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From India - How to Improve Job Opportunities

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I recently returned from two weeks in India. First in Hyderabad, where 240 people from 60 countries got together for the 4th South-South Learning Forum 2012 on "Building Resilience and Opportunities: the Role of Labor and Social Assistance Policies." Second in New Delhi, where 120 academicians and policy makers gathered for the 7th IZA-World Bank Conference on Employment and Development.


It was very rewarding to meet so many people working on the design, implementation and evaluation of new programs that can help people get access to better jobs and improve the way they live. My main take is that there is no single model that countries need to follow. Instead, successful interventions combine multiple initiatives and have in place good systems to administer the programs and evaluate and monitor their performance.

On the first day of the South-South forum, October 30, we heard presentations on two new flagship reports from the World Bank that focused on jobs: the 2013 World Development Report on Jobs and the South Asia Jobs Report – which focuses on a region that is home to more than 40 percent of the world's absolute poor and that will contribute to nearly 40 percent of the growth in the world’s working-age population over the next several decades.

In the lively panel discussions that ensued, pretty much everyone agreed that to improve job opportunities, middle and low income countries first need to get the basics right – a stable macroeconomy, a friendly business environment, good governance (with the law enforced), and strong human (education/skills) and physical (infrastructure) capital. After that, country specific interventions are needed to create the "right" jobs. For example, jobs that empower women, reduce poverty, and do not destroy the environment. In most cases, it would seem these interventions need to go hand in hand with two parallel processes: the emergence or expansion of urban centers where good jobs usually flourish; and rural development through higher agricultural productivity and the development of non-farm activities.

During the rest of the week, we learned first-hand from the creators and managers about programs and technological innovations that can help individuals realize benefits from improving job opportunities. In fact, one of the unusual aspects of South-South events is that people come to present their experiences and learn from each other. I would group these programs into three categories:

  • Programs helping individuals connect to jobs. For the urban centers to emerge or expand, for instance, workers need to have the information, incentives, skills, and mobility to take on the new jobs.
  • Programs supporting self-employment and small scale entrepreneurship. Even if urbanization happens fast and many salaried jobs are created, they are unlikely to be enough for all – today only a minority of workers in middle- and low-income countries are wage employees. Thus, many workers will have to create their own jobs or improve the quaity of the ones they have.
  • Programs helping individuals manage risks. Starting a new business, for instance, is risky, but it is more likely to happen if the entrepreneur knows that even if it fails, the family will remain protected by a safety net and health insurance. Similarly, moving to another town to take a job might imply losing part of the support or informal insurance provided by family, friends, and the community.

My top picks are:

  1. Training, credit, and support servives to link small producers to markets and value chains (Colombia, Kenya, and Bangladesh)
  2. Safety nets that allow beneficiaries to invest in their human capital and accumulate some assets to start a business (Ethiopia and El Salvador)
  3. Wage subsidies and training in “soft” skills to allow first time job seekers to gain work experience (Turkey)
  4. Electronic exchanges to connect people to jobs (this session was sponsored by the JKP – it was our first google hangout!
  5. The use of mobile phones to allow informal sector workers to save and better self-insure (Kenya)
  6. The use of biometric cards to provide health insurance to the poor (India)

IZA-World Bank Conference

In New Delhi, on November 5, the IZA-World Bank conference started with two days of papers and panel discussions on Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship – not surprisingly, there were many references to some of the programs presented during the South-South event. In one session that I chaired, for instance, Michal Grimm shared results from his latest research showing how pressure to transfer money to relatives and the lack of insurance reduce incentives to invest and expand their business among tailors in urban cities in Burkina Faso.

One of the highlights of the conference was the closing panel, which involved Kausik Basu (the World Bank's new Chief Economist), Klaus Zimmerman (IZA Director), Haroon Bhorat (Cape Town University) and Rajat Kathuria (Indian Council for Economic Research and International Relations). Again, the idea of regional development through investments in agriculture and urbanization as drivers of the creation of good jobs came up strongly. 

At the Policy Forum on the last day, Subramanian Ramadorai (Advisor to the Prime Minister in the National Council on Skill Development) gave the keynote address. He stressed the urgent need for skill development and education to facilitate India's continued economic growth and a youth transition to productive employment. He framed the challenge as: (i) improving the skills of new entrants to the workforce; (ii) helping workers attain higher or new skills; and (iii) recognizing informal on-the-job training of existing workers – especially given that "over 92% of India's labour market is unorganized."

Finally, for us at the Jobs Knowledge Platform, the added bonus was that the conference – despite the city being enveloped in a "cloud of toxic smoke" on November 7, according to the Financial Times), – was a great opportunity to get contributions for the World of Labor and shoot some cool video-blogs and interviews with participants. So, stay tuned...

This post was first published on the Jobs Knowledge Platform.

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