This is the first in our series of posts by Ph.D. students on the job market this year.
One of the key challenges of markets is to assess the quality of goods. A look at online dating websites – a market where information asymmetries loom particularly large - shows different ways in which people try to communicate that they are of “high quality”. A common strategy is to start your introduction with “My friends describe me as…” (to be followed by some glowing testimony “…smart, athletic, high-achieving – yet humble”). Why may this strategy not be effective? It raises questions about whether these friends are truthful and whether they have all the relevant information about your quality as a partner. The really interesting question you never see answered is: “How would your ex-partner describe you?”
My job market paper “The Value of Reference Letters”, coauthored with Rulof Burger (SU) and Patrizio Piraino (UCT), is about the challenges hiring firms face in identifying high-quality applicants. While the literature has largely focused on the role of friends and family members (Topa 2011, Beaman and Magruder 2012) in job referrals, we investigate whether information from ex-employers can facilitate the matching process. Specifically, we test the effect of a standardized reference letter asking previous employers to rate workers on a range of hard skills (e.g. numeracy, literacy) and soft skills (e.g. reliability, team ability).
Labor and Social Protection
This is the first in our series of posts by Ph.D. students on the job market this year.
But do we perhaps rely too much on numbers to gain an understanding of people’s lives and the societies in which they live? Do numbers really tell us the whole story, or give us the full picture?
About one in three urban residents (over 900 million people) in developing markets live in informal settlements. Do these slums help lift people out of poverty by providing affordable entry points to access urban assets, services and livelihoods? Or do they confine people to enduring hardship and vulnerability in squalid and unsafe environments with little prospect of upward mobility?
In recent years, there has been a revival of public concerns that automation and digitization might result in a jobless future. This debate has been particularly fueled by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, who argue that 47% of jobs in the US are ‘at risk of computerization.'
These alarming figures spurred a series of studies that find similarly high shares of workers at risk of automation for other European countries. By focusing on the level of occupations, these studies typically neglect the fact that occupations involve bundles of tasks, many of which are hard to automate. As a result, these studies potentially overestimate the share of workers at risk of automation.
"We’re the nation that just had six of our scientists and researchers win Nobel Prizes—and every one of them was an immigrant," U.S. President Barack Obama recently said after the Nobel Prize winners were announced.
The Internet was abuzz about it, and how could it not be?
The announcement couldn’t come at a better time. Not only are US Nobel laureates immigrants, but also the country has been identified as one of four where the world’s high-skilled immigrants are increasingly living, according to a new World Bank research article. The other three countries are the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
In the last decade, policy attention to better develop the knowledge and skills of the workforce has increased for several reasons. First, global youth unemployment rates, three times higher than the unemployment rate for those over 25 years old, have raised concerns about social stability as well as sustained and long-term economic growth. Second, many who argue that youth unemployment is partially caused by a mismatch between graduates’ skills and the skills that employers need, also believe that revitalizing vocational education and training can help address the problem. Third, a skilled workforce that can easily adapt to technological change is likely a fundamental component for countries to remain competitive in the global economy.
The Government of Punjab started computerization of rural Land Records with the overall objective to improve service delivery and to resolve the overall dispersed nature of land records. The transaction costs were very high for the poor during the old days of patwari system. Women were denied their land rights and the low mobility of land markets contributed to preserving the highly unequal distribution of land and, therefore, opportunities to improve people’s livelihoods.
Before the Land Records Management Information System (LRMIS) was set up, the Board of Revenue (BOR),Government of Punjab, operated a land record maintenance system which involved several levels of administration: the district, Tehsil, Qanungo circle, and Patwar circle. At the lowest administrative level of the records system – the Patwar Circle – are the Patwaris, who were not only responsible for preparing community maps and issuing land records, but also for many social, political, and administrative tasks. Administrative tasks included keeping weather records, collecting crop harvest information, reporting crimes, and updating the voter registry. Imagine 8,000 Patwaris maintaining the land records – usually very small holdings -- of about 20 million land owners. The Patwaris, who were the custodians of these confidential and important records, kept this information in a cloth bag called Basta.
LRMIS has been performing really well. The Project was rolled out in all 36 districts of Punjab. The Project has successfully tested linkages between the land records system and the deeds registration system. The biggest achievement of the project is that the time required to complete transactions has been reduced from 2 months to 45 minutes. Land record services are now provided on an automated basis throughout all 150 Tehsil Service Centers. There are many contributing factors to the success of the Project:
This week thousands of policy-makers, experts, NGOs and urban-minded citizens of all stripes are convening in Quito, Ecuador to discuss the New Urban Agenda at Habitat III – a significant global convening that occurs every 20 years. And, in a couple weeks, amid the costumes and candy, ghosts and goblins of Halloween, the world will mark UN World Cities Day on October 31st. For good reason, youth are part of the conversation. In today’s global landscape, two demographic patterns should stand out: rapid urbanization and large youth populations. These patterns are especially robust across developing nations. Already the worlds’ cities host half of its citizens, and Asia and Africa are expected to account for 90% of urban growth. While growing, cities have also become younger – many of the world’s nearly four billion people under the age of 30 live in urban areas, and according to UN-HABITAT, it is estimated that 60% of urban populations will be under the age of 18 by 2030.
In 2014, Nikhil Chandra Roy was struggling to find and keep regular employment. He had extensive experience dating back to 1977, doing the work of an electrician. But because he had no formal training or certification, Nikhil couldn’t win the confidence of employers in Bangladesh to give him anything more than episodic, relatively low-paying work.
At age 55, just as he was giving up hope for career progress, Nikhil saw an advertisement that ended up turning his outlook and life around. The ad introduced him to the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) program, aimed especially at people like Nikhil, who have real skills and experience in a particular occupation but no formal, independently recognized qualifications.
Not long later, Nikhil participated in a three-day program, which entails one day of assessment and two days of training. That led to the recognition he had long awaited and needed to boost his career: a Government-endorsed skills certification from the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) in electrical installation and maintenance.
“From that point on,” Nikhil said, “there was no looking back. With my years of experience, knowledge and now skills certification, I was ready to progress my career from just an electrician to an entrepreneur.”
Nikhil was one of the many vulnerable informal sector workers in Bangladesh who have no regular jobs and who work on ad hoc opportunities, making it difficult to sustain livelihoods. These workers, with enough experience to perform the technical work well but not the credential many jobs require, improve their employability and bargaining power in job markets when they get the proper certification. And with that certification, workers gain social status in their communities.
The RPL program, which evaluates the skills level of workers and issues government certification to workers who pass an assessment, has operated since 2014 as a pilot activity under the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP). STEP aims to give more Bangladeshis the technical skills they need to compete successfully in domestic and international labor markets.
The demand for RPL certification has been enormous. Since its inception, RPL has assessed more than 9,000 applicants from all over Bangladesh. Every month, RPL offers 600 applicants certification trainings in electrical installation and maintenance; IT support; block, boutique and screen printing; sewing machine operation; tailoring and dress making; motorcycle servicing; plumbing; and welding.
Exponential increases in automation, computerization and digitization is having a profound impact on many people’s jobs. Branko Milanovic’s recent work on global inequality has shown extent to which the lower-middle class jobs in developed countries are being replaced by technology. In particular, economists argue that middle-skilled, routine-intensive jobs are being hollowed-out. And indeed, in Western European countries and the US there has been a decrease in the intensity of routine tasks – both manual and cognitive. However, in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, the amount of routine cognitive work has been on the rise. And the pay for these workers has increased faster than for high skilled workers. Why is this happening, when in the most advanced economies the opposite is happening?