• COVID-19 is making it more difficult for everyone to obtain decent work and education – especially marginalized and vulnerable populations.
  • The Davos Agenda will focus on solutions to ensure the future of work and societal disruption are sustainable and inclusive.
  • To build back better, we must close the skills gap, make workplaces more inclusive and prioritize the health and well-being of workers.

The events of the past year have disrupted work, education and society.

From 25-29 January 2021, The Davos Agenda will bring global leaders together to discuss these challenges and the solutions needed to drive recovery and ensure that society and the future of work are sustainable and inclusive.

On the plus side, the pandemic has accelerated trends that have been a long time coming: digitization of workplaces and the platform economy, the expansion of remote and flexible work, and virtual education.

However: “for the first time in recent years, job creation is starting to lag behind job destruction – and this factor is poised to affect disadvantaged workers with particular ferocity,” according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020.

Unemployment rate in the United States, seasonally adjusted, 1967-2020
Unemployment has soared during the pandemic.
Image: World Economic Forum

The “global economic recession is deepening existing inequalities across global labour markets and reversing the gains in employment made since the Global Financial Crisis of a decade ago,” wrote the Forum’s Vesselina Stefanova Ratcheva and Guillaume Hingel with the launch of the report. And it’s hitting women, the poor, the LGBTQI+ community and informal workers especially hard. Meanwhile, more than 90% of students worldwide have been affected by school closures – and the most vulnerable, including students with disabilities and those without computers or internet access for remote learning, will suffer the most.

Unemployment rate in the United States by educational attainment, 1967-2020
The pandemic is deepening inequities, especially when it comes to education and work.
Image: World Economic Forum

“The current moment provides an opportunity for leaders in business, government, and public policy to focus common efforts on improving the access and delivery of reskilling and upskilling, motivating redeployment and reemployment, as well as signalling the market value of learning that can be delivered through education technology at scale,” the Forum report explained.

Where do we go from here?

Building back better must ensure society and the future of work are sustainable and inclusive – here's how.

1. Close the skills gap

Launched at the Forum’s Annual Meeting in January 2020 in Davos, the Reskilling Revolution Platform aims to provide better jobs, education and skills to 1 billion people over the next 10 years to ensure they can access the jobs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The initiative has reskilled 50 million people so far.

Now, reskilling is even more urgent. “The ongoing disruption to labour markets from the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been further complicated – and in some cases accelerated – by the onset of the pandemic-related recession of 2020,” said the Future of Jobs Report 2020.

Perceived skills and skills groups with growing demand by 2025 - Future of Jobs 2020
These are the skills that will be most in demand by 2025.
Image: World Economic Forum

The Forum’s Closing the Skills Gap Accelerators focus on four key areas: lifelong learning and upskilling, proactive redeployment and re-employment, innovative skills funding models, and skills anticipation and job market insight.

Specific tools needed to close the gap include universal access to connectivity and devices, skills-based credentials and certifications, building micro-credentials and widespread access to hands-on learning, argued Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, and Shireen Yacoub, CEO of Edraak.

2. Make workplaces more inclusive

“For too long, diversity and inclusion has been presented as a challenge to be ‘solved’,” explained Forum Global Shaper George Burton of the Edinburgh Hub.

“Looking beyond the doom and gloom, we can envisage a world in which diversity is the solution to the world's most pressing problems – from climate change to COVID-19,” Burton added.

In May 2020, the killing of George Floyd inspired companies around the world to support the Black Lives Matter movement and take action to end systemic racism. In addition to supporting employees and speaking out against injustice, companies can seize this moment to address disparities in talent sourcing and selection, improve benchmarking and cultivate a culture of inclusivity, as a recent Forum toolkit explained.

A new World Economic Forum coalition, Partnering for Racial Justice in Business, brings together 48 multinational companies to accelerate racial justice in business.

Inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s good for the economy and for business. Open For Business, a coalition of companies advancing LGBTQI+ equality, shows a strong positive correlation between a country’s acceptance of LGBTQI+ people and the resilience of its economy. And for businesses, a “disability-inclusive business strategy” leads to 28% higher revenue and 30% higher profit margins.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum's work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

3. Prioritize health and well-being

“The disruptions created by the pandemic – such as the large-scale shift to remote working – have demanded new approaches to the employee experience, engagement and motivation, from the onboarding of new talent onward,” explained Forum white paper "Resetting the Future of Work Agenda: Disruption and Renewal in a Post-COVID World".

The pandemic has accelerated some improvements. “According to one study, before COVID-19, only half of workers globally said their company mostly cared or cared a great deal about employee well-being. During the crisis, by contrast, 80% of employees in the United States felt that their leaders had acted proactively to protect their health and safety, and 78% thought that their organization had responded to the crisis appropriately,” the white paper continued.

“The challenge now will be how to maintain this level of support and engagement as the pandemic continues.”

Five imperatives for resetting the future of work agenda
Here's how we reset the future of work agenda
Image: World Economic Forum

What to watch during Davos Agenda

From 25-29 January, join us for special addresses, leadership panels and impact sessions that will address many of the challenges discussed above, including:

  • Placing Gender Parity at the Heart of Recovery, Monday 25 January 12:00 - 13:00 and 15:30 - 16:30
  • Delivering the Reskilling Revolution, Monday 25 January 15:30 - 16:30
  • Prioritizing Workplace Mental Health, Monday 25 January 19:30 - 20:00
  • Skilling the Global Workforce, Thursday 28 January 09:15 - 10:00

You can watch the livestreamed sessions here.