New technologies provide a pathway to poverty reduction and could usher in a wave of higher productivity and growth across Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a new World Bank report.
At a time of growing fears of a future where automation replaces employees, technological innovation could create more and better jobs in the coming years—for both for skilled and unskilled workers in the region, the report Jobs of Tomorrow: Technology, Productivity, and Prosperity in Latin America and the Caribbean finds.
“We should adopt and promote technology and innovation to boost economic growth, poverty reduction and increase opportunities for all, rather than creating barriers,” said Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice-President for Latin America and Caribbean. “Better education and training will be key to ensure youth can take full advantage of the digital world and be prepared for the work of tomorrow.”
According to the report, Latin America and the Caribbean has lower rates of digital technology adoption than similar countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), providing ample space to increase productivity. Barriers also often drive up the price of productivity-enhancing technology. For example, smartphones and tablets in some countries in the region are the most expensive in the world. Tariffs and taxes on technology may be holding back per capita GDP growth by more than 1 percentage point a year across the region.
“With more technology comes more productivity,” said report author Mark Dutz, World Bank Lead Economist of the Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment Global Practice. “Companies can lower variable costs, expand production, reach more markets, make more money and in the process create more and better jobs.”
Studies on Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico find that lower-skilled workers can, and often do, benefit from adopting digital technologies. In addition, technology can have a strong impact on worker mobility, making it easier for job seekers to find information about job opportunities. It works both ways, making for better employer-employee matches.
Online trading platforms also level the playing field between small and large firms seeking access to international markets. International transactions over the Internet disproportionately benefit smaller firms – the same firms that tend to hire relatively more lower-skilled workers.
The report recommends some key areas where policies can help harness the productive power of this digital revolution. They include:
- Making technologies available to local firms at globally-competitive prices. In Colombia, for example, manufacturing firms who adopted the use of high speed internet saw a direct increase in demand for laborers and lower-skilled production workers as well as higher-skilled professional workers.
- Ensuring that firms have incentives to invest in technology upgrading and exports rather than seeking protection from competition. Policies and institutions that encourage firms to compete lead them to invest in improving their product quality and lowering costs and prices rather than investing in obtaining government privileges. Firms can also benefit from adopting better management practices to increase production and distribution – an area with huge potential in the region.
- Educating workers to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow that will demand new, more sophisticated skills. In Brazil, for instance, more technology-intensive industries increasingly rely on employees to do more cognitive and analytical tasks in which communication and interpersonal skills are in particularly high demand.
Turning away from technology because of fears about technological change would be a costly mistake. New technologies can and should be embraced to support shared prosperity across Latin America and the Caribbean, the report concludes.