Celebrating his 60th birthday recently, my father chatted with me about his career and getting his first job. He graduated as an engineer in the 1970s in Austria and faced very different employment opportunities to those I faced some decades later. There were five construction firms, all just around the corner from his home, to which he could apply for a job at that time.
When I finished graduate school in 2016, I applied for work with organizations in five different countries around the world. Suffice to say, the labor market in which my generation is competing is vastly different and far more globalized than the one my dad faced.
From the wheel to the steam engine, from the car to ‘New Horizons’ — an inter-planetary space probe capable of transmitting high-resolution images of Pluto and its moons — from the abacus to exascale super-computers, we have come a long way in our tryst with technology. Innovations are driving rapid changes in technology today and we are living in a world of perpetual technological change.
In 1965, Gordon Moore — co-founder of Intel Corporation — hypothesized that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double every 18 to 24 months. This came to be known as Moore’s Law, the ramifications of which are hard to ignore in almost any aspect of our everyday lives. Information has become more accessible to people at lower costs. Today’s work force is globalized and there are few domains that are still untouched by technology.
Yet the very ubiquitous and rapidly evolving nature of information and communication technologies (ICTs) gives rise to fears of displacing more workers and potentially widening the economic gap between the rich and poor. Technological evolution and artificial intelligence are fast redefining the conventional structure of our society.
What is online outsourcing, and how could countries leverage it to create new jobs for youth and women? Those are questions we will help answer as part of an upcoming report and toolkit.
The World Bank, in collaboration with our partners at the Rockefeller Foundation, recently met with government agencies and other key stakeholders, as well as the online work community in Kenya and Nigeria, to discuss these issues. Online workers from these countries also presented their stories, including the highly inspirational story of Elizabeth, a retiree who was able to take in an orphan and provide for her schooling, as well as afford a lifestyle upgrade because of her online outsourcing work.
Elizabeth, 55, originally worked as a stenographer. Her husband died in 2003, and she is the sole breadwinner for three of her own children and one other orphan who she has informally adopted. She works online on writing platforms, and is currently being on- boarded to start work with CloudFactory. At the moment, she earns between US$50–80 per week working online; this is her the sole source of income, from which she pays her family’s rent, living expenses and short-term loans.
“I lost my husband in 2003, so I am the mother and the father," Elizabeth says. "I am self-sufficient. Online work does not confine me to an 8-5 time frame. I can work at my convenience, and I can manage my own home while I work.”
Online outsourcing (OO) is providing this kind of flexibilty and earning potential to millions of people around the world. OO generally refers to the contracting of third-party workers and providers (often overseas) to supply services or perform tasks via Internet-based marketplaces or platforms. Popular platforms include Elance-oDesk (now known as Upwork), Freelancer.com, CrowdFlower and Amazon Mechnical Turk. The industry’s global market size is projected to grow to US$15-25 billion by the year 2020, and could employ at least 30 million active workers from all over the world.
Meet Joan, a 24-year-old online outsourcing entrepreneur in Kenya. Joan started working online when she was 21 and still in university. Today, she has her own business, employs five people and earns approximately US$800 per month after paying her staff.
Joan and many others are profiled in a new study on online outsourcing (OO), entitled “Leveraging the Global Opportunity in Online Outsourcing,” which will be published in late March 2015.
The study, developed by the World Bank in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Digital Jobs Africa Initiative, is the first publication to summarize and analyze global experiences in OO. It provides a better understanding of OO’s potential impact on human capital and employment, as well as explores possible ways that governments can improve their competitiveness in the OO market. The study includes case studies from Nigeria and Kenya, and an online toolkit to assess country competitiveness.