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publication October 12, 2018

Myanmar’s Future Jobs: Embracing Modernity, September 2018


There are more than 24 million jobs in Myanmar, consisting of both income and in-kind earning activities. These jobs are behind Myanmar’s enviable recent economic growth rates and are the main source of income for households, particularly poor households, and they can strengthen social cohesion, a particularly valuable outcome in an ethnically diverse and conflict-affected country. Building on the Myanmar government’s Myanmar Sustainable Development Program (MSDP), which provides a framework for jobs policy reform, Myanmar Future Jobs: Embracing Modernity identifies priority areas that could have the greatest impact in each sector.

More than 90 percent of Myanmar’s jobs are low-productivity and low-paid in agriculture, household enterprise or small firms.

  • Although the structural transformation of the economy is advancing rapidly, the structure of employment is not. Agriculture’s share of GDP declined from 52 percent to 32 percent between 2000 and 2015, while the share of manufacturing increased from 11 to 28 percent, and the share of services increased from 33 to 39 percent. The distribution of employment across sectors has remained fairly static: 52 percent in agriculture, 36 percent in services and 12 percent in industry.
  • Most jobs are in low-skilled occupations. Two out of three workers are engaged in low-skilled or subsistence agricultural work, which is the lowest paid and most informal type of work.
  • Thirty eight percent of workers hold unskilled jobs, engaging in simple, mostly manual tasks, such as street vending, the care and maintenance of homes or buildings, or agricultural work.
  • Only three percent of jobs can be classified as “higher skilled” and are dominated by those with a high school education or above.

Despite stagnation in the sectoral distribution of jobs, an increase in job productivity and earnings has significantly enhanced the well-being of the population.

  • The poverty rate plunged from 48.2 percent in 2004/5 to 32 percent of the population by 2015, primarily due to higher agricultural production and earnings.
  • However, there is substantial regional variation in poverty incidence, with higher poverty rates concentrated in geographic pockets, particularly in rural zones.
  • Boosting the skills of Myanmar’s sizeable working age population of nearly 35 million people would unlock their potential to increase productivity across the jobs spectrum.

Translating recent economic gains into jobs will require a deliberate effort to adjust institutions, policies and programs.

There are three broad ways in which jobs can be improved: by creating more jobs, improving existing jobs and making jobs more inclusive. This report recommends 10 policy actions aimed at achieving all three of these outcomes.

Policies for More Jobs

1. Improve fiscal and monetary policies to create a more conducive macro environment for job creation

2. Create a conducive legal environment for firm creation, growth and diversification

3. Invest in jobs-friendly global value chains

4. Develop agro-value chains to build up the rural micro and small enterprise sector

5. Lower the cost of migration, including to jobs outside of Myanmar

Policies for Better Jobs

6. Increase the productivity of household enterprises and micro enterprises

7. Enhance the skills of the labor force

8. Place the right workers in the right jobs

Policies for Inclusive Jobs

9. Enhance agricultural productivity

10. Rebuild job opportunities in conflict zones