4 Workforce-Related Takeaways From Davos

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Feb 1, 2018

I just adore the annual flood of knowledge that comes out of Davos, Switzerland, compliments of the World Economic Forum. It serves as a very small window into the minds of the world’s richest, and sometimes smartest minds in the world.

Issues like climate change, healthcare, and education are typically highlighted, as well as workforce issues. Here’s a breakdown of some of the issue discussed that most affect the world of work.

Women Are Most at Risk

According to a report released at Davos, women are more likely than men to be knocked out of their jobs thanks to automation. Over an eight-year period, women will find half as many employment opportunities unless, the report says, there’s a new effort to retrain them. Currently, 57 percent of the 1.4 million jobs in the U.S. destined to be disrupted by tech through 2026 are held by women, including about 164,000 at-risk female secretaries and administrative assistants.

According to the research, this future would impact lower-paying jobs often held by women or less-educated workers. Additionally, the World Economic Forum estimates it will take a century for female workers to reach gender parity in the workplace, almost 20 years longer than was forecasted just a year ago.

AI May Not Be the Job Killer We Fear

Maybe all this panic around robots taking all our jobs is a bit overblown. Bill McDermott, chief executive of SAP, said the future of work was one of “augmented humanity” at Davos. “We should be optimistic,” he added. “We see augmented humanity as the opportunity. It’s there to enrich our lives, not take anything away from us.”

Mark Weinberger, chief executive of EY, added in a CNBC interview, “I do agree that in the long-term everything’s going to be great … but there’s a lot of disruption that’s going to happen as we get from point A to point B … If you think of people in a factory, at one point they had to be moving boxes around; now they have to operate robots.”

Ulrich Spiesshofer, the chief executive of ABB mentioned that countries with a high “robot density,” such as Germany, Japan, and South Korea have some of the lowest unemployment rates. “So it’s not about technology replacing people, it’s about technology augmenting people and creating wealth and prosperity,” he said.

Governments Are Really, Really Nervous

The digital revolution continues to make workers nervous, and that will continue to make politicians and governments equally nervous for the foreseeable future. And there’s a significant skills gap at the heart of these jitter.

“In every technology company, there’s a huge shortfall of skills,” said Davos attendee C Vijayakumar, president and CEO of HCL Technologies, a global IT services company. “There are probably a million jobs in the technology sector which are not getting filled with the right level of talent.”

As a result, people are feeling irrelevant, which breeds hopelessness, and governments are feeling the pressure. Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of California-Berkeley who studied the election of Donald Trump the situation of blue-collar workers who voted for him said, “It’s not that they love him, but they are desperate. For them, nobody else seemed to recognize their situation of decline.”

Continually reinventing oneself was at the heart of this issue, and must be addressed if a solution is to be found for people as they go through life. “The big question is whether people will be able to reinvent themselves to fill those jobs,” said Yuval Noah Harari, history professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of international bestsellers such as “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. “And they will have to reinvent themselves every 10 years, because the automation revolution will not be a one-time affair.” A constant “cascade of ever bigger revolutions and disruptions” is the most likely scenario, he added.

Governments are feeling increasing pressure to help people navigate this uncertain, more volatile future of work.

Large Corporations Need an Image Overhaul

Wages have remained stagnant over the past decade while corporations have gotten richer and richer, which has created a ticking time bomb. “You get the feeling that they are cut off in their compound from what people on the outside are feeling,” said John McDonnell, UK shadow chancellor, in an interview with The Guardian. “There is an ecstatic reaction to a turn in the economic cycle that was inevitable. They don’t understand the deep alienation.”

“Davos is what I expected. It embodies the criticisms I have made of it in the past. I don’t think the people here have any comprehension of the contempt in which they are held,” he said. “Ten years after the crash, after 10 years of austerity and 10 years of paying their taxes and seeing public services cut, people have had enough.”

This impacts the future of recruitment because global employers, the ones hoping to make themselves attractive to a growing number of millennial manager and Gen Z entry-level workers, are viewed with an increasing sense of contempt. As a result, it’s no surprise we’re seeing more and more companies give back to employees in the form of bonuses and increased salaries, conveniently saying recent tax cuts are at the heart of their generosity.

In short, uncertainty rules the day. Changes in technology are sure to impact how human beings work, but right now, no one really knows the degrees to which things will change. In a sea of uncertainty, perhaps the smartypants at Davos give us the best guesses at what the future looks like.

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