Davos 2023 roundup: HR took central role at the World Economic Forum

The central role HR had at Davos 2023 shows the function is under increased pressure to help solve global social, political and climate issues, say HR experts.

Last week’s annual World Economic Forum (WEF) conference of business and political leaders saw workforce and employment used as a steering topic at the five-day event.

Among keynotes from Microsoft’s CEO, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and German chancellor Olaf Scholz, there were sessions on AI’s impact on jobs, pay inequality and corporate purpose.

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Saadia Zahidi, managing director at the WEF, explained that this is because attention to, and investment in, HR initiatives is critical in managing outcomes in the face of global challenges.

At the opening of the conference, she said: “The human capital agenda, without adequate investments in skilling and education, means no opportunities can play out nor will we have societal resilience for future shocks.”

As the programme focused on the protection and improved quality of jobs; the delivery of living wages and skills and diversity, equity and inclusion, Gethin Nadin, CIO at Benefex, said it reflected a recalibration of what business is expected to deliver on.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “What Davos is showing is that governments around the world are failing to keep up with the demands of their people and the state is pushing employers to pick up where governments historically used to.

“I think the future of many societies will depend on employers' continued ability and desire to provide where the state isn’t.”

The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer report found business is the only institution seen as competent and ethical, and Dieter Veldsman, chief HR scientist at AIHR, said that, coupled with Davos’ focus on HR, shows the function has a leading role to play in fixing societal issues.

Veldsman told HR magazine: “The call to action for HR from Davos is clear. Beyond wellbeing, the rising cost of living and labour instability there is a need to think strategically about the longer term.

“Davos made it clear that HR needs to guide this organisational change: a change in how people engage with work, balancing sustainability and productivity and, above all, building eco-systems of value where communities can flourish and prosper sustainably.”

Citing the need for HR to deliver future-ready leaders, expand the remit of the people agenda and reshape employee-employer relations, Veldsman added that increased focus on HR allows the function to build on its pandemic role.

He said: “[It’s a] call to arms for HR professionals to continue the conversation which many had in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s to be strategic partners that understand the decisions we make today will continue to influence the world of work for years to come.”