in a rapidly evolving digital economy, are we running out of time to reskill? 

We can overcome the toughest challenges facing the global workforce when all stakeholders come together, so it was with great pleasure that I had the opportunity this week to address many international leaders at the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit 2021. I joined other CEOs and policymakers to focus on a topic that has become intensely important to the world labor market: accelerating the reskilling revolution.

The pandemic has, if nothing else, heightened the urgency to help millions of workers stay relevant in an evolving global labor market. The acceleration of digitalization, the destruction of many jobs and the rising skills gap require that private and public sectors develop a more coherent plan to help those threatened by these forces. If the global community fails to act, I believe there will be long-term negative consequences that will be difficult to recover from.

Consider these unsettling numbers:

While some of these jobs have since been recovered, millions have not, and leaving these workers behind during today’s digital acceleration would lead to massive societal unrest and economic disruption. Government budgets would come under tremendous pressure due to the considerable welfare needs of citizens. The wealth gap would continue to grow, creating a highly divided society. Businesses and other employers would still struggle with acquiring adequate skills needed to grow.

On the other hand, with adequate investments in reskilling, the global GDP could add at least $6.5 trillion by 2030. That’s as many as 5.3 million new jobs for many who have been displaced. Just as important, reskilling addresses an urgent need of many companies facing a shortage of in-demand skills. Furthermore, a number of jobs that were lost during the pandemic have returned, but with different skills requirements.

The challenge, however, is that simply throwing money at the problem won’t solve it. We require a fundamental shift in our thinking about and approach to reskilling. For instance, the International Labour Organization (ILO) before the pandemic recommended that governments, employers and workers invest in lifelong learning systems. Since then, the ILO now believes this is not just an option but a necessity if we hope to achieve a full recovery for the global economy. 

Then there is the learning infrastructure, which according to some sources is often disparate and siloed within many organizations. A comprehensive approach that incorporates all reskilling options such as tuition-based, formal systems and microlearning channels works best, but few businesses have gotten this right.

Furthermore, for any reskilling effort to be successful, we need informed and willing participants. Many around the world were completely caught off guard when the pandemic forced businesses to reassess their workforce and adapt quickly. In many occupations, these circumstances were unforeseen, but for others, jobs were already on the way to becoming redundant; COVID-19 simply accelerated an existing trend. 

This is a shame. If every worker were given a forecast on the future viability of their job and how it may transform, he or she could plan to acquire the skills needed to remain employed or transition to other roles. This information can also spur more interest among the workforce to seek out and participate in training and development programs. 

During the height of business disruptions last year, Randstad offered to help reskill tens of thousands of workers around the world, but the number of participants who signed up was just a small fraction of the available seats. I believe workers who are made aware of the consequences of inaction will be greatly incentivized to further their learning.

At Randstad, we recognize this kind of insight hasn’t been widely available before. In recent years, we’ve made significant investments in the area of data analytics to offer employers and workers guidance on the skills in demand and what to expect of the labor market in the months and years ahead. We can use this information, in combination with effective skills assessment and advisory services, to help organizations and their workforces focus on skilling and internal mobility.

There is no question that reskilling has become an imperative in the recovery period. As vaccination campaigns continue to bring us closer to a way of life more similar to before the pandemic, many things can return to the way they were — but not for some jobs that have gone away permanently. The global economy has forever transformed, and the only way to help millions successfully transition to this “new normal” is to offer them a chance to acquire marketable skills through sustained and coordinated learning opportunities.

I believe we can do this as a global community, and it’s encouraging to see at this week’s Jobs Reset Summit growing interest and support among private industry and government authorities. Millions around the world need this help now, and millions more will need these resources and guidance in the future to thrive in a rapidly evolving digital economy. 

about the author

Jacques van den Broek

ceo and chair of the executive board

Randstad's Global CEO, leading our mission of supporting people and organizations in realizing their true potential.