My dispatch from Davos: HR concerns

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Sesil Pir took part in the digital economy-, society-, education-, and gender and work-related sessions at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos

On the digital economy and society

Although we are at the very early stages of the 21st century, the fourth Industrial Revolution is being referred to as 'the greatest transformation' human civilisation has ever experienced. Why? Three main reasons:

1. Unlike any other industrial revolutions we have experienced, this time with current technological advancements we are able to go way beyond simple dimensions of ‘doing'. Technology is not just evolving the way we do business; it is evolving the way we live. Its scope, speed, and reach are unprecedented.

2. The current technologies are running on knowledge. Many states, businesses, and institutions already run on data, and many more analyse the large chunks of data they have access to, to understand how humans function physically, psychologically, and spiritually. For the first time in human history it may be that a company or entity knows more about us individually and collectively than we know about ourselves.

3. Though we have advanced tremendously as a society over the decades, we continue to struggle with immense gaps in equality, access, free will, environmental resources, and inclusion. It is also interesting to note that productivity around the world has declined despite exponential increases in technological progress and investment in innovation. For example, in the US labour productivity measured in output per hour reportedly grew an annual average of 2.4% between 1948 and 1983, then rose to 2.7% between 2000 and 2007, and later fell to 1.3% between 2007 and 2015.

On education, gender, and work

At the intersection of paid and unpaid jobs, care and career work, and leisure and non-leisure activities there is inequity – especially for women and minority groups. It is time we consider how to drive equality and inclusion across all participating groups.

In many countries we need economies to keep pace with demographic dynamics and employment investments. Young people seem to be disproportionately affected by global unemployment. With the rise of robotics we have a number of colleagues at risk of losing their jobs. It's time we ask how we assure equal and fair employment opportunities for all.

No single skillset or area of expertise is likely to enable us to sustain a long-term career in the economies of the 21st century. Our educational institutions need to reshape ways of operating and teaching to provide both in-depth subject expertise and help develop the ability for people to make inter-disciplinary connections. It's time we ask ourselves how we support re-skilling and curriculum changes during the transition period.

Though the contingent workforce is increasing across the globe, we seem to have governments lagging behind in support. In many countries there are no legitimate contractual agreements, benefits, or protections to accommodate some of the creative ways individuals are collaborating with corporations. So how do we provide equal access to our entire workforce?

There are a lot of things we don’t know yet about this ‘great transformation', and many topics deserve targeted attention. The conversation about the future of business and our work experiences seems to have just begun. Perhaps the most important thing for us is to give each other and ourselves the necessary space to care for our humanity first; because we’ll likely have a growing need for it.

Sesil Pir is founder and principal consultant of SESIL PIR Consulting

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