Jobs and the Future of Work

Why skills are keeping CEOs awake at night

Employees of multinational headhunter Korn/Ferry work at the headquarters office of the company in Caracas August 3, 2015.

Technological changes mean new skill sets are needed. Image: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Sean Fleming
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Ask chief executives from anywhere in the world what keeps them awake at night, and one response you’re likely to hear is: “skills”.

Without the right competencies, innovation and customer service suffer, with 79% of global CEOs saying they’re ‘extremely’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned about the availability of the right capabilities, according to PwC’s report, Talent Trends 2019: Upskilling for a digital world.

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Competition to attract high-skilled workers is also likely to drive up labour costs.

Graph shows rise in concern about skills since 2011
Concern over skills has grown as automation has become more prevalent. Image: PwC Talent Trends Report

Among business leaders, worries like this are increasing as the spread of automation and artificial intelligence remould the working landscape.

The Internet of Things, machine learning, and other technologies are changing the face of employment. In its 2018 Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum calls on businesses to “take an active role in supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling.”

Bar chart shows the main impacts on companies from a lack of skills.
Innovation, growth, and customer experience – all at risk. Image: PwC Talent Trends Report

Hiring staff with relevant skills, but without direct industry experience, is one option to plug short-term gaps.

The PwC report finds employees favourably disposed to retraining. That attitude could be increasingly important as companies navigate multiple waves of technology-driven change.

Bar chart shows what CEOs consider are the best ways to close a skills gap.
New talent pools are appealing but reskilling is the priority. Image: PwC Talent Trends Report

Even so, “business leaders can’t protect outmoded jobs,” the report says.

As for what happens to those displaced by AI and automation, just over half of CEOs said taking care of those workers should be a government responsibility. There’s also significant variation between regions – in China, 85% of CEOs believe governments should provide a financial safety net, while in the US, only 28% expressed that view.

“CEOs must negotiate this risk-fraught workplace revolution under a watchful public eye,” the report says. “No one should underestimate the scale and difficulty of the transition that’s underway.”

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