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Social Mobility: Reskilling the Next Billion

Davos, Switzerland – With the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and increasing automation in the workplace, attention is now turning to the tricky question of skills in terms of machines replacing people, as well as up-and reskilling employees.

At a session at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, members of the audience were asked to vote on two questions:

  • Do you think your current skills will last your full career?
  • Whose responsibility is it to help reskill the work force?

The answer to the first was an overwhelming no, while more than 80 percent of the audience said a collaborative effort was required to reskill employees.

Addressing the audience, Co-Chief Executive Officer at SAP, Jennifer Morgan, said that when the digital revolution started, no-one was talking about people. The pendulum has shifted, and now the focus is on people. She explained that the automation of certain processes such as procurement means that people can be reskilled to spend more time on qualitative aspects.

Companies that already have incredible training programmes, and rotate graduates through various fields of specialty, thus guaranteeing employment, can expand this type of offering to people who are not just straight out of university, said Morgan.

Morgan pointed out that there are lessons from history that can be leveraged to assist with the task of reskilling the workforce, such as in the United States, where war veterans have been reskilled to reenter the economy. She added that the lesson learnt was how already-available skills can be applied in new ways.

Robert E. Moritz, Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), said the impetus behind the company’s decision to spend billions reskilling all its employees, across the globe, was when it became painfully obvious that business has a duty to do something about the need to reskill.

Moritz said PwC asked itself two questions before arriving at this result:

  • Do you truly believe the world will be better tomorrow with 4IR?
  • Do you believe business has a responsibility to serve stakeholders not just shareholders?

Doing good and making profits go hand-in-hand, said Moritz. He explained that employees are the change agents of the organisation, and they need to have tools, technology, information, and the skills to ensure that companies are sustainable. It’s not about eliminating jobs, but changing them, he added.

PwC is also looking at ways in which it can share its lessons with governments and partner with organisations such as the United Nations Children's Fund.

Muriel Pénicaud, French Minister of Labour, explained that France has decided to invest in skills and complement what business is doing. The country is investing €15 billion over the next five years in recognition of the fact that companies reskilling staff is not sufficient in terms of the speed with which new skills are needed, and the volume of training that will need to be done.

Pénicaud explained that the government, which had been known for its inflexible labour laws, has set up an app, which 25 million French people have signed up to use in just two months. Each citizen receives credits which they can use to pay for training, she said.

So far, France is seeing demand for driving lessons, languages (especially English), computing, and skills assessments.

Moritz added that it was vital that individuals accepted responsibility for reskilling, as this was not limited to governments and business. He added that most people want to be reskilled.

“People realise they won’t have the same job throughout their career, so they want to evolve. There is a need to empower everyone, as it will be a business and social disaster if some people are left behind,” said Pénicaud.