At a time when the global economy is growing and the poverty rate is the lowest in recorded history, it would be easy to become complacent and overlook looming challenges. One of the most critical is the future of work, the subject of the 2019 World Development Report. “Machines are coming to take our jobs” has been a concern for hundreds of years—at least since the industrialization of weaving in the early 18th century, which raised productivity and also fears that thousands of workers would be thrown out on the streets.
Innovation and technological progress have caused disruption, but they have created more prosperity than they have destroyed. Yet today, we are riding a new wave of uncertainty as the pace of innovation continues to accelerate and technology affects every part of our lives.
We know that robots are taking over thousands of routine tasks and will eliminate many low-skill jobs in advanced economies and developing countries. At the same time, technology is creating opportunities, paving the way for new and altered jobs, increasing productivity, and improving the delivery of public services.
When we consider the scope of the challenge to prepare for the future of work, it is important to understand that many children currently in primary school will work in jobs as adults that do not even exist today. That is why this Report emphasizes the primacy of human capital in meeting a challenge that, by its very definition, resists simple and prescriptive solutions.
Many jobs today, and many more in the near future, will require specific skills—a combination of technological know-how, problem-solving, and critical thinkingas well as soft skills such as perseverance, collaboration, and empathy.
The days of staying in one job, or with one company, for decades are waning. In the gig economy, workers will likely have many gigs over the course of their careers, which means they will have to be lifelong learners.
Innovation will continue to accelerate, but developing countries will need to take rapid action to ensure they can compete in the economy of the future. They will have to invest in their people with a fierce sense of urgency especially in health and education, which are the building blocks of human capital to harness the benefits of technology and to blunt its worst disruptions. But right now too many countries are not making these critical investments. Our Human Capital Project aims to fix that. This study unveils our new Human Capital Index, which measures the consequences of neglecting investments in human capital in terms of the lost productivity of the next generation of workers. In countries with the lowest human capital investments today, our analysis suggests that the workforce of the future will only be one-third to one-half as productive as it could be if people enjoyed full health and received a high-quality education.
Adjusting to the changing nature of work also requires rethinking the social contract. We need new ways to invest in people and to protect them, regardless of their employment status. Yet four out of five people in developing countries have never known what it means to live with social protection. With 2 billion people already working in the informal sector unprotected by stable wage employment, social safety nets, or the benefits of education new working patterns are adding to a dilemma that predates the latest innovations.
This Report challenges governments to take better care of their citizens and calls for a universal, guaranteed minimum level of social protection. It can be done with the right reforms, such as ending unhelpful subsidies; improving labor market regulations; and, globally, overhauling taxation policies. Investing in human capital is not just a concern for ministers of health and education; it should also be a top priority for heads of state and ministers of finance. The Human Capital Project will put the evidence squarely in front of those decision makers, and the index will make it hard to ignore.
The 2019 World Development Report is unique in its transparency. For the first time since the World Bank began publishing the WDR in 1978, we made an updated draft publicly available, online each week, throughout the writing process. For over seven months, it has benefited from thousands of comments and ideas\ from development practitioners, government officials, scholars, and readers from all over the world2019-WDR-Report-min