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Putting employment at the centre of economic transformation

Time (GMT +00) 09:30 13:15

Session 1: Employment progress – taking a look back

Chair: Bruce Byiers, Policy Officer, ECDPM and co-author of the new Development Progress/ECDPM research on employment

Laura Rodriguez Takeuchi, Research Officer, ODI and co-author of the new Development Progress/ECDPM research on employment

Anna Rosengren, ECDPM alumna

Dr. Anushka Wijesinha, Consultant Economist, and Advisor to the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Sri Lanka (Via videolink)

Moses Ogwal, Director Policy Research, Trade & Advocacy, Private Sector Foundation Uganda

Prof. Dr. Rolph van der Hoeven, Professor of Employment and Development Economics, International Institute of  Social Studies (ISS) at Erasmus University (EUR)

Session 2: Jobs for the future – looking forwards

Claudia Pompa, Research Officer, ODI

Glowen Kyei-Mensah, Managing Director - Participatory Development Associates Ghana (Via videolink)

William Smith, Research Fellow, ODI

Session 3: Summary of common lessons

Chair: Claire Melamed, Director – Growth, Poverty and Inequality programme, ODI


The event focused on progress in employment, one of eight dimensions of wellbeing researched and measured through the Development Progress project.

Bruce Byiers, Policy Officer at ECDPM and co-author of the new Development Progress/ECDPM research on employment, began by introducing the work of these organisations, specifically around employment. This was followed by the screening of DP’s new animation on employment progress in Sri Lanka and Uganda .

Anna Rosengren, ECDPM alumna, and Laura Rodriguez Takeuchi, Research Officer, ODI and co-author of the new Development Progress/ECDPM research on employment, then presented the findings from the Sri Lanka and Uganda Development Progress case studies. Laura specifically focused on education policies and other labour supply drivers that have successfully driven employment progress in these two countries. Social protection’s emergence in both countries was noted. The problems in addressing equity as well as productivity challenges in both countries was also highlighted.

Anushka Wijesinha then joined by video link to give his take on Sri Lanka’s progress. He warned against celebrating the country’s progress just yet, concerned that productivity has not risen, identifying regional disparities and high youth unemployment driven by skills mismatches. He also highlighted the concern that automation and robotics may become the key engines of value chain upgrading, leading to problems for employment.

Moses Ogwal joined via audio link to present the view from Uganda. He spoke about rising real wages and productivity, as well as income diversification in the country. He gave a generally optimistic take on the country’s employment progress. Both Moses and Anushka highlighted how implementation and politics are still not perfect in both countries in terms of supporting employment development.

The 2nd part of the event was ‘jobs for the future – looking forwards’. Claudia Pompa, Research Officer at ODI, introduced the project currently ongoing in the Private Sector & Markets team to look at future jobs and the skills needed for future employment. She outlined the trends they’ve found that are shaping the future of jobs, including regional drivers of change. The need for workers to adapt their skills, to be ready to learn and unlearn, particularly those in the middle of the skills spectrum, was highlighted as crucial to future chances of gaining employment.

Glowen Kyei-Mensah, Managing Director at Participatory Development Associates Ghana, via audio link, discussed the picture of employment and future trends in Ghana, assessing the picture sector by sector. The problem of skills gaps amongst the Ghanaian workforce was highlighted along with recommendations for policy improvements.

William Smith then discussed his research on jobs for the future in Vietnam. He expressed concerns over slowing productivity increases as labour shifts from agriculture to industry were on the decline. At the same time, the potential for Vietnam to succeed as a manufacturing export location was trumpeted and the different industries with potential were outlined.

In the 3rd part of the event – launching the employment dimension paper – Claire Melamed, Director – Growth, Poverty and Inequality programme, ODI, summarised the discussion so far and highlighted how important employment is to ordinary people. She also insisted on the political importance and sensitivities around employment issues in all countries.

Bruce Byiers explained the paper’s focus and its logical framework. He then explored the extensive quantitative analysis the paper has made on employment, sectoral shifts and their impact on growth. Next, he outlined labour demand and labour supply policies that can be used in developing countries. Finally he explored the politics of employment policies – specifically the politics of matching labour supply and demand.

Prof. Dr. Rolph van der Hoeven, Professor of Employment and Development Economics, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) at Erasmus University (EUR), then gave his opinions on the paper outlining its successes as well as the areas it might have chosen to explore.


Jobs and economic transformation are increasingly at the centre of developing country policy concerns. Informal, agricultural employment has long represented a large share of employment in developing countries, yet recent high economic growth rates with seemingly little formal job creation, particularly in Africa, have highlighted the importance of employment creation as a key development policy goal. This is combined with a recognition of the need to go beyond social expenditures to sustainably raise incomes and improve well-being in developing countries.

There is also recognition that not all jobs are ‘good’ jobs and there is a need to ensure ‘decent work’. Employment outcomes can be looked at in terms of quantity of jobs created, quality of those jobs, and access to them by different population groups. Questions emerge about which policies can address which of these three aspects through their impact on demand for labour, and the supply of the labour workforce, with clear linkages to the way that the private sector and markets operate.

At the same time, livelihoods in low-income countries are often maintained through activities that are not fully captured by employment data, often in agriculture, but also in non-agricultural informal activities, with very little recorded market exchange.

The focus of this event was on the lessons that can be drawn from country experience with regards to employment progress and economic transformation, skills and entrepreneurship.


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