• Most CEOs are positive about the impact of tech on their day-to-day work.
  • There is a clear correlation between economic optimism and upskilling.
  • Although people may have fears about the future, they want to evolve.

Many of the conversations at Davos this week will focus on how we can upskill a billion people over the next ten years. But why is it necessary? And how can it be achieved?

Let me start by making two points about the current environment around us. The first is that in a world of 7.7 billion people – of which 3.3 billion are currently employed – upskilling one billion people is the beginning of a journey. In the long run, everyone will need upskilling in some form.

Second, when people are upskilled, it isn’t just the people themselves who benefit ⎯ but also businesses, the wider economy in which they operate, and society as a whole. PwC’s latest Global CEO Survey ⎯ launched in Davos ⎯ reveals a clear correlation between economic optimism, confidence about future revenues and progress in upskilling.

When asked about global growth over the next 12 months, 34% of CEOs who report being ahead in terms of upskilling progress said it will “improve”, compared to just 15% of CEOs who are at the beginning of their upskilling journey.

And 38% of CEOs who are ahead on upskilling progress are very confident in their 12-month revenue growth prospects, compared to 20% who lag behind when it comes to upskilling. The findings show that CEOs who are attacking the problem and leading with action are more confident than those who are at the beginning of their upskilling journey or have only just started.

Changing tech

The survey also finds that CEOs who have embraced the imperative of upskilling are realising the rewards through impacts such as higher workforce productivity and innovation.

CEOs with more advanced upskilling programmes cite improved engagement, innovation and ability to attract and retain talent.
CEOs rank their upskilling programmes from not at all effective to very effective.
Image: PwC

Fundamentally, what it means to work is changing. In a survey of 22,000 adults in 11 countries, 53% of respondents said they believe automation will significantly change or make their job obsolete within the next ten years.

But the majority - 61% - were positive about the impact of technology on their day-to-day work, and 77% of people said they would learn new skills now or completely retrain to improve their future employability.

Although people may have fears about the future, they want to evolve. For some, upskilling means learning how to code and leveraging and scaling technologies. For others, it’s about understanding what technology can do and how it can drive innovation.

It’s also about much more than hard skills like learning new digital tools and competencies. The soft skills—leadership, adaptability, how to translate feedback into measurable change—are what make the short-term skills training more long-lasting and transformative.

People are looking to leaders to provide a trusted path forward. Leaders need to understand the needs of employees: where they want to go, what motivates them, and what is going to enable them. They need to learn how to lead in fast-changing times, empower people and create a culture of lifelong learning where entrepreneurship will thrive.

Coming together to deliver upskilling solutions

To meet the need for upskilling, solutions will have to be developed at the local, regional and national level. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. And no single organization can do this alone. It will require strong collaboration, with a range of stakeholders — educators, government and business leaders — working together, each playing a role.

Business leaders will need to rethink jobs, protect people and work with others to pool resources, ideas and investments.

Government leaders and policymakers must ensure that all citizens have the knowledge needed to participate in the digital economy, and that parts of the population aren’t left behind. They also need to make sure that they themselves have the ability to lead the discussion on the future of technology and policy.

And educators and academic institutions will need to digitally transform themselves, and at the same time provide services that are geared to future skills needs.

Reaching all parts of society

Many of the people who need upskilling the most are the ones who have the least access to it. To reach a billion people ⎯ and hopefully more ⎯ by 2025, we should focus collectively on three parts of the population:

1. The existing workforce: There is a large, mature and ageing workforce around the world that will be disrupted by technology and automation over the next 10 years. These people have commitments such as families, mortgages and debt ⎯ and we need to find a way to help them upskill and find other jobs. A great example of efforts to do this is the Luxembourg Digital Skills Bridge project, a government-led initiative that brings together business, trade unions and training providers to deliver a comprehensive national solution for developing workforce skills.

2. The next generation: While the global population is ageing, the average age in many countries is under 20. Across these “younger” countries, millions of young people will join the workforce every year for the next decade, and it is vital that they’re equipped with the skills they’ll need to get jobs ⎯ something that even a university degree can’t necessarily guarantee. As part of our New world. New skills. programme, PwC will be launching a collaboration with UNICEF to upskill youth and help them gain the knowledge and skills they need to understand and seek employment in the digital world, particularly in communities and regions where there is an acute need.

3. Those who are currently excluded: We need to upskill those who are at risk of being left behind. This includes the older generation who may now have retired and ⎯ without additional skills ⎯ may find it hard to access services or information in a digital world. It also includes people who are currently out of the workforce and have skills that are becoming increasingly outdated.