The job market is digitizing at great speed. How can we ensure digitally-enabled jobs contribute to better work and life, and how do we measure that? What does this job market mean to young women and men in Africa? These themes are the focus of the Jobtech Learning Lab, a remarkable partnership of CFYE, Mercy Corps, and ILO Systems Change Initiative. Straight from the start, the partnership incorporates the voice of youth. Systems change in practice!
Why does jobtech matter?
‘Jobtech’ is the use of digital technology to support people to access and deliver quality work. Digitalization and globalization have sparked radical shifts in how we live and work all over the world. With it, jobtech has become important. Digitalization is seen as a potential solution to complex systemic challenges, such as climate change, poverty, and inequality.
As exciting and hopeful as that is, there are many things to consider. Digital, green jobs should be inclusive, so equally available to young men and women, physically challenged or not. These should be decent jobs with fair pay, skills, stability, health, intensity, voice, equality, and rights. That requires deliberate effort.
Picture: Jobtech taxonomy
If left to chance, the growth of jobtech may even have negative effects. Some are becoming visible in Europe and North America. Here, jobtech is putting pressure on the formal job market and on the rights and position of workers. In Africa, where the informal economic sector is dominant and youth unemployment is sky-high, jobtech is largely seen as a promising development. More and more young Africans have access to the internet, are digitally savvy, and rely on informal or independent jobs. These jobs are becoming increasingly available through jobtech. However, as mentioned, it is still essential to safeguard decent and inclusive jobs, also in this field.
Measuring decent work
Over the years, various tools have been developed to measure the decency of jobs. ILO especially has been mandated to do this. However, the use of jobtech for youth employment is a new field. We know it is rapidly changing the labour market, but many questions remain unanswered. What is needed to facilitate the transition to digitally-enabled jobs for youth? What exactly is quality employment in jobtech, and according to whom? What do young men and women need and want from this sector? What makes this sector attractive to young people, and where do they encounter problems? What business models make sense to both employers and workers?
Now is the time to figure things out and set parameters. In the recently started Jobtech Learning Lab, CFYE, together with Mercy Corps, ILO Systems Change Initiative, and groups of youth champions, are trying to hash out the needs, expectations, and parameters of this new field.
Who are the partners?
The Learning Lab is a complementary partnership between CFYE, ILO Systems Change Initiative and Mercy Corps. With these partners, the Learning Lab can cover the field of jobtech from different angles. Their coming together opens up real possibilities to learn, act and change. In time, more partners are expected to join.
What does each of the partners bring to the table?
ILO Systems Change Initiative
ILO has a global mandate to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work, especially in innovating practical SME-focused solutions to measure decent jobs. The Systems Change Initiative (SCI) is part of the Sida-ILO Partnership. It focuses on a market systems development (MSD) approach to create decent work and productive employment opportunities for the working poor.
Mercy Corps is an international NGO working in over 40 countries. It has been working with the jobtech sector for over a decade. This forms a core component of the organisation’s youth employment strategy. Since late 2021, Mercy Corps has steered the Jobtech Alliance in Africa, a network for learning, engagement and uptake of products developed through the partnership. It has also brought a wealth of research and expertise to jobtech.
The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE), financed by the Dutch Government and implemented by the Palladium Group, aims to create decent jobs for 200,000 young people in the Middle East and parts of Africa. The Fund not only supports private sector initiatives in 12 countries, working towards scalable solutions to youth unemployment. CFYE has also rolled out a Learning & Innovation agenda to build a strong evidence base around youth employment strategies, which forms the context for this joint Learning Lab. And, quite important in this setting, CFYE can bring in the youth lens through its youth champions from several countries.
Youth perspective: Real systems change
The ultimate objective of the Jobtech Learning Lab, and of CFYE’s Learning and Innovation agenda, is to create more and better jobs for young people in Africa. That places young people at the heart of the process. It is then critical to incorporate the youth perspective right from the start. So, in April, at the very start of the Jobtech Learning Lab, a group of youth champions in Kenya kick-started a capacity-building workshop to support future youth-led research. Young people will research what their peers need and want, what they feel is decent work, and what issues they face in (looking for) work in jobtech. Majina Mwasezi, Youth and Gender Advisor, facilitated this workshop. She is clear on its importance: “We have to make sure that the youth champions are equal partners in this process. Their voice needs to be heard at all levels and in all phases. If we don’t, it will lead to mismatches because the newly created jobs will not be meeting their aspirations.”
