Open Site Navigation


Updated: Jun 10

There was so much more to Davos 2020 than Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg. In this article, Eric Shepherd takes look at this year’s conference on capitalism.

It’s easy to imagine that attendees to Davos 2020 may be losing a little sleep after the event. In addition to the eye-watering ticket prices, they were confronted with presenters scaring them to death with tales of climate disasters and humans losing jobs as they are being replaced with machines in the workplace as the Fourth Industrial Revolution powers on.

Some of these are recurring themes of course. Ever since Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum introduced us to the possibilities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we've been trying to make sense of it. Davos is the magnet for leaders and economists to assemble discuss global trends and catch up on all things to do with the new world of work. This year's discussions were no exception within influential experts contending that governments, organizations, and the broader community should join hands to impart the learning necessary to create a level playing field.

The issue of upskilling - on a massive scale – received much attention this year. The WEF launched an initiative to improve education and skills for a billion people by 2030. The OECD estimates that a third of all jobs in the world will be affected by technology in the next 10 years, and 42 percent of the core expertise needed to carry out existing tasks is likely to change by 2022. Demographic shifts and emerging economies only compound an already complicated situation.

With such divergent forces tugging away at our social fabric, there is clearly a question about how we can access the right pathways to provide the right social mobility? The answer is surely to offer more and appropriate training and building capacity for the right jobs. The stakes are higher than we might imagine; improving international social mobility by 10 percent results in an increase of almost 5 percent in economic growth over the following decade. Business leaders keen to do their bit to create fairer communities might look at working to close these gaps. The World Economic Forum consistently emphasizes the coming together of organizations, governments, and civil representatives so their core competencies can be harnessed for the greater good.

Davos presentations also noted that meaningful progress may be made by focusing on the professions that are likely to be most in-demand in the future but are presently undersupplied. A WEF report found that a lot of job growth will be in the areas of specialized HR, education, energy, transport, and digital infrastructure. While people will naturally be required to work with technology, not all of us need to become technical or scientific experts to succeed. As computing and data analysis grows in prominence, so will the necessity for real human qualities such as ingenuity, persuasion, and negotiation. A realization is hitting home that bringing personnel up to speed as far as hard skills are concerned is only half the story. It is the soft skills of adaptability and critical thinking that make training transformative.

But, it's not only workers who are concerned about updating their skills. Organizations are also on the lookout for ways to appeal to a diverse workforce. Different generations occupying the same space, and a narrowing gender gap have led to a remodeling of the relationship between employee and employer. Organizations need to retrain workers and rethink their approach to traditional structures and protocols. A PwC survey found that leaders who prioritized upskilling realized its benefits in the form of improved productivity and enhanced innovation.

Presenters at Davos also reiterated that private and public sectors need to join hands to empower individuals. A white paper proposed that public-private partnerships should concentrate on the critical areas of developing people, institutions, and the framework of rules regulating work. Both governments and corporations should be seeking new ideas that could satisfy both clients and employees. Many organizations have still not embarked on a digital journey because of a lack of skills required for change.

Equipping workers with new technological skills lay the foundation for fostering continuous improvement and lifelong learning. These kinds of initiatives enable people to access more economic opportunities by staying competitive while supplying organizations with better talent. Likewise, as the struggle to acquire top talent continues, organizations will need to move beyond traditional recruiting methods. Data and machine-learning algorithms can be put to good use in screening potential hires to yield the best results. A dynamic talent pool has now become a prerequisite for organizations to handle diverse perspectives tactfully.

Less focus was provided perhaps on grass-roots Education. This of course remains a means for extending the equal opportunity for all as technological disruptions continue to shake up our lifestyles and occupations. But only those who are agile enough to treat disruption as an opportunity for adopting new ways are the ones who will thrive. At a time when we are facing a scarcity of talent, the ability to find order in chaos may well turn out to be the crucial differentiator that wins us the future. Such an advanced level of human creativity and cognitive intelligence is practically impossible to automate.

Those of us losing sleep after the predictions of dystopia, where robots rule the world, should remember that it's always easier to describe away the existence of current industries than imagine the appearance of entirely new ones. A host of new jobs in STEM fields such as robotics and nanotechnology will need people with the right technical expertise to maintain them. It’s up to policymakers, governments, and business leaders to make sure that people possess the right knowledge to be a useful part of the digital ecosystem.

In the absence of concrete action, our present skills crisis will cause a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. It would no longer remain possible to achieve peace and prosperity in such a world. This is the time for the next revolution; the reskilling revolution.