Weak labour productivity growth continues to mark the world’s advanced economies and risks compromising improvements in living standards, says a new OECD report.
In its latest Compendium of Productivity Indicators, the OECD says that the slowdown in labour productivity growth (measured as gross value added per hour worked) has especially affected manufacturing – both high tech activities such as computers and electronics, as well as industries requiring lower skill levels – and that gaps in labour productivity levels between large and smaller firms remain high.
And although economic growth in many countries has led to rising employment, particularly in Italy, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and the US, the majority of new jobs are in activities with relatively low productivity.
The greater number of low productivity jobs has also weighed down on average wages across the economy as a whole. Real wages (adjusted for inflation) fell between 2010 and 2016 in Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom. Although in some countries, such as Germany and the US, real wages have begun to rise in line with, albeit still slow, labour productivity growth in recent years, in many sectors wages continued to lag labour productivity growth. This was the case in one third of all sectors in Germany and the US.
“The long-term decoupling in wage and productivity growth we see in many OECD countries may also be driving inequalities in income and wealth,” the OECD’s Chief Statistician Martine Durand said. “Slowing productivity growth and the large number of low productivity jobs being created both limit the scope for improvements in material well-being.”
The share of income from economic activity going to labour through wages has declined in most countries in recent years, but most markedly in Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Poland and Portugal.
The Compendium shows that by 2016, the latest year for which comparable international data is available, investment, an important driver of productivity growth, was beginning to pick up. However, investment rates, particularly on machinery and equipment and other tangible assets, were still below pre-crisis levels in many OECD countries.
Investment in intellectual property products, such as software and R&D, has been increasing since before the crisis, often at a faster pace than investment in physical capital but significant differences remain across countries. The share of total investment going to intellectual property in 2016 ranged from 1.1% in Colombia to 30% in Switzerland and 56% in Ireland.
The Compendium says the relatively robust investment in intellectual property, where the benefits to business may take time to feed through, may act as a catalyst for stronger economic growth in the future.
The OECD says productivity is ultimately a question of “working smarter” rather than “working harder”. This reflects firms’ ability to produce more output by better combining inputs through new ideas, technological innovations, as well as by way of process and organisational innovations.
Organisations are not doing enough to prepare for the future of work
While the majority of businesses recognise which capabilities are important for their future success, many are failing to take the actions needed today to build or even introduce them into their organisations. These actions include using data analytics to make workforce decisions and creating a compelling work experience for employees.
This gap will put them at risk in the future when it comes to attracting, developing and retaining the talent they need to succeed.
These are some of the key findings of PwC’s latest Future of Work report, produced in collaboration with Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School. The report is based on a survey of 1,246 business and HR leaders from 79 countries. It focuses on 45 capabilities and identifies where organisations are most ‘at risk’ by looking at the number of respondents who say a capability is important to the future of their business but indicate that they’re are not yet taking action.
Carol Stubbings, Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, PwC UK, says:“Technology and trends such as rising life expectancy, social and environmental pressures and the gig economy are transforming the world of work. Companies that understand and act on these workforce changes now will be the ones that thrive in the future.”
The untapped potential of data and analytics
The survey finds that companies are struggling to use data and advanced analytics to make better decisions about the workforce. The top three ‘at risk’ capabilities all relate to workforce analytics and their use in improving the working environment and people’s behaviours.
Although more than 60% of respondents say using data analytics in workforce decisions is important, only 27% actually use it. In addition, only 38% use data analytics to predict and monitor skills gaps in the workforce, while just 31% use sophisticated workforce planning and predictive analytics and only 28% use data analytics to help limit bias in hiring and to craft incentives tailored to individuals.
Participants in North America report stronger progress than their counterparts in other parts of the world, especially Asia and Western Europe. Almost all industries are finding it difficult to make headway with data and analytics. The exception is health where data is used in skills identification and tackling biases in hiring and reward.
Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, PwC US, says:“Companies are increasingly pursuing data-driven talent decisions, whether it’s to anticipate and remediate skills gaps, eliminate bias in hiring or performance and rewards decisions, or leverage business scenario planning to ultimately determine the workforce mix.
“The survey findings highlight the need for organisations to invest in digital tools to drive people decisions. We see this as a ‘no regrets’ move in preparing for the future. But this requires the baseline data to be accurate, and the challenge today is that jobs don’t reflect what people do. Many companies don’t have accurate data on who does what and where, and few have an inventory of their people’s skills for development purposes. This is where using data and analytics can make a real difference.”