Strangely enough, incorporating the youth perspective is not always common practice in the employment world. Often, ‘target groups’ such as young job seekers are only invited at a later stage in the process when the design of a project or the development of effective recruitment strategies has already been decided. Mwasezi sees two main reasons for this: “First, many stakeholders have already-formed perceptions that young people have little to offer. And second, involving youth comes with a cost. Many say that they don’t have the resources, so they need to factor this in during their planning.”
In the workshop, the young men and women began to design research questions and suggestions for youth-friendly and inclusive solutions to challenges in jobtech. Mwasezi was surprised at how informed they were about the future of work in this rapidly changing world. “But they also pointed out that they are not one homogenous group, all eager and able to step into the digitalized job market. Instead, it is a very diverse group, including rural youth and urban youth, and there was a deaf youth champ in need of an interpreter. The youth champs stated that there are young people who continue to be left behind, for instance, young mothers and youth with a disability. The participants were clear, all groups need to be catered for, and nobody is to be left behind.”
This workshop was the first step in this Learning Lab. Throughout the Lab, the young men and women will co-create solutions that respond to their needs and problems. In so doing, they will inform the parameters for decent jobs in jobtech. This requires purposefully designed spaces in the systems and processes of CFYE and the Learning Lab. Naturally, youth are involved in embedding their voice in the process. This all sounds simple, but in effect, it is real systems change. A true bottom-up approach.
What will the Lab do?
The Lab will look at the decency of work in jobtech. It defines this in terms of quantity (more jobs), quality (better jobs) and inclusivity (access to jobs). Two perspectives are considered: top-down (what job-related outcomes an enterprise creates) and bottom-up (what job-related outcomes an individual experiences). Decent jobs are not only relevant for young people as workers, but also for businesses who want to increase productivity and retain a happy and satisfied workforce.
The goal is to collectively formulate a framework for decent jobs in jobtech. The framework will build on existing ILO frameworks, but will be tailored to the jobtech sector. With the framework, it should be possible to measure the decency of jobs in a practical way, doable for all kinds and sizes of employers. It will thus be possible to create new jobs and improve existing ones.
Of course, there have already been initiatives and projects aiming for this, but these have never been brought to scale. “As CFYE, it is our mandate to create 200,000 decent jobs for youth, but we are also keen to dive into the ‘how’ of our work”, says Marjolijn Wilmink, Learning and Innovation manager at CFYE. “How can we develop sustainable job models with the private sector? We’re not looking for one-off projects, but for scalable approaches that can generate jobs beyond the duration of our program”. For that, CFYE works with carefully selected businesses, the Implementing Partners (IPs). Through them, the employment models can be tested in various settings. Wilmink: “This is also of interest to ILO and others, who can benefit from the fact that CFYE is actually a living learning lab. And finally, the evidence we create will be used to influence policies and systems, for instance, the impact investment sector. They will likely be interested if it would show that recruiting young people contributes to the overall business value of a company”.
Wilmink’s quote illustrates the three phases of learning the Jobtech Learning Lab will follow: understand, improve, and enable. Each phase will inform the next. The first step is building a foundation of knowledge that can support the future work of the Lab. This includes a jobtech taxonomy (what kinds of jobs are we talking about), youth perspectives on jobtech and designing a framework for measuring quality and decency of work in jobtech. From there, the Lab will continue building and refining the framework and assessing effective business models in jobtech. And, as said, the youth voice will be included in every phase.
The Learning Lab will generate results step by step. The outcomes will be shared widely. Naturally, CFYE’s Implementing Partners (IPs) are a central stakeholder in the whole process. They are the ones who will create and improve decent and inclusive jobs in jobtech for young men and women. So everyone will have a fair chance at fair work in jobtech.
By Hilde Bakker