Reskilling and workplace sexual harassment emerged as key talking points at the WEF Annual Meeting this year.
Last Friday (26 January), the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Annual Meeting at Davos concluded, finished off with a speech from 45th US president Donald Trump, which was interesting, to say the least.
Everything from ‘big tech’ to bitcoin was considered, but what can we take away from the annual meeting from a career-oriented perspective?
1. Sexual harassment dominates gender discussions
Davos has consistently engaged gender issues but, for the last few years, the discussion has revolved around gender ‘parity’.
This year, however, the conversation was dominated by the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, which demonstrates the massive impact of the likes of the #MeToo movement.
There were two separate panels addressing the issue of sexual harassment, one which approached its links to sexual violence as a whole, and one which discussed how educating men will create safer and less patriarchal environments for women.
2. ‘Automation is here’
Arli Russell Hochschild, a sociologist and academic at UC Berkeley, didn’t equivocate at the Wednesday panel ‘Putting Jobs Out of Work’: “I think we’re facing a crisis we aren’t talking about … we need continuing education [in response to automation].”
A panel consisting of human behaviour experts, interdisciplinary artists and those working in the tech sector mused about how automation will affect not only the economy but our societal concept of what ‘work’ is.
While Hoschchild feared that the possible economic fallout from automation would be erroneously attributed to already marginalised parties, like “blacks and immigrants”, CEO of HCL technologies C Vijayakumar expressed doubt that automation will decimate the job market, citing the skills shortage within the tech industry and the number of jobs that are available right now in tech. “I don’t think the wolf will come,” he stated plainly, alluding to classic Aesop fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Dartmouth professor and interdisciplinary artist Mary Flanagan posited that automation would force corporations and individuals alike to rethink formats of work and to regroup organisations in ways that will be better suited to in-demand skills of the future.
Even experts in their field can only speculate about the future, ultimately, but the consensus among the panel was that learning new skills and mitigating potential social consequences of how automation will restructure the economy will both be necessary to weather the approaching storm of automation.
3. Reskilling will be vital going forward
‘Reskilling’ was probably one of the most commonly used words at Davos this year, and with good reason. It’s the key to stemming possible economic ramifications of automation, as well as the key to addressing skills shortages in the global market.
Towards a Reskilling Revolution: The Future of Jobs was published on the first day of the Annual Meeting, a comprehensive guide to what kind of jobs could fall into obsolescence and how workers can most efficiently reskill to suit the shifting needs of the economy and keep their jobs.
Accenture launched its own report at the WEF Annual Meeting, Reworking the Revolution, which estimates that AI could boost business revenues by 38pc in the next five years if business leaders “reimagine the nature of work today”.
The report ranked the consumer goods industry (51pc) and health industry (49pc) as some of the biggest revenue winners in the AI revolution. It warned that employers are lagging behind in the level of investment they’re making in training and reskilling programmes, stating that only 3pc of leaders intend to ‘significantly increase’ their spending in this area over the coming years.
In response, Accenture put forward a ‘New Skilling’ framework to provide guidance.
4. Corporations are being ‘held in contempt’
UK shadow chancellor John McDonnell clearly wasn’t feeling shy at this year’s event, where he very plainly stated that the average voter now holds large corporations “in contempt” after suffering a decade of severe austerity.
The “industrial-scale tax avoidance” that has gone on while public services were cut has sown a seed of discontent that has blossomed amid news that the economy has experienced an uptick. While the average person may not really be feeling much of a difference, these corporations have had an “ecstatic reaction’, which is both quite tone deaf and, in McDonnell’s words, “inevitable”.
As companies prepare to make themselves as attractive as possible to the new generation of workers, so they can ensure they’re nabbing the best talent available, it may be worth considering that the people who propel companies to success are probably the same ones who felt the effect of budget cuts.