Jobs and the Future of Work

Davos 2014 – what is on and off the radar screen?

Lynda Gratton
Professor of Management Practice, London Business School
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One of the interesting aspects of attending and blogging about Davos each year is that I can look back and reflect on my impressions of previous years. For example, looking back at my Davos 2012 blog, I wrote: “The pervading theme this year is of extraordinary change and challenge: ‘we don’t have a moment to lose’; ‘we have to do things differently’; ‘this is a unique moment in history’; ‘there is a crisis of consent’ are phrases I’ve heard from academics, CEOs and politicians.”

By Davos 2013, I wrote of some change: “Looking back to the 2012 Davos, the talk was all about the final playing out of the financial crisis and the deep concerns about the break up of the Eurozone. Just a year later, and the mood seemed more optimistic, though with a strong undercurrent of realism”.

Looking forward to Davos 2014, what can we expect? The Eurozone has now stabilised and the prospects for a less turbulent world are emerging. But this is also a world that FT Editor Lionel Barber in his pre-Davos briefing described as likely to experience ‘terminally tepid growth’. It is a world of low growth and low inflation. In light of these facts, here is what I think will be on (and off) the radar screen at Davos 2014:

On the radar screen:

The rise of nationalism

A crisis is in a sense a great way of diverting attention. Now that the realities of ‘terminally tepid growth’ are beginning to be apparent, many people across the world – and in particular the developed world – do not like what they see. Economies may be healthier, but people are unhappy. And so we are already seeing issues of identity, atavistic politics, and the emergence of fringe populist parties. Those gathered at Davos will be concerned that this will destabilise labour and capital flows and impact on economic recovery.

The misery of youth unemployment

Last year, I saw youth unemployment as one of the major emerging themes at Davos, and I think the debate will continue in 2014. Youth unemployment continues to be a structural issue that is particularly damaging in the fragile economies of Africa and the Middle East. What makes this worse is the ever widening gap between the needs of the work place and the education system. Last year at Davos many of us were entranced by a session in which a young Pakistani girl talked about the incredible progress she had made by using an on-line learning module created by professors at Stanford University. As fascinating as her story was, it’s clear that her experience is the exception rather than the norm. For the vast majority of young people the promises of low cost education and flexible labor markets are yet to be delivered.

Off the radar screen:

After the crash and the crisis it is remarkable how quickly the old systems are re-emerging – and as a result some of the challenges we thought might begin to be solved through disruption, seem instead to be moving off the radar screen:

Climate change

Right now what is emerging is a dissipation of political will, for example shale gas has brought the prospect of cheaper energy and disincentivised the investment in renewable energy sources. Governments and corporations alike are still finding it difficult to tackle global problems like climate change which involve multiple stakeholders and there is a growing realization that we don’t yet have the requisite global infrastructure – so I expect the debate about climate change to be pushed onto the back burner.

Gender parity

As any visitor to Davos will notice, women participants make up a tiny proportion of those who attend. Next week at Davos I will be chairing one of the workshops on the subject of diversity, but I don’t expect much to happen in gender diversity in 2014. The glacial movement of women assuming senior positions is surprising and disappointing to those who expected more. As always I expect there to be talk of quotas and much debate about the Norwegian experience. But I don’t expect to see much action.

Lynda Gratton is Professor of Management Practice at London Business School and is participating at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos-Klosters.

Image: People wait to enter a government-run employment office in Madrid. REUTERS/Susana Vera

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