Because there is a rise in informal work conditions, there is a need to address unemployment, job training and job security under these new conditions. The Fourth Industrial Revolution and demographic shifts require short-term reskilling to meet labor market demands.
One of the outcomes of the Covid19 era may be that companies will be less inclined to build permanent workforces, relying instead on gig, temporary, or contractual works that may be cheaper. People who are engaged in these informal and contractual arrangements and those who are self-employed generally do not benefit from social security benefits that are given to those who have an “employer benefit”. This leaves them vulnerable to shocks such as the Covid19.
Some solutions to manage these trends and reduce their adverse impact have been offered to all government policymakers by the International Labor Union, and several global think tanks: Just Jobs Network, and the World Economic Forum.
First, policymakers must acknowledge that relentless pursuit of economic growth will not automatically create jobs.
“Poverty anywhere is a danger to prosperity everywhere.” The priority should be on “job rich growth”, that is promoting productive employment is the best route out of poverty. This means advancing sectors that both employ a lot of people, and raise growth capacity: for example, infrastructure. It also means moving sectors that have the greatest growth potential to the head of the development and investment line: for example, digital services. Wage growth should align with increases in productivity.
Second, governments should reject the idea that “any job is better than no job”. Poor quality jobs exacerbate inequality, waste productive potential, and reduce aggregate demand—all of which are bad for growth. To this end, governments must resist the urge to indiscriminately weaken labor regulations under the pretense that its good for business. Appropriately formulated minimum wages that take into account economic conditions, social security, and active and consistently updated labor market policies are good for worker productivity and help to smooth consumption in times of distress. Transparent and coordinated job search assistance and apprenticeships programs are also important recovery strategies.
Third, governments should recognize that technology, like a genie freed from its bottle, cannot be coaxed back in.
Technology must be regulated. Public interest must be the top priority and balanced with private interest in mandating data sharing and transparency from tech companies that operate digital platforms. Governments should have access to the data that is collected on worker/labor platforms because the workers have access to public benefits and services. This data access facilitates the government’s evidence-based policy making. Policymakers should revisit corporate taxation, particularly for tech companies, that engage in rent seeking and labor arbitrage to help extend social security coverage to informal and contract workers.
Fourth, the growth of technology and changing demography in developing economies call for investments in reforming and updating human capital to appropriately education and train, not only young people, but also the “new unemployed” so that they are more employable. The pandemic alters the economic landscape, creating opportunities for more sectors to thrive while weakening others. Policymakers must help workers retool accordingly.
Fifth, gaining formal qualifications alone will not equate to successful reskilling. Successful reskilling is opportunities such as modular short-cycle courses, experience on the job, and exposure to new projects necessary to help more people gain the skills that match labor market demand. Government must set the vision and ramp up the sectors via clear transformative policy decisions. Businesses need to recognize and investing their “human capital” as an asset, rather than see it as a liability.
Finally, a myopic focus on boosting efficiency rather than building resilience leaves economies vulnerable. Government investment in health, education, public employment, social protection systems have all proven their worth. Fiscal and monetary stimulus have proven their worth. These programs provide the necessary space for policymakers to react quickly in uncertain times.