For one week a year, Davos is Switzerland is flooded with 2,500 of the most important and influential people from more than 100 countries.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting is basically an opportunity for the power brokers of the world to set the agenda.
So as you can imagine, apart from it being used as a platform for political and business leaders to voice their views — the private lunches, dinners, and parties are sometimes considered to be where the real discussion happens.
Earlier this week, the chairmen of some of the world’s biggest companies had their annual get together — a chat over food, drinks and what causes them the most concern. After all, they have the responsibility of heading up firms that employ millions of people combined.
Deloitte, for example, has a global workforce of over 250,000 people. Its global chairman, David Cruickshank, told Business Insider that while he and a number of chairmen were discussing WEF’s theme of “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” one of the biggest issues that concerns them is how technological advances will reduce the opportunities for the unskilled workers.
“The chairman’s group all discussed how the tech revolution could really reduce the opportunities for unskilled workers because the third industrial revolution — the internet — has already hollowed out lots of the workforce,” said Cruickshank.
“There’s a real risk of leaving a large group of people behind. But it’s not just unskilled workers from automation, you just look at industries that have boomed from the last revolution. Look at your profession for example [referencing journalism to Business Insider]. Look at what has happened to print journalism.”
WEF said in its report, entitled “The Future of Jobs,” which was published on Monday, that 7.1 million jobs could be lost through redundancy, automation, or disintermediation because of technology while the creation of 2.1 million new jobs, mainly in more specialised areas such as computing, maths, architecture, and engineering, could partially offset some of the losses.
Investment bank UBS also published a white paper for WEF, entitled “Extreme automation and connectivity: The global, regional, and investment implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” which specified how greater automation and use of technology will kill off lots of human jobs and therefore create greater economic inequality.
It warned that automation threatens lower-skilled (and usually lower paid) workers’ jobs meaning that this could cause heightened political tensions due to “increasing economic inequality.“
Meanwhile, WEF selected a 28-year-old, Alvin Carpio, from one of the poorest parts of London to come to Davos to raise awareness about poverty and income equality.
It’s clearly a huge and very real topic and the chairmen of the world’s largest companies know that they will be looked at for answers.
“Nobody wants to hold back the development of artificial intelligence or other technological developments but there is a risk that some [work] groups could be left behind,” said Cruickshank.
“It all comes down to how we skill-up or reskill the workforce but there is a limit to what the governments around the world can do.We are beyond the stage to call the government to fix everything. Companies need to collaborate with the government and with entrepreneurs to not leave these sector of workers landing high and dry.”
This would require great investment from companies and we asked, even though companies may be saying the right things, that tech development replaces a lot of jobs and keeps costs low, so how likely is it that firms will reinvest that saving into a company and not into profits.
“The really successful corporates out there understand how to keep productivity levels high as a result of artificial intelligence and technology while also making sure [those savings] translate into good salaries too,” he said.
“It’s all about skilling the workforce. You look at what happened with the third industrial revolution. There were job losses but then the welfare of mankind dramatically improved. The number of people that are poor in the world is much lower than it’s ever been. I’m an optimist and there’s evidence all over history about how mankind will adapt.”