Posted in Reports & Indices

World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work

It had to happen I suppose. After the World Development Report 2018 on Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, it was only to be expected that the World Development Report 2019 would look at the Changing Nature of Work.

Last year, the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim reminded us how education helped his country to rise from the ashes of war: “Today, not only has [South] Korea achieved universal literacy, but its students also perform at the highest levels in international learning assessments. It’s a high-income country and a model of successful economic development.” This year he reminds us that “investing in Human Capital is not just a concern of ministers of health and education; it should also be a top priority for heads of state and ministers of finance.” Simple economics indeed!

The Report points out that the nature of work is changing in several ways:

  1. Digital technology is gradually replacing the traditional input-output production process, with the global platform marketplace which brings together producers, providers and customers in a multi-sided model
  2. The skill set required of workers today is shifting from manual skills to socio-behavioural, which require higher cognitive skills and greater adaptability
  3. There is a global shift from manufacturing to services, which again requires a differently skilled workforce and only those countries which have invested heavily in human capital (like Singapore and South Korea) have used this opportunity to move from developing to developed country status
  4. South Asia, on the other hand, has again missed the boat in this regard, and the result has been the unrelenting informalization of their economies, with a concomitant poor quality of life for their citizens

The Report suggests areas in which governments need to act promptly, to ensure that they are not left behind by the rest of the world, often frittering away their demographic dividends:

  • Investment in human capital, particularly early childhood education, to develop high-order cognitive and socio-behavioral skills in addition to foundational skills.
  • Enhanced social protection. A solid guaranteed social minimum and strengthened social insurance, complemented by reforms in labor market rules in some emerging economies, would achieve this goal.
  • More fiscal space for public financing of human capital development and social protection.

To back up its argument, the Report presents its first Human Capital Index for ranking its member nations. The index follows the trajectory from birth to adulthood of a child born in a given year, and quantifies the milestones in this trajectory in terms of their consequences for the productivity of the next generation of workers.

It has three components:

  1. a measure of whether children survive from birth to school age (age 5)
  2. a measure of expected years of quality-adjusted school which combines information on the quantity and quality of education
  3. two broad measures of health—stunting rates and adult survival rates.

The HCI calculated for nations is graphically presented as below:

The World Bank’s Human Capital Index has really set the cat among the pigeons, by calling to account governments like the present one in India, which only chase growth in GDP at the cost of long-term human development of future generations. The Indian Government has cried foul about the data used in this Index, but statistical hassles notwithstanding, it is very clear that the present government has grossly neglected the human, social and environmental aspects of development in favour of physical infrastructure alone. And as we know, sustainable livelihoods can be provided only when ALL five types of capital are amply provided and balanced – human, social, natural, physical and financial. 

No wonder then, it may well be the issue of livelihoods in both urban and rural areas which may see drastic political changes across India in the coming days and months…




I am a trainer of Government Officials and Elected Representatives, specializing in the urban and municipal sector. I have also written extensively on Urban Governance, Poverty, Development, Social Accountability and Municipal Management in the Indian context, and wish to share these writings with you through this blog.

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