above the internationally acceptable level of affordability of 15%.
Nick Carraway, the narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, remembers his father saying, “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone … just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.”
What advantages? For starters, wealth, power, and in today’s developed world - college.
In the U.S., the college wage premium has risen rapidly since 1980 – causing a widening earnings gap between the college and non-college educated. Those with a bachelor’s degree earn over $800,000 more in lifetime income, on average, than those with high school diplomas. In the OECD, the college wage premium averages at 28 percent for male, full-time working employees - ranging from 18 per cent in Sweden to 50 per cent in the Slovak Republic.
As higher education expanded, college wage premiums were expected to decline. So why are they high and, often, increasing?
The consensus seems to point to increased computerization and automation in labor markets. Technology is expanding the demand for the college educated, at the expense of the non-college educated. This ‘job polarization’ in the labor market, manifests as the growth of high-education/high-wage jobs at the expense of middle-education/middle-wage jobs. This is increasingly visible not just in advanced economies, but also in the developing world. According to the Word Development Report 2016 on Digital Dividends, the share of middle-skilled employment is down in most developing countries for which detailed data are available.
Like many African countries, Senegal has a young population in search of decent jobs and salaries. A report covering the last national census of the Senegalese population, published every ten years by l’Agence nationale de la statistique et de la démographie (ANSD) (National Statistics and Demographics Agency), reveals that the average age of the population is approximately 22 years and that one in every two Senegalese is under 18 years of age. Those under 15 years of age represent more than 42% of the population, clearly indicating the predominance of the youth demographic. However, this segment of the population is most affected by under-employment and unemployment with young people representing 60% of job seekers.