Zambia is currently under pressure to increase the pace of the economic transformation to create more productive jobs. Despite rapid economic growth from 2000-2013, the country is struggling to provide the kind of jobs needed to help spur sustainable growth and development. The landlocked country is also one of Africa’s youngest countries by median age, and youth (aged 15-24) who are a significant and increasing share of the working population, are finding it hard to get jobs.
There is much speculation about what share of jobs might be automated by increasingly smart machines. One estimate suggests that countries such as the U.S. would see almost half of today’s jobs disappearing, while another estimate suggests that this might be just about one in ten jobs. But less is known about who will lose their jobs due to these transitions. And more critically, what might happen to the bottom 40 percent of the population of emerging countries that have only recently been exposed to basic digital technologies? Will they gain from technological progress, or will they face the negative effects of both exclusion and of others—countries or the better off—pulling ahead?
After three and half years of work, we have finally completed our systematic review of youth employment programs. Many thanks to the co-authors who did the heavy lifting (Jose Manuel Romero, Jonathan Stöterau, Felix Weidenkaff and Marc Witte). The paper was presented at our recent Jobs and Development Conference. The team went over 40,000 papers to eventually find 103 that reported on credible impact evaluations of youth employment programs.
Jobs are key to ending poverty and development practitioners, policymakers, academics, and business leaders agree that measuring jobs is important. While data on the number of jobs being created is important, it only tells a small part of the story.
Jobs drive development. They are the surest pathway out of poverty and are crucial for inclusive growth. South Asia is the world’s fastest growing region; however, this progress has not always translated to jobs that are inclusive and productive.
We recently hosted our first Jobs and Development Conference, and one of the key topics we discussed was the role of governments in creating jobs. We had about 260 participants, and 68 papers were presented (more than 150 considered but not selected for presentation, a high rejection rate that attests to the quality of the papers that were presented).
One of the plenary sessions that I chaired focused on the role of governments in designing and implementing jobs strategies. The consensus has been that jobs will come if countries just fix markets and institutions to promote investment and economic growth. But this is a very simplistic view.
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.
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.
Economics usually distinguishes between different sectors as low-tech (e.g. garments), medium-tech (e.g. automobiles), or high-tech (e.g. IT products). But the splintering of production within global value chains (GVCs) shows a need for a finer differentiation of production segments by tasks based on their knowledge levels. This is because development is not so much a matter of the sector in which jobs are being carried out, as of the knowledge content of the activity itself.