Addressing the global skills crisis

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Many countries are experiencing skills shortages, but there are options for retraining through joint-agency efforts

In a world where multilateralism, an alliance of multiple countries pursuing a common goal, is being challenged, economies are beginning to turn in on themselves.

Companies less able to chase new markets instead focus on how to squeeze more from less. Governments are therefore turning away from foreign policy to contend with the problem of falling productivity, resulting in renewed focus on human capital and the systems that enable it to grow and reach its potential.

These systems do not appear to be working. According to the OECD half of employers globally report difficulties in filling a variety of roles, while a third of the global labour force (more than a billion people) has the wrong skills needed for their particular jobs.The estimated annual economic losses arising from the skills gap are estimated at more than $5 trillion globally.

This has an impact on millions of real people because educational and training systems are not fit for purpose. In South Asia, more than half of all young people will not have the necessary skills for employment in 2030, and in America there are currently more job openings than unemployed people.

I see three reasons for this.

First, too many people are being trained to do the wrong jobs. In Europe and America many people study to be accountants or work in the media, where there is less demand compared with the need for nurses, plumbers, builders, doctors and engineers.

As a result, these countries benefit from immigration because these jobs are then taken by immigrants, who often spend a lot of money on their education only to leave their home countries bereft of skilled workers.

This creates a disproportionate development of supply and demand in the labour market and skills imbalances every bit as damaging as trade imbalances.

Second, in many countries there has been a widely-reported decline in interest in STEM education despite the demand from employers in all sectors. Many perceive STEM education as too expensive or too difficult and not enough is being done by governments to encourage people to take on these challenging subjects.

In South Korea, for example, the system is under strain because of the armed forces' new drive to significantly reduce exemptions for compulsory military duty for science and engineering students amid high tension with North Korea.

Finally, training is not keeping pace with the changing demands of employers, brought about by digital disruption. The way stores are shutting down on the British high street because of the popularity of online shopping has seen 85,000 retail jobs lost over the past year.

Furthermore, one in five retail jobs are expected to be replaced by artificial intelligence or automation within five years. Robots, driverless cars and other forms of automation mean millions of jobs in every sector will simply not be necessary. In a world of rapid change everyone has to learn to be more adaptable.

We employ huge numbers of people in many different countries so these issues matter greatly to us. We commissioned a study that identified the main challenges in 30 countries, and also identified solutions.

Some of these are very promising. In Denmark, the Flexicurity system acts as a safety net in the labour market for whenever an employee is made redundant: the worker is offered free retraining courses at a local technical college.

In the US, an initiative called ‘RETAIN’ (Regional Talent Innovation Networks) brings together otherwise competing tech companies to jointly fund targeted training and retraining programmes to fill labour gaps.

Both these approaches are systemic in nature, but driven by a desire to help people retrain and upskill. They define what we call a human-centric approach to human resources. In the report we found that if these were applied there would be an increase in GDP of as much as 2% depending on the country.

While people are so very individual and different there are singular approaches that succeed in different countries. This is why we encourage governments and companies to work together to help build a more fluid global workforce ready and equipped to meet the challenges our planet faces in the years to come.

Tatyana Terentyeva is chief HR officer at Rosatom

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