For the second year running, the future of work and business leaders’ long overdue responses to the challenges it poses has been a key topic at the 49th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos.
In a session with INSEAD professors on the future of business education, former CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, declared, “Leaders are not equipped to deal with current challenges, society hasn’t prepared them”. Human skills, rather than technical skills, need to be prioritized and taught to everyone. It’s only with a strong sense of awareness of what is happening in the world that managers and their leaders can embrace today’s complexity and drive action.
Inside the business: Leaders are not ready.
At The Economist breakfast, Rainer Strack, head of BCG’s human resources practice and author and presenter of one of the most viewed TED talks of all time (The surprising workforce crisis of 2030 – 1.7 million views to date), argued that it’s time for HR professionals to become more analytical. The data is available and a thorough analysis of the demand and supply of skills based on scenario planning will give business leaders the ability not only to recruit for the right skills but also to anticipate future skills shortages in their companies.
On the same panel, Christophe Catoir, Regional Head of France at The Adecco Group – France, spoke of the need for Adecco to evolve and offer support not only in the intermediation between those seeking employment and companies looking to hire, but also in the upskilling and reskilling process. Adecco’s clients are asking the recruitment company to be part of the process. The support Adecco provides often becomes a form of personal coaching as people feel alone and are looking for guidance and reassurance.
A different angle to job disruption was shared by Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. According to Nadella, companies have to understand that to develop certain products, create new customer experiences and deliver growth, companies need to hire for a different skill-set. Following the acquisition of LinkedIn and Github (the largest online community of developers), Microsoft noticed how software engineers are hired in greater numbers and at a faster rate by non-tech companies, including consumer goods ones. For Microsoft today, producing the next XBOX is not simply the job of an engineer; a multitude of skills are required from designers, community managers, marketers, etc. The vast majority of companies have not done the job of understanding the type of skills needed to produce today’s products and services, and consequently there are significant gaps in their ability to deliver.
“You do lots of investments to drive productivity but one of the foundational drivers of productivity is learning and that should become a priority of any business leader.” – Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO
New Models for Continuous Education: between MOOCs and apprenticeship.
According to Ann Cairns, vice chairman of MasterCard, today’s workers want to learn continuously. Companies need to allow employees the luxury of time to re-train as most people welcome the idea that they will not be doing the same job for too long.
Mr Catoir from The Adecco Group put forward a similar argument. His point was that “individualism” is a key megatrend in our society. People want the best for themselves. If the company they work for doesn’t offer it, they quit. If companies don’t invest in education, employees will take it upon themselves to look for solutions and companies will lose their talents. Thanks to the internet, education has become more accessible and affordable as individuals can educate themselves online and pay for their own education. Companies must change perspective and invest in re-skilling and upskilling.
During the official session “Business Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, Ginny Rometty, CEO of IBM, spoke on the skills gap and how companies need to adapt their hiring strategies: “100% of jobs will change. 2/3 of the jobs created in the last 10 years in the USA require digital skills. The skills gap is clear. How do we fix it? We need new models like apprenticeship; we need it as a pathway to gain technology skills; a 6-year high school where you learn digital skills to be employable, done in partnership with governments. IBM has launched such a program in a few countries and this year 125,000 students will complete their studies and be employable. For companies, this means that the paradigm of hiring needs to change. Leaders should consider the real profiles they need so that instead of trying to hire only top talents, they can hire people who have been trained in specific skills, bridging the gap between talents and people left behind”.
According to Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, “Germany & Switzerland are incredibly ahead when it comes to the apprenticeship model”; indeed, the two countries record some of the lowest youth unemployment rates around the World.
After a few years of continuous conversation and challenging results, top business leaders are fully aware of the urgent need to change something on the human side of the business equation in order to deliver growth in times of fast paced technological advancement. However, as Satya Nadella points out, the current speed of change is forcing businesses to adapt within a generation while previously we had at least one generation to make the change. Perhaps this is why the ecosystem is not able to adapt as fast as it should; for governments and large educational institutions, rapid change is hard if not impossible to achieve.
A shift in mindset by both companies and workers is what is required. On one side, companies need to understand the importance of data in human resources. They must become more analytical and evaluate the skills needed while dedicating greater time and larger budgets to training current and future employees, not just in technical skills but also in human-related skills. This in turn will help to foster more collaborative environments that can spark ideas while driving better productivity gains. On the other side, each one of us needs to invest in education and be an active driver of our own career. Information on education and training is readily available and the wide range of different and affordable programs on offer makes upskilling or reskilling easily accessible. Waiting for your current employer to organise it for you is not an excuse that will be acceptable to those looking to hire you in the future. You are the creator of your own destiny and this requires you to re-invent yourself as many times as needed to keep your career alive and thriving.
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