DAVOS, SWITZERLAND — The world is going through a seismic shift
in the make-up of its workforce and the boss of the world’s
largest staffing firm told Business Insider that the only way to
stay employed is to constantly learn.
The World Economic Forum’s benchmark “Global
Risks” report for 2017 says the biggest risk
to doing business globally is unemployment or
underemployment due to the
greater adoption of robots, automation, and artificial
However, Adecco CEO Alain Dehaze told BI that companies now need
to look beyond displacement and how people need to look
towards constantly re-educating themselves in new skills.
(This is one part of a larger interview.
The second part is published here).
Lianna Brinded: Last year, technology was
touted as being a boon for industry but also a threat to
unskilled workers’ jobs — this year WEF warns that job loss and
underemployment is the biggest threat — what sectors and where do
you see the most problems?
Alain Dehaze: Our view remains the same:
technology, through automation and artificial intelligence, is
one of the most disruptive sources of our age. It changes the way
we work and the skills we need, but it also boosts productivity
and creates new jobs.
History can help soothe some concerns, when we see that in 1900,
41% of the US workforce worked in farming. By 2000, that had sunk
to just 2%, mostly as a result of the arrival of machines. While
the developed world has shifted from agriculture to manufacturing
and then to services, the number of jobs has always climbed.
One development we’re stressing in the 2017 Global Talent
Competitiveness Index (GTCI) report is that we should look
beyond automation and replacement of lower skilled jobs.
Rapid development in areas like machine-to-machine communications
Internet of Things, coupled with the proliferation of big
data, means higher-skilled professions, such as lawyers,
journalists and accountants, are changing too. Some of their
tasks are being replaced. For lawyers we see the expansion of
automated discovery services, which allow lawyers to spend less
time sifting-and-searching and more time on value-added
activities. This means being able to take more assignment thanks
to higher productivity.
But of course this also means reskilling and changing the way
they work. In the meantime new jobs develops, especially in
healthcare and in the tech sector. Modis, The Adecco Group,
forecasts a 12% rise in demand for tech workers by 2024 in the
US, compared with projected growth of just 6.5% in all other
industries, and the World Health Organization estimates a global
health workforce shortage of 7.2 million professionals already
LB: What employment practices can help solve this problem — or is
it mainly down to government?
AD: In the big picture, I do not agree that
technology represents a “problem.” Take the prior example
regarding replacement of certain tasks in high-level professions:
it represents an opportunity for those professionals to avoid
mundane tasks that computers can do, and have more time for
things where humans out-do machines – creative and strategic
However, as the way we work changes, the transition can be rocky.
GTCI 2017 shows that countries that succeed in talent
competitiveness – Switzerland, Singapore and the Nordic
countries, for example – and have a ‘higher talent readiness for
technology’, share key common traits. One is connectedness and
collaboration among private and public partners.
Employers and governments must work together to design education
and employment policies that provide the skills needed by a 21st
It is urgent to shift from a traditional, authoritative, rote
educational approach to a project-based and experiential
approach. Specific hard skills are fundamental, but is even more
important that students ‘learn how to learn’ and focus on crucial
soft skills such as flexibility and the ability to adapt to
change. Work-based learning opportunities, such as
apprenticeships and internships, are key in this sense.
Given the rapid rate of change, the old paradigm of one-off
education followed by a career will no longer work: life-long
learning is a must, and it is up to governments and employers to
invest in training and for employees to commit to constantly
update their skill set.
LB: Where are you seeing the biggest skills gaps
at the moment?
AD:In general, the most evident gaps are in the
area of ICT, digital and computer sciences, as well as in the
engineering and healthcare sectors. However, employers also
struggle to find the people skills that are increasingly
important to business success in the 21stcentury –
communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking,
One prominent economist I spoke to said companies have to
invest to skill up their staff in order to tackle this problem of
a skills gap — are you seeing any improvement in this?
AD: Absolutely — companies’ skills
requirements are changing fast, which means they need to invest
in skilling up their staff. Many also increasingly use agency
staff and temporary workers/freelancers to plug gaps. While we
must not over-generalise – there are major differences within
countries, and between sectors and even companies within single
sectors – some countries have more of a tradition of in-work
training, like Switzerland, Singapore, Japan and the Nordics.