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This is the future of work, according to experts at Davos 2022

future of work Davos 2022

The future of work was high on the agenda at Davos 2022. Image: World Economic Forum/Manuel Lope

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • The future of work, jobs and skills was a core theme of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, with 13 dedicated sessions.
  • Discussions ranged from tackling skills shortages, to the multiple benefits of investment in social infrastructure, and redesigning organizational structures altogether.
  • Here are some of the key takeaways from the week.

A digital skills shortage could slow down the green transition, while boosting investment in care work could aid the global economic recovery.

We can’t all work in the metaverse, so we need to value essential work, and invest more in care and education to enable societies to function.

Job security differs around the globe - but beyond wages, jobs need to be flexible and have purpose, to attract more women and younger people.

And perhaps we should just scrap managers altogether.

These were just some of the key takeaways from 13 sessions on the future of work, jobs and skills at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

Here’s what you need to know in-depth…

Have you read?

Social jobs can create a resilient future of work

An uncertain global economic outlook coupled with underinvestment in social infrastructure means inequality is growing, according to a new whitepaper published during Davos.

Investment in three foundational social institutions – education, healthcare and care – would re-start the engine of social mobility across economies, fill unmet demand for healthcare and childcare, increase the quality of education systems and ultimately drive growth, finds Jobs of Tomorrow: The Triple Returns of Social Jobs in the Economic Recovery.

Modelling based on the US economy showed that every dollar of investment would deliver a multiplier effect of 2.3 times.

“Social jobs create resilience and boost social mobility, preparing workers for future shocks and preparing societies for a virtuous cycle of human capital development,” says Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum.

Christy Hoffman, General Secretary, UNI Global Union, said the multiplier effect of care would help to close the gender gap, particularly in developing economies, as it allows more women to go into the labour market and care jobs tend to be female-dominated.

“We need millions and millions of more jobs in care and they need to be good jobs in terms of humanity, but also we want to close the gender gap. That's a key strategy. If we're talking about gender equality, we've got to have investment in care.”

The burden of unpaid care work largely rests on the shoulders of women, said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director, Oxfam International, so investing in care would “liberate the potential” of women.

Ageing populations in many developed countries, means demand for more careworkers, said Nicolas Schmit, the European Commission’s Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights - and it’s a challenge to find people to do essential jobs.

“It’s more than a question of pay, it’s a question of value in our society. How does society consider certain jobs, certain professions and certain educational courses.”

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Getting more women into the workforce

“Everyone knows women’s participation in the workforce is the smartest thing, we have to look at equality and the gender balance,” said Dipu Moni, Minister of Education, Bangladesh.

The number of people quitting their jobs in the US reached a 20-year high in November - the so-called Great Resignation - with many citing childcare, lack of respect and low wages as their reasons.

Deloitte’s recent Women @ Work Report 2022 found burnout and lack of flexibility were among the reasons women are more likely to be looking for a job this year than last.

Women were also disproportionately affected by the pandemic globally, as they are more likely to work in the social, hospitality and informal sectors.

Although women are more highly skilled and educated than men, they are 20% underrepresented. Employers understand they need to attract them, said Jonas Prising, Chairman and CEO of Manpower Group, sounding a note of ‘cautious optimism’:

“We may see an acceleration of the underlying trend and need for women to participate to a greater degree going forward and technology of course has a lot a lot to do with that.”

The majority of women in the Global South work in the informal sector and when lockdowns hit, they had no income, Bucher added. One solution would be to give informal workers the same rights as formal workers, to give women greater job security.

Greater flexibility would be one of the lasting legacies of the pandemic, which would enable women to participate more easily in the workforce, said Prising, but he warned that, without due attention, flexibility may disadvantage women.

“The work of care and repair that most essential workers do is like the engineering of this century,” said Hilary Cottam, Social Entrepreneur, Centre for the Fifth Social Revolution.

“As in previous technology revolutions, enlightened business understands that a new social contract is core to growth.”

future of work World Economic Forum Davos 2022
The future of work: We need greater representation of women at work Image: World Economic Forum / Mattias N

Impacts of the digital skills gap

The pandemic accelerated the shift to digital, and now the Great Resignation - or Great Re-evaluation, as Adecco Group’s CEO Alain Dehaze puts it - has heightened the skills shortage.

There needs to be a “massive reskilling of the digital economy” to meet demand and companies are not doing enough, says Aiman Ezzat, CEO of technology consultancy Capgemini SE.

And this is slowing the green transition and the transition to a digital economy.

“When we talk about electric vehicles, that’s digital, when we talk about energy transition, we are in digital, when we talk about moving to a sustainable economy, all this is driven by digitalization. It’s not just about automating processes, it’s really about creating new platforms, new businesses, which has increased demand for technologies.

“As moving to a digital economy is one of the future drivers of economic growth, we do not have enough skills, we are slowing down the transition.”

In Nigeria, where unemployment is high and 60% of the population is under 35, young people are taking advantage of ICT tools and creating jobs for themselves in the digital economy, with support from the government, said Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, the country’s Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning.

“We are seeing more jobs being created by small entrepreneurs, using IT systems… Between 2020 and 2021, 9 million news jobs were created.”

Siemens has introduced an online learning platform for upskilling, said Judith Wiese – Chief People and Sustainability Officer, Siemens AG.

“We're trying to understand what capabilities are actually needed. How much of that talent is actually to be found internally, externally? How good is the local labour market? What are some of the demographic shifts coming up? And once we know that, we're translating that into learning paths for individuals so we're trying to break down the big headline of talent scarcity and upskilling needs into real roadmaps for the different job profiles.”

Designing the future of work

Many of the jobs of the future will be rooted in the energy transition - and those economies that don’t “understand the logic of the green transition will fall behind,” said Sweden’s Minister for Finance, Mikael Damberg.

“Green industrial transformation is the most attractive thing you can offer to young people today,” said François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

Investing in social jobs have a high scope for returns in the future of work.
Investing in social jobs have a high scope for returns in the future of work.

But we also need a paradigm shift in the way organizations operate, said two of the panellists.

Only 20% of workers are engaged, which leads to less productivity and poor health, so we need to create working conditions where people can learn all the time, said Jos De Blok, Founder of pioneering Dutch healthcare organization, Buurtzorg, which has self-organizing and no management.

“We need to increase the flexibility, by letting them decide how they want to learn and contribute.”

He said top-down thinking has “created a lot of damage” to mental health: “If we change the conditions, people will be happier… and you can increase productivity by 30%.”

Companies also have to think differently about talent, said Ezzat, which requires a “complete evolution in terms of leadership approach”.

“You have to think about how do I get the talent to get the work done? Not how do I hire good people to get the work done? How do I create a talent ecosystem that includes my employees, and other potential gig workers, people who have retired, students that will come work with me on a special assignment but will never be my employees.

“The workforce has become much more fluid, attrition rates in companies will increase because people move much faster from one company to another. The new generation want to decide what their future is going to look like.

“We need to create a much more flexible, hybrid work environment that has a lot more empathy, caring for people. Less direction and telling them what to do, more enabling them.”

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