PwC’s Carol Stubbings — Back in Davos – One Year On: My Key Takeaways

Originally published on LinkedIn by Global Head of PwC People & Organisation and Global Relationship Partner across all Lines of Service, Carol Stubbings.

In 2019, I attended the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos for the first time – a frenetic whirl of launching our Global CEO survey, contributing on panels, hearing from amazing thinkers, and meeting with business leaders and policy makers. I shared my views in my blog last year. 

This year was the same packed agenda. So what was different? After my second Davos experience and with a week to reflect, here are my top takeaways:

Leaders taking climate seriously… and looking to turn threats into opportunities: With climate activist Greta Thunberg in attendance, all eyes were on Davos and waiting to see how business and political leaders would react. Our Global CEO Survey – launched in Davos – showed that CEOs are increasingly focused on the opportunities of investing in climate change initiatives. In 2010, only 13% of the CEOs agreed that climate change initiatives can lead to significant new product and service opportunities. In 2020, this figure has almost doubled to 25%. To make real progress, we need business to put climate into everything they do – including how they think about their workforce – and see it as an opportunity, not a threat.

A big drop in confidence among CEOs around the world: For the first time since 2012 (when we first asked the question) a majority of CEOs said they predict a decline in the rate of economic growth over the next 12 months. And only 27% of CEOs said they are “very confident” in their own organisation’s growth in the short term, down from 35% last year. But although there was a sense of pessimism going into Davos, there was also a sense of optimism at the end of the week around what can be achieved if stakeholders work together for a cohesive and sustainable world.

A shared and growing sense of urgency around the need to upskill people: As technology continues to transform the workplace, the mismatch between the skills people have and those needed in the digital world is fast becoming one of the most important problems facing our world today. And it will only get worse if it isn’t addressed. Everyone I spoke to in Davos “got it”. But the challenge now is: how do we turn the talk into action?

Here’s what I think needs to happen to move from talk to action on the upskilling agenda:

1. Transform education systems: the traditional ways of learning aren’t fit for the future. Education systems need to move away from teaching children knowledge, and toward fostering an environment where we enable them to be creative and to learn critical thinking and resilience. We also need to teach people how to work alongside digital “colleagues”. For example, as machine learning becomes more sophisticated and its ability to solve problems grows, people will need to be able to find the problems for it to tackle.

2. Invest in upskilling: companies are spending over US$3 trillion a year on technology investments[1]. But, by any measure, productivity hasn’t improved and costs haven’t fallen. Why? Because what organisations haven’t done is spend time upskilling their people to work alongside that technology. As a result, they haven’t achieved a return on investment from those investments. In addition, our latest Global CEO Survey shows there is a clear business case for investing in upskilling. Business leaders who are ahead in terms of upskilling progress are more optimistic about the economic outlook and more positive about their organisation’s growth prospects. They are also seeing positive impacts such as a stronger corporate culture, greater innovation and higher workforce productivity.

3. Empower your people: People coming into the workforce have a hunger to learn. They want feedback. They want to learn quickly. They want to know what they can do differently and better. To meet these needs, organisations must create an environment where people have ample opportunities to learn. At PwC, our approach to upskilling is people-led. It’s called ‘citizen-led innovation’ – and it starts with leading in a way that inspires people to want to boost their knowledge and skills. It’s about giving them the autonomy to apply their learning right away in their day-to-day work, so it feels meaningful and relevant.

4. Focus on wellbeing: Mental health is becoming a massive global issue, and – not surprisingly – was high on the agenda at Davos. Organisations should focus on creating environments where people are encouraged to talk about mental health, and where signs of stress are picked up and addressed. They should also use technology to ensure people feel the work they do is valuable and meaningful. All of this matters, because the reality is that mental health is just as important to people’s wellbeing as physical health.

5. Create a positive narrative: Many people are fearful about the future. In a recent PwC survey, 53% of workers said they believe automation will significantly change their job, or even make it obsolete, within the next ten years. Organisations should create a positive narrative around the future of work – one that highlights their commitment to protecting people, not jobs.

6. Reach communities too: to succeed in tackling the upskilling challenge, we all need to get behind this effort collectively. Organisations from different sectors and parts of the world need to work together to reach all parts of society: not just the existing workforce, but also sections of the population that would otherwise get left behind. In Davos, the World Economic Forum launched the Reskilling Revolution Platform, an initiative aimed at providing better jobs, education, and skills to one billion people in the next 10 years. PwC is a founding partner of this initiative. We have committed not only to upskill all of our own people, but also to work with governments and business, and to help upskill communities too. Put simply, the challenge of upskilling includes everyone – and it demands an inclusive response.

Turning talk into action is easier said than done. But at Davos, talk can spur action and change. I met several visionary leaders who were making strides in each of these areas. But we need to carry the messages of change beyond Davos and back into our organisations and communities. We’re doing this at PwC across our global network of 157 member firms, with our New world. New skills. Programme.

While in Davos, I was excited to sit down with my frequent collaborator and friend Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, to talk about upskilling and what organisations can do to upskill their employees. You can listen to it here.

#upskilling, #newworldnewskills, #wef20


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