Factory or firm bleg

Last week’s migrant worker bleg was so successful, I am going to reach a little further.

We’ve been able to run our randomized trial of factory or farm labor with about 8 firms so far. Finding firms interested in the study has been surprisingly easy. Finding ones who are hiring batches of 20-100 unskilled new workers in one go has been more challenging.

The basic idea: we think that even the lowest-paid factory jobs can have huge impacts on the welfare of workers, simply because the alternatives are often so bad. We follow cohorts of new hires, and not only compare them to unsuccessful job applicants (the ones with bad alternatives) but also a good alternative we provide: capital and skills training to start their own business.

We need to get more firms and workers into the study to make this successful, and we travel. We’re looking for interested small, medium and large firms across Africa and South Asia at the moment, and my research managers and I stand by to talk to potentially interested firm owners. We’ll even consider other regions. We’re also open to sector (and indeed want as much breadth as possible). So manufacturing, commercial farming, services, whatever. the key is providing steady formal sector employment to low skill workers.

So if you, your uncle, or your dog’s previous owner’s second cousin runs a firm in a low-income country, drop me a line. Below is the official blurb and some pilot results we’ve been sharing with interested partners.


US-based research nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) seeks interested firms to participate in a novel study that evaluates the impact of industrial firm employment on a worker’s welfare. The project, headed by Dr. Chris Blattman and Dr. Stefan Dercon, Professors at Columbia and Oxford Universities, respectively, is already underway with several factories and commercial farms in Ethiopia. (For a summary of pilot results with a bottling plant in Burayu, please see the attached briefing note.) The project now intends to expand to other firms and sectors across Africa.

IPA seeks factories or large-scale commercial farms that fulfill the following criteria:

  • Has imminent plans to hire a sizable group of workers at one time;
  • Positions offered are permanent (not seasonal or by contract);
  • Positions require low to medium-skill only;
  • Hiring plans are intended to occur sometime in spring 2013;
  • Interested in being part of an innovative research project that attempts to better understand how the firm affects the income and well-being of its workers. The firm’s participation has the potential to help shift the greater development policy agenda in sub-Saharan Africa from its current focus on informal sector activity and small-holder agriculture towards industrial development and firms.

IPA study participants would be comprised of qualified applicants for these low-medium skill jobs. According to the study design, 1/3 of participants are randomly selected to receive the job, 1/3 to receive micro-enterprise training with a cash grant, and 1/3 to receive neither (comparison group). Detailed surveys are administered to participants in all three groups during the hiring push and after one year.

Benefits for the firm
PA can provide advice and logistical support to the firm’s human resource department and hiring process, as well as deliver information about the surrounding labor market conditions and workers’ outside options. Furthermore, there is absolutely no financial commitment from the firm. Survey work and logistics are entirely carried out by IPA staff, and obligations to the firm would be minimal.

11 thoughts on “Factory or firm bleg

  1. Out of curiosity, what was the breakdown between men and women among the participants in the pilot study?

  2. very interesting experiment. Some questions:
    1. how do you deal with heterogeneity among applicants and how do you deal with any significant differences in various attributes (education, economic status, etc.) between control and intervention groups?

    2. why not include seasonal contract workers? In commercial agriculture the impact of seasonal contracts in comparison with no alternative can be substantial

    3. what farms have you done so far? with what results?