Towards a complete jobs picture: a new lens on labour data gaps and on automation

Briefing papers
December 2016

The global jobs debate has a number of major gaps. This briefing focuses on two: gaps in global labour data and the possible jobs impact of automation.

We present a broad-brush picture of global labour, drawing attention to the 2 billion people of working age classified as ‘outside the labour force’, many of whom want to work. Given its size, there has been surprisingly little focus on this group. Less surprisingly, about two-thirds are women, and very high shares are in India and China. Their need for jobs adds significantly to the challenges of job creation and of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

Much of the commentary on automation paints only a partial picture by highlighting accelerated job loss in industrialised countries and limited job creation in developing countries. However, we argue that automation’s impact is unlikely to be entirely negative: there will be job losses, though fewer than claimed, but jobs will also be transformed or created, as work is reorganised across most industries. Careful policy on skills and technology systems and trade, as well as sound macroeconomic policy, is important to manage the adjustment to new technology.