In 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.
We all know urbanization is important: Nearly 80% of gross domestic product is generated in cities around the world. Countries must get urbanization right if they want to reach middle- or high-income status.
But urbanization is challenging, especially because badly planned cities can hamper economic transformation and cities can become breeding grounds for poverty, slums and squalor and drivers of pollution, environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s why it’s important for us to build cities that are livable, with people-centered approaches to urbanization and development. That will allow innovation and new ideas to emerge and enable economic growth, job creation and higher productivity, while also saving energy and managing natural resources, emissions and disaster risks. When the process is driven by people, it can lead to important results, the same way London and Los Angeles addressed their air pollution problems.
A major topic of debate right now in many industrial countries — like France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States — is whether to raise or even just introduce minimum wages. Advocates cite the need for better working conditions, while critics worry that higher labor costs will raise unemployment and possibly deter growth as businesses retrench. Who's right? Or are both sides right? To learn more, the JKP spoke with Daniel Hamermesh, a Professor of Economics at University of Texas at Austin, and Royal Holloway, University of London.
According to Mariem Kane (left) and Adi Ould Yacoub, ICT is one of the biggest solutions to the problem of youth employment in Mauritania, their country.
But when I am in Mauritania, I rarely hear about the opportunities that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can bring in terms of jobs – particularly jobs that require the creativity, innovation and radical new ways of collaboration, interaction and learning that provide professional growth for the nation's youthful population. We are increasingly able to see that young people around the world have remarkable individual capacity to code and develop solutions for applications, including mobile solutions, which dramatically improves their job prospects demand grows for the development of multilingual content on global broadband networks.
Sewing Floor, Armana Apparels, Dhaka. Photo: Shobha Shetty
Contradictory trends in female labor force participation in South Asia continue to pose a puzzle for policymakers. On the one hand, Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry, one of the mainstays of the national economy, has a high female labor participation rate of 85%. On the other hand, the female labor force participation rates continue to fall in India in spite of recent high economic growth. During my recent visit to Dhaka, I was once again reminded about the enormous challenges of tackling these issues.
I was in Dhaka to attend the 7th Meeting of the BEES (Business, Enterprise and Employment Support for Women in South Asia) Network. Founded in May 2011, the BEES network, facilitated by the World Bank, brings together 15 civil society organisations that work for the economic empowerment of poor women across South Asia. Currently, the network represents women at the bottom of the economic pyramid, with a collective reach of over 100 million. It was a sombre coincidence that the week of our visit marked the first year anniversary of the horrific Rana Plaza disaster in which over 1,100 perished.
The rise of the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh in the last decade has been stunning by every measure. By 2013, about 4 million people - almost 85% women - were working in the US$22 billion-a-year industry. The industry now contributes to over 75% of Bangladesh’s export earnings and accounts for over 10% of GDP, making it the world's second-largest apparel exporter after China.
But what does it mean for the millions of women employed in this industry? Thanks to Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), one of the Bangladesh BEES network members and co-host of the Dhaka meeting, I was lucky to visit the Awaj (“voice”) Foundation to understand this issue better. Founded in 2003, the organisation focuses on empowering female RMG workers. We got an opportunity to meet Nazma Akter, the feisty General Secretary of the foundation and a former garment worker. After spending 7 years in the ready-made garment industry as a young girl, she turned to activism on behalf of her fellow women workers. She is now a well-recognised national name and Awaj has a direct outreach to 60,000 women workers (and 600,000 indirectly).
New entrants to the working age population in most Middle East and North Africa countries encounter economic structures and policies that have long failed to generate an adequate number of new jobs. In recent years, about 5 million people per year have reached working age but only 3 million of them have found jobs. Unfortunately, ongoing political turmoil and associated economic conditions and policies suggest that the jobs challenge will continue to fester for years to come. However, help may be on the way from a “curiously unnoticed” source: falling fertility rates.
While many economies are recovering from the global recession, there are still 600 million jobs needed to be created over the next decade to maintain today's employment rates. Eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity for the bottom 40 percent of the population by 2030 requires that we engage more effectively to bring hundreds of millions of people into productive work and out of poverty.
While many initiatives on youth employment have been undertaken over the past few years, there is still limited knowledge about the best way to design, implement and coordinate these interventions, and how to link them to broader reforms that promote private investment and business creation and/or expansion. At the same time, the limited knowledge that we do have does not take into account the significant heterogeneity of constraints across settings and different youth populations, and few programs are designed to take into account these differences in context and needs.
Across the globe, young people are a growing share of the labor force. Goals about poverty reduction and shared prosperity depend on the jobs and earnings opportunities they will have. The technical, cognitive, and behavioral skills (such us teamwork, problem-solving skills and creativity) of workers will determine, to a large extent, their job and earnings opportunities. Unfortunately, around the world, much of the labor force has very low levels of education. Young people graduating from vocational centers or universities often lack the relevant skills for the labor markets.
At this year’s Solutions4Work conference, more than 170 academics, business leaders, and government ministers gathered together in Istanbul, Turkey to discuss challenges and solutions facing countries in addressing youth employment. At the conference, we are particularly energized to hear from youth groups and entrepreneurs from around the world who are creating a movement, change in culture, and tools for their fellow youth.