Syndicate content

World Development Report 2019

Technology can help spring workers from the informality trap

Kristalina Georgieva's picture
Women stitch handicrafts at Everest Fashion Fair Craft in Lalitpur, Nepal. © Peter Kapuscinski/World Bank
Women stitch handicrafts at Everest Fashion Fair Craft in Lalitpur, Nepal. © Peter Kapuscinski/World Bank

Technology and what it will do to change how we work is the driving obsession of the moment. The truth is that nobody knows for sure what will happen – the only certainty is uncertainty. How then should we plan for the jobs that don’t yet exist?
 
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.

What will be the future of work?

Jim Yong Kim's picture


Do you wonder if the good fortune and opportunities that you’ve enjoyed in your professional life will be available to your children, and to their children? At a time of strong global economic growth, it may seem paradoxical that we face an existential crisis around the future of work. But the pace of innovation is accelerating, and the jobs of the future – in a few months or a few years – will require specific, complex skills. Human capital will become an ever more valuable resource.

In short, the changing nature of work – and how best to prepare people for the jobs of the future – are some of the toughest challenges countries face, which is why they’re the subject of this year’s World Development Report.

Because the future of work matters to all of us, we decided to give this report an unprecedented level of transparency. For the first time since the World Bank began publishing the WDR in 1978, the report is completely transparent throughout the writing process. Every Friday afternoon, the latest draft is uploaded to the World Bank website, so that anyone with internet access has an opportunity to read it and engage with the team of authors. I can’t promise that the WDR won’t have changed a week from now, which is why I encourage you to keep revisiting it as we keep revising it.

For new readers, here are a few insights into the report’s contents that I hope will get you thinking about the future of work:

Automation and innovation: Forces shaping the future of work

Simeon Djankov's picture

IT’S robots that mostly come to mind when you ask people about the future of work. Robots taking our jobs, to be specific. And it’s a reaction that’s two centuries old, in a replay of Lancashire weavers attacking looms and stocking frames at the start of the first Industrial Revolution. A secondary reaction, among a much smaller group, is the creation of new jobs in the coming fourth Industrial Revolution.

Professor Ed Glaeser at Harvard neatly summarizes this dichotomy in one figure:


 

Technology works for getting poor people’s problems fixed – we just have to get it right

Kristalina Georgieva's picture
© Sarah Farhat/World Bank

One of the encouraging signs that I pick up whenever I travel is the difference that technology is making to the lives of millions of marginalized people. In most cases it’s happening on a small, non-flashy scale in hundreds of different ways, quietly improving the opportunities that that have been denied to remote communities, women and young people for getting a foot on the ladder.

And because it is discreet and under the radar I dare as an optimist to suggest that we are at the beginning of something big – a slow tsunami of success. Let me give you some reasons why I believe this.

Divining the future of work

Simeon Djankov's picture
This page in: Español | Français

“I like work, it fascinates me,” said Jerome K Jerome. “I can sit and look at it for hours.” We concur with the author of “Three Men in a Boat’, a novel which so fascinated Late Victorian England that, within a year of publication, the number of vessels on the River Thames had doubled.

We too love work and we anticipate that our devotion to it will result in Jeromesque adulation. The early signs are good; our report is still in draft stage but it has already been downloaded more than 20,000 times. You can discover for yourself why it’s proving so popular by clicking here.

As economists our fascination with work has nothing to do with Jerome’s mirthful quip (but just think how many enduring jobs were created as a result of his fictitious river journey) and everything to do with untangling a riddle that is embedded in the zeitgeist. Google ‘the future of work’ and, in 0.56 seconds, 115,000,000 results appear.



We are living through transformative, perhaps epochal times, when the only thing we can be sure of is persisting uncertainty. What will our children do for a living? Never mind the kids, what about us -will we make it to retirement? And how will we pay for it? Will the robots rise against us?