Creating the right people experience is vital
Six of the top ten ‘at risk’ capabilities relate to the people experience. One area organisations can do more is around managing workloads. While 76% of respondents believe this is important, only 50% say they are doing something about it – making this the #6 ‘at risk’ capability globally. This is particularly an issue in the Middle East and North America where it tops the list, and Asia where it ranks #3. It is much less of a risk in Western Europe (11th).
Many people work in extremely demanding work cultures. While the corporate response in recent years has been to provide company wellness initiatives, sustainable change will only occur if work itself is redesigned so that it delivers vitality and an environment conducive to maintaining productive energy levels.
Organisations should also focus on easing concerns around the future of work. Carol Stubbings comments:“With all the talk about artificial intelligence, automation and robots taking jobs, many people are anxious and forming their own narrative around the future of work. Organisations should take the lead and own the story, by creating and communicating a strong narrative that covers what the future of work means for the company and its people, and how they will be more transparent around plans and decisions based on purpose.”
Some of the other ‘at risk’ capabilities that relate to the people experience include:
- Adaptability and agility: while 78% of respondents believe that developing adaptability and agility in their workers is important, just 52% say their talent practices are designed to nurture this. This will be increasingly important as workers will need to adapt to and thrive through change.
- Intrapreneurship: Only 56% of respondents say they have avenues present for employees to offer innovative ideas and support them in turning these ideas into action. Organisations that fail to create opportunities for their ‘intrapreneurs’ risk losing innovative team members and their ideas.
- Autonomy: Providing autonomy over where and when people work is increasingly important in attracting and retaining talent. While 70% of respondents believe this is important, only 45% currently give their employees a high degree of autonomy.
The report warns organisations need to be mindful of unintended consequences. Bhushan Sethi explains:“Organisations must think carefully about the impact of initiatives such as encouraging off-site working. In some cases, this can result in employees feeling they need to be on call 24/7 to prove themselves. There can also be a fine line between autonomy and isolation. Getting this wrong will sap vitality and social resilience. At the same time, too much surveillance can erode autonomy and trust.”
Missing out on good ideas and flexible talent
The way people work and their relationships with organisations are becoming more fluid. The numbers of contractors, freelancers and portfolio workers are on the rise, and more and more partnerships between large organisations and smaller start-ups are providing ready access to innovation and talent on demand.
Identifying where and how to engage this flexible talent will become increasingly important for organisations, yet few are prepared for this shift. Only 8% of respondents strongly agree their organisations are able to engage easily with this valuable resource as and when they are needed. In addition, 58% of respondents say they have no capability to use open innovation and crowdsourced ideas and only 9% agree strongly that they can do this.
It’s clear that organisations need to do more to take advantage of the ideas and skills from the wider market – not just from their traditional employee base.
Other key findings from PwC’s Workforce of the Future report include:
- HR leaders are more comfortable about their efforts to prepare the workforce of the future compared to non-HR leaders. In 42 of the 45 capabilities, a higher percentage of business leaders than HR saw their organisation at risk.
- HR’s ability to navigate the technology landscape is a top ‘at risk’ capability for organisations. But HR and other leaders don’t see it the same way: 41% of HR Leaders are confident that their HR departments are up to speed in this area, but only a quarter of business leaders agree.
- The good news is that the capabilities that respondents rate as the most important are the ones where they are taking the most action. There is no overlap between the top ten ‘at risk’ capabilities and the top ten considered extremely high in importance.
Making power systems more flexible as global energy transition accelerates
The global energy landscape is witnessing a rapid and disruptive change driven by an unprecedented growth in renewables. Last year alone, a record-breaking 168 GW of renewable energy capacity were added globally – the sixth consecutive year in which additions from renewables have exceeded those from conventional sources. Today, a quarter of the world’s electricity comes from renewables.
But, the recent IPCC report has sent a clear signal and called for a scaling up of renewables both in the power and in end use sectors such as transport and buildings. This echoes IRENA’s own analysis which estimates that avoiding the worst effects of global warming will require to source 85% of global power and two-thirds of total energy supply from renewables by 2050. Around 60% of electricity would come from so called variable renewable energy (VRE) like solar and wind.
Experiences from frontrunner countries show that flexibility in the power system can help integrating solar and wind into the market.
Flexibility can be found in different parts of the power system including generation, grid, storage and end-users.
With today’s report on Power system flexibility for the energy transition and a new tool to assess the flexibility of the power system – the FlexTool – IRENA opens a new work stream that support its members in finding the most cost-effective mix of flexibility solutions. The tool has been applied jointly with IRENA members Colombia, Panama, Uruguay and Thailand to assess the flexibility of their power system based on the latest national plans.
