DAVOS, SWITZERLAND — The world is going through a seismic shift in the make-up of its workforce and the boss of the world’s largest staffing firm told Business Insider that the only way to stay employed is to constantly learn.
The World Economic Forum’s benchmark “Global Risks” report for 2017 says the biggest risk to doing business globally is unemployment or underemployment due to the greater adoption of robots, automation, and artificial intelligence.
However, Adecco CEO Alain Dehaze told BI that companies now need to look beyond displacement and how people need to look towards constantly re-educating themselves in new skills.
(This is one part of a larger interview. The second part is published here).
Lianna Brinded: Last year, technology was touted as being a boon for industry but also a threat to unskilled workers’ jobs — this year WEF warns that job loss and underemployment is the biggest threat — what sectors and where do you see the most problems?
Alain Dehaze: Our view remains the same: technology, through automation and artificial intelligence, is one of the most disruptive sources of our age. It changes the way we work and the skills we need, but it also boosts productivity and creates new jobs.
History can help soothe some concerns, when we see that in 1900, 41% of the US workforce worked in farming. By 2000, that had sunk to just 2%, mostly as a result of the arrival of machines. While the developed world has shifted from agriculture to manufacturing and then to services, the number of jobs has always climbed.
One development we’re stressing in the 2017 Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI) report is that we should look beyond automation and replacement of lower skilled jobs.
Rapid development in areas like machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things, coupled with the proliferation of big data, means higher-skilled professions, such as lawyers, journalists and accountants, are changing too. Some of their tasks are being replaced. For lawyers we see the expansion of automated discovery services, which allow lawyers to spend less time sifting-and-searching and more time on value-added activities. This means being able to take more assignment thanks to higher productivity.
But of course this also means reskilling and changing the way they work. In the meantime new jobs develops, especially in healthcare and in the tech sector. Modis, The Adecco Group, forecasts a 12% rise in demand for tech workers by 2024 in the US, compared with projected growth of just 6.5% in all other industries, and the World Health Organisation estimates a global health workforce shortage of 7.2 million professionals already today .
LB: What employment practices can help solve this problem — or is it mainly down to government?
AD: In the big picture, I do not agree that technology represents a “problem.” Take the prior example regarding replacement of certain tasks in high-level professions: it represents an opportunity for those professionals to avoid mundane tasks that computers can do, and have more time for things where humans out-do machines — creative and strategic thinking.
However, as the way we work changes, the transition can be rocky. GTCI 2017 shows that countries that succeed in talent competitiveness — Switzerland, Singapore and the Nordic countries, for example – and have a ‘higher talent readiness for technology’, share key common traits. One is connectedness and collaboration among private and public partners.
Employers and governments must work together to design education and employment policies that provide the skills needed by a 21st century workforce.
It is urgent to shift from a traditional, authoritative, rote educational approach to a project-based and experiential approach. Specific hard skills are fundamental, but is even more important that students ‘learn how to learn’ and focus on crucial soft skills such as flexibility and the ability to adapt to change. Work-based learning opportunities, such as apprenticeships and internships, are key in this sense.
Given the rapid rate of change, the old paradigm of one-off education followed by a career will no longer work: life-long learning is a must, and it is up to governments and employers to invest in training and for employees to commit to constantly update their skill set.
LB: Where are you seeing the biggest skills gaps at the moment?
AD:In general, the most evident gaps are in the area of ICT, digital and computer sciences, as well as in the engineering and healthcare sectors. However, employers also struggle to find the people skills that are increasingly important to business success in the 21stcentury — communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking, in particular.
LB: One prominent economist I spoke to said companies have to invest to skill up their staff in order to tackle this problem of a skills gap — are you seeing any improvement in this?
AD: Absolutely — companies’ skills requirements are changing fast, which means they need to invest in skilling up their staff. Many also increasingly use agency staff and temporary workers/freelancers to plug gaps. While we must not over-generalise — there are major differences within countries, and between sectors and even companies within single sectors — some countries have more of a tradition of in-work training, like Switzerland, Singapore, Japan and the Nordics.