Five Insights From Davos on the Future of Work

At the recent gathering of the World Economic Forum, re-skilling and flexible work emerged as key components of the future of work.

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In the 10 years since I launched the Future of Work Consortium, the topic has become increasingly important to the agenda at Davos, the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. During that time, we have gained clarity about some aspects of the future of work (for instance, that technology will have an impact on tasks, not jobs), become more optimistic about others (for instance, that there will be relentless job creation), and have grown certainly more fearful about the significance of growing threats (for instance, the impact of mid-level job destruction on the rise of “popularism.”)

This year, as a steward of the World Economic Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Education, Gender and Work, I attended council meetings and stopped by many other presentations and panels on this topic. Here are my five big insights about the future of work from Davos 2019:

1. We’re in the middle of a major transition. I think we are only just beginning to realize the scale of the transition taking place right now — simply put, most people around the world will need to upskill and re-skill. As one person remarked, “It could be an ugly transition.” Another reminded us that in a recent survey in Asia, more than 40% of respondents were concerned about the impact of technology on their jobs. People spoke of the need to shorten pathways to new skills and for leaders to create a positive narrative for workers. But beneath this sentiment was a real fear of complacency — and a feeling that it is hard to create the sense of urgency that will be required to make such a colossal shift.

2. It is vital that we create fast upskilling and re-skilling. There is no doubt that skills are the currency of the labor market. Yet right now, as a labor economist pointed out, there are mismatches in needs and capabilities, as shown in a recent CEO survey that reported that many CEOs were concerned about the lack of available skills. In a panel on education, people pointed to the disconnect between what business wants and what education is creating, in part caused by a lack of understanding and dialogue between these two entities.

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