Technology serves as a key driver of change and opens new avenues to address the world’s most complex challenges. It is changing the nature of work and challenging traditional production patterns. And it is changing the skills that employers seek, how people work and the terms on which they work.
This month, the World Bank Group Advisory Council on Gender and Development will meet for its twice-yearly meeting to discuss the World Bank Group (WBG)’s recent developments and initiatives to close key gaps between men and women. Chaired by Kristalina Georgieva and comprising senior government representatives from client and donor countries, private sector and civil society, the Council is the main external consultative body helping the WBG consider frontier issues and accelerate progress towards gender equality.
Earlier this year, the Council undertook a learning session on the role of technology in promoting gender equality. The discussion mapped out some key challenges in this area.
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Labor and Social Protection
- Social Development
- Sustainable Communities
- digital development
- Human Capital
- Human Capital Project
- Future of Work
- labor force participation
- Female Labor
- financial inclusion
- gender equality
- women's empowerment
- Disruptive Technologies
Globally, poverty by employment status is highest among unpaid workers (22 percent), followed by self-employment, and those out of the labor force (both 12 percent). Not surprisingly, income-earning capacity (proxied by employment status) is strongly associated with poverty and gender. When disaggregated by sex, there are roughly equal numbers of men and women among the poor who are unemployed. There are more men than women among the self-employed poor. However, women make up most of the poor who are unpaid workers or out of the labor force. To learn more, read the recently released Poverty and Shared Prosperity report 2018, “Piecing Together the Poverty Puzzle.”
Jobs and wage growth have been the most important driver of poverty reduction globally, and Central Asia. In Tajikistan, for example, it has cut poverty by about two-thirds since 2003. In Kazakhstan, it accounted for more than three-quarters of income growth over the past decade — even among the poorest 20 percent. The other Central Asian nations have also achieved significant economic growth and poverty reduction in the past two decades due to income growth.
But poverty-reduction rates have slowed. In Kyrgyzstan, they began slowing during the global recession of 2008, as income growth faltered. Poverty reduction in Tajikistan leveled off in 2015, when wage growth slackened and remittances from Tajiks working overseas fell.
In Uzbekistan, more than 90 percent of the poorest households have identified lack of jobs as their most urgent priority. For these families, the prospect of increasing their income is slim, while the likelihood of transmitting poverty to their children is high.
So what should countries in Central Asian do to build on their past achievements and prepare their citizens for the jobs of the future?
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?