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.
Labor and Social Protection
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?
On April 24, 2013, a building called Rana Plaza in Dhaka came crashing down on thousands of workers, killing more than 1,100 and injuring more than 2,500 individuals. Unlike any other building collapse, this received widespread international attention - and continues to do so - because the building housed factories that sewed garments for many European and American clothing brands. As a result, a chunk of blame for the collapse and deaths was placed on retailers and brands that outsourced their work to Bangladesh, and particularly Rana Plaza.
Since the tragedy, these retailers and companies, both big and small, utilized several brand reputation management strategies. This, in turn, impacted the policies of the garment industry in Bangladesh. Primarily, two retailer blocs, The Accord and The Alliance, emerged which have created their own local and international dynamics.
The Accord is a legally binding agreement that has been signed by many European and North American companies and allows for factories to be vetted and shut down in case of non-compliance with safety standards. The Alliance, signed by North American groups such as Walmart and JC Penny, however, does not guarantee any such protections and allows companies to use their own rules with any legal requirements.
Interestingly, many companies who are either part of The Alliance or The Accord, choose not to publicise their participation in such agreements on their own websites. This allows them minimize any attention that could turn into criticism while still taking part in initiatives in case there ever is an inquiry from media, regulators, or other interested parties.
In the last few decades, we have seen an increase in the number of countries investing in social protection programs. These programs help individuals and families especially the poor and vulnerable cope with crises and shocks, invest in the health and education of their children, supporting young people by developing their skills and finding jobs, and protecting the aging population.
Monami Dasgupta, guest blogger, is a Research Analyst at IFMR Finance Foundation
Some people are self-employed in the informal sector because they want to avoid registration and taxation. But many people work in the informal sector through necessity, not choice. Today, there are two features of the informal sector that are well-recognized. Firstly, much of the informal economy contributes greatly to the formal economy. Secondly, women constitute the majority of precarious, under-paid, informal workers.
Happy UN Day for South –South Cooperation!
Investment in skills is vital to economic growth and competitiveness and poverty reduction. I believe that there is no better way to do that than to educate young graduates with expertise in high-demand areas to help grow African economies, create jobs, and support research.
While many of us work hard to postpone growing old, ageing populations as a whole are inevitable, predictable and something countries can prepare for.
As developing countries prosper, their citizens will live longer and, hopefully, healthier lives. By 2050, the number of people in the world 65 and older will have doubled from 10% to 20%. By then .
Are these countries set up to care for these forthcoming senior citizens and ensure they have the resources to live in dignity in old age? Will countries be able to ensure fairness between the generations and resources?
Current pensions systems leave many pockets of society uncovered:
- As countries become more urbanized and families have fewer children, traditional family-based care for the elderly is breaking down, without adequate formal mechanisms to replace it.
- Traditional employment-based pensions systems don’t cover most informal sector workers in developing economies. In some regions, these workers account for two-thirds or more of the working age population. Even for those with formal sector jobs, pension coverage has been declining for people who’ve entered the workforce since 1990 in terms of years contributed over lifetime, according to World Bank Pensions Database. This has a major impact on the amount of retirement income they will eligible to receive.
Robots are just one of the latest stages of technological progress. The number of robots being used by businesses to boost productivity has increased rapidly in recent years. And there is no reason to believe that this pace of robotization will begin to slow any time soon.
If you have been listening lately to Robert ‘Bob’ Gordon, an economics professor at Northwestern University, he will tell you that the days of great inventions are over. This in turn, has led to a significant slowdown in total factor productivity – a measure that economists use to measure innovation and technical progress. Falling productivity is one of the main reasons for growth shortfall in advanced economies like the United States.
Eager to know more about this seemingly worrisome and pessimistic thesis, which has attracted a lot of attention among economists and the media, we invited Gordon to give a talk at the World Bank.