Education and Skills

We urgently need to future-proof the workforce. Here's how

Sleepwalking into a jobs and skills crisis?

Alain Dehaze
Chief Executive Officer, Adecco Group AG
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We are on the cusp of a future where technology creates immense opportunities for all. But are we ready to realize it? If we do not radically overhaul the way we prepare, develop and manage talent, we are in danger of sleepwalking into a jobs and skills crisis.

Let’s face it: our education, labour and social policy structures are out of date; they were built for another time when a “job for life” was the norm, not the exception. To respond properly to rapid change, we must reimagine the system or risk relegating millions of workers and thousands of businesses to the economic slow lane.

In the past, policy-makers had more time to prepare for the future, but the pace of change today is different. Its unrelenting, swift evolution means that 40% of skills are set to be lost every four years. Many jobs will be lost, altered or replaced with 10-15% set to disappear in the next decade.

At the same time, there is a war for talent, making it harder for businesses to compete. Our clients report that digital skills are especially scarce. Up to 756,000 jobs could go unfilled in Europe’s ICT sector by next year, according to the European Commission.

This is the kind of economic crisis that only shows its teeth when it is too late, and we cannot afford to wait. Unfortunately, no one has the complete answer. So where do we start?

We need urgent and coordinated action from governments, business and wider society – collaboration for the 21st century. Our recent Future Proofing the Workforce report shows that a change of mindset is called for. We must forget about “life-long careers” and start acting on “life-long learning”.

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This begins by reforming how citizens are educated. We need schools and colleges to focus on soft skills as well as hard skills, and with digital skills as a priority.

Teaching soft skills, such as creativity, collaboration, analytical thinking, and adaptability, will empower people to excel in areas that technology has not yet mastered and navigate uncertainty.

We recommend governments introduce individual, portable learning accounts that allow workers to maintain skills currency throughout their careers and across workplaces. Amendments to accounting and tax rules would make it easier for companies to invest in training and change its perception from a cost to an investment in long-term sustainable success.

Beyond this, we need a new social contract, one that treats all forms of work equally and supports flexibility and security. Portable, transferable social accounts, for example, would protect freelancers and platform workers as the gig economy grows.

The Adecco Group is using its influence to advocate for reform, drawing on industry expertise to understand what is coming and how best to respond. We are determined to take the lead, to work with decision-makers to ensure the age of change becomes the age of opportunity.

First, we must accept that the current system is failing society because it does not give workers and businesses the skills they need. Second, we must act in collaboration with all the crucial stakeholders, including business, workers, employers and government.

Failure to do so could be one of the great policy mistakes of our time. But, if we act now, we can deliver the fruits of the digital age for all.

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Related topics:
Education and SkillsJobs and the Future of WorkFourth Industrial Revolution
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