Figure 1. Flexible Power System – Accelerated uptake of wind and solar
Claudia Cabrera from the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining (MIEM) of Uruguay, who presented the Uruguayan FlexTool analysis during the 16th meeting of the IRENA Council, said: “The FlexTool can assess in an integrated manner sector coupling alternatives, which is an aspect of great importance in an electric system like the Uruguayan characterized by energy surpluses. Therefore, the IRENA FlexTool can complement the existing planning toolkit by providing additional insights on flexibility and options to further increase it.” The Uruguayan FlexTool analysis concluded that Uruguay’s power system is flexible enough to accommodate the actual and future deployment of VRE resulting from the country’s long-term generation expansion plan.
Dolf Gielen, Director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Center added: “The new report showcases flexibility in all parts of the energy system. Findings show that the smooth integration of variable renewable energy into power systems requires innovations. Beyond technological solutions, flexibility can be unlocked through market design, operational practices and new business models.”
Demand has a significant potential to contribute to the flexibility of the power system – from quickly responding to supply shortages to following price signals in order to consume energy when it is cheaper, and the grid does not face congestion. A central element of flexibility is sector-coupling, the coupling of energy demand for heat, fuels and mobility by using power to heat (e.g. heat pumps), power to gas (e.g. hydrogen from renewable electricity) and power to mobility. Electric vehicles for example can act as battery storage devices if regulations and technologies are aligned and provide short term storage and grid services.
For more information, see Power system flexibility for the energy transition, including an Overview for Policy Makers, IRENA Flextool Methodology (coming soon) and two case studies.
From unemployment to growing cyber-risk: Business executives have different worries
There are significant differences in risk perceptions across the eight regions covered in the World Economic Forum’s Regional Risks for Doing Business report. Over 12,000 executives highlighted concerns ranging from economic to political, societal and technological. Unemployment, failure of national governance and energy price shocks were among the top worries of executives across various regions.
Cyber-attacks are the number one risk in Europe, East Asia and the Pacific and North America. This points to growing concerns about technological risks – cyber-attacks were the top risk in two regions, according to the 2017 survey (East Asia and the Pacific and North America), and only one region in 2016 (North America).
Failure of national governance ranked number one in Latin America and South Asia, highlighting the costs of political strains that have been evident in much of the world in recent years. In the energy-rich regions of Eurasia and Middle East and North Africa, energy price shocks were ranked as the top risk to doing business. Unemployment was perceived as the top risk for doing business in sub-Saharan Africa, representing mostly the absence of demand in the region.
“Given the current geopolitical uncertainty globally, cooperation within and among regions is of critical importance. Understanding the evolving risks in different regions is therefore top of mind for business leaders,” said Mirek Dusek, Deputy Head of Geopolitical and Regional Agendas and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum.
“By drilling down to regional and country-level data, this new Regional Risks for Doing Business report allows us to gauge how risk sentiment is evolving around the world. Cyber-attacks are increasing in prominence, but it is striking how many business leaders point to unemployment and national governance as the most pressing risks for doing business in their countries,” said Aengus Collins, Head of Global Risks and the Geopolitical Agenda at the World Economic Forum.
“Cyber-attacks are seen as the number one risk for doing business in markets that account for 50% of global GDP. This strongly suggests that governments and businesses need to strengthen cyber security and resilience in order to maintain confidence in a highly connected digital economy,” said Lori Bailey, Global Head of Cyber Risk, Zurich Insurance Group, and Member of the Forum’s Global Future Council on Cybersecurity.
“While large cyber-attacks are the number one concern of executives in advanced economies there is growing apprehension about the potential for national governance failures in emerging markets,” said John Drzik, President of Global Risk and Digital at Marsh. “Across the globe, businesses are also concerned with rising geopolitical friction that has already resulted in rising tariffs and sanctions and which could further fuel the growing threat of expropriation or political violence.”
Top five risks of doing business by region
The findings of the Regional Risks for Doing Business report are based on 12,548 responses from executives in 140 economies. Respondents were asked to select “the five global risks that you believe to be of most concern for doing business in your country within the next 10 years”. This question is included in the annual Executive Opinion Survey, which is a part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. The latest edition of the survey was carried out from January to June 2018. Business leaders were asked to choose up to five risks from a list of 30, including terrorist attacks, extreme weather events and state collapse or crisis.
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