Since 1978, the World Bank has published an annual report looking at a specific aspect of the global economy. Past topics have included agriculture, youth, equity, public services delivery, the role of the state, transition economies, labour, infrastructure, health, the environment, risk management, and poverty.

This year, the World Development Report focused on the future of work. It’s an especially appropriate topic that comes at a time when technology is changing the way people work and the very industries they’re working in.

The report itself illustrates the impact technology has had on the world - the 2019 publication is the most-downloaded World Development Report in history, with more than a million downloads since it was published in mid-October.

But the latest installment of the World Bank report has also been met with a large amount of criticism. Overall, the report predicts that fears that technology will lead to fewer jobs and poorer working conditions are unfounded. But critics say the report underestimates the negative impact technology will actually have.

Despite this criticism, the report includes valuable insights on the role technology will continue to play among the workforce. Additionally, it outlines the steps that can be taken to ensure humans benefit from technology and are not hurt by it.

Here are three important takeaways...

Technology provides opportunity

Despite fears regarding how technology will impact human life, three-quarters of citizens in the European Union believe the workplace benefits from technology.

According to the report, two-thirds of those surveyed said technology will benefit society and improve their quality of life even further.

And in many ways attitudes toward technology are proving accurate. The report demonstrates that digital technologies are allowing firms to scale up or down more quickly and easily. This ability to scale fluidly is creating economic opportunity for millions of people who do not live in industrialized countries or areas.

With the help of technology, firms in underdeveloped areas can trade goods and services on online platforms and all it takes is a broadband connection. And this is also creating opportunities for smaller firms and younger firms to grow.

For example, the firms selling on eBay in Chile, Jordan, Peru, and South Africa are on average less mature than the firms in offline markets. And on China’s ecommerce platform, Alibaba, start-ups are dominant.

Informal work

Globally, the report indicates there are currently two billion people doing informal work. These workers operate in what’s known as the 'informal economy' that is not taxed or monitored by governments.

This includes those workers paid under the table or through nontraditional means, but it’s also includes a large portion of freelance and short term workers, an area of the workforce that has been grown by technological advancements which make work in nontraditional settings easier.

Already, the report estimates informal workers account for around 90% of the workforce in some developing countries. Informal employment makes up more than 70% of the economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, 60% in South Asia and more than 50% in Latin America. The report goes on to suggest that informal work can be harmful to developing economies.

According to the World Bank, both wages and productivity are significantly lower in the informal sector. But the report predicts that the digital economy will lead to more work of this nature. It indicates that the days where citizens worked for one company for the entirety of their careers have already become a thing of the past. This is trend that experts think will only continue.

Human capital

The report emphasizes that greater investment in health and education are necessary to help citizens adapt to the constantly shifting labor market.

There are currently a number of industries experiencing labor shortages because so few people have the skills necessary to fill these positions. That’s because the positions many companies are hiring for didn’t even exist a decade ago when many in today’s labor force were in school.

In addition, it is likely the jobs today’s children will be doing in the future haven’t been invented yet either. That’s why the report emphasizes the importance of giving students job skills that can be applied to any position. These skills include things like problem solving, critical thinking and interpersonal skills like empathy and collaboration.

The report also demonstrates that due to the rapidly evolving labor market, countries should be investing in social protections to ensure their citizens are taken care of even when they’re out of work. In many countries, citizens are given health care through their employers, but as technology changes the way people work, this might not always be the case.

The report encourages countries to invest in initiatives like minimum basic incomes and universal health coverage to combat the changes it foresees.

Photo by Diego Jimenez on Unsplash.