Shaken or Stirred? The Workforce Dynamics of Emerging Economies

Sep 04, 2018

The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different - Peter Drucker

Shaken by Transformation

History teaches us that the nations who have been industrious and focused on development are the ones who paved the way for innovation. It is the age old ‘getting ahead or left behind’ story – but it doesn’t have to be. Governments and policymakers today stand at the threshold of transformation, and their decisions will vastly impact the global workforce in the decades to come. But in order to know where the global workforce is going, you must know where it has been. What is it that shook the foundations of the modern global workforce?

Policymakers and economists can see the global workforce demand-supply imbalance growing. Many would likely blame market forces. The McKinsey Global Institute has already predicted the global workforce to reach 3.5 billion by 2030. This sounds like a large number, but this figure is likely to be a deficit of 13% over the need from employers. Developing economies are likely to see a deficit of 15% of the secondary education level workers in the same time frame, whereas the shortage of low-skilled workers in these economies are expected to be far more severe – in the range of 90-95 million workers. Staying atop an eternally ebbing tide of change is simply not enough. Governments and policymakers are required to ensure the unified development of a nation’s talent pool as an ongoing process – not just as a set of sporadic strategies aimed at staving off another crisis.

Harvey Firestone said, “the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership”. The world has changed since then. The Digital Transformation wave has affected thousands of jobs worldwide and there seems to be no end in sight. And then there are intelligent machines. In scenes reminiscent of dystopian science fiction novels, nations and their governments are inundated with new statistics from the popular media every other day. Each one more nerve wracking than its predecessor. Some have gone so far as to claim that 47% of the global workforce will be replaced by automation, in less than two decades. Take a moment to ponder that – almost half of the world’s workers rendered useless in less than twenty years -- within your lifetime!

Juxtaposed with this would be the rapidly developing ‘gig’ economy and the development of the fluid workforce in developed nations, with an equally massive shortage of skills among the populace in Northern America and Europe.

Stirred into Action

All is not lost, however, and some of the world’s largest aid bodies are pulling out all stops to ensure workforce development and vocational certifications provide large-scale, full-time employability in emerging economies. Programs like the World Bank’s Systems Approach for Better Educational Results in Workforce Development (SABER WFD) have already benefitted almost 30 countries according to the latest data. Global conglomerate Samsung is building up a network of Technical Institutes since 2011, with a special focus on Africa. Honeywell’s Initiative for Science and Engineering is another example, with university partnerships in regions such as China, India and Mexico. McKinsey Global Institute also reports that by 2030, South Asian and African economies are geared up to provide nearly 60% of the world’s new workforce. However, the onus is clearly on governments and policymakers to facilitate workforce certifications and accelerate the workforce development process for the workers of tomorrow. Whether they can swing the dynamics in their favor and leverage the growing trend of rapid employability certifications, is going to be very closely watched.

Progress, it seems, is the only permanence. Are the decision makers listening?

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