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Investment in Upskilling Could Boost Global GDP by $6.5 trillion by 2030

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Accelerated investment in upskilling and reskilling of workers could add at least $6.5 trillion to global GDP, create 5.3 million (net) new jobs by 2030 and help develop more inclusive and sustainable economies worldwide. These are the key findings of a World Economic Forum report published today.

The report, Upskilling for Shared Prosperity, authored in collaboration with PwC, finds that accelerated skills enhancement would ensure that people have the experience and skills needed for the jobs created by the Fourth Industrial Revolution – boosting global productivity by 3%, on average, by 2030. The newly created jobs will be those that are complemented and augmented – rather than replaced – by technology.

“Even before COVID-19, the rise of automation and digitization was transforming global job markets, resulting in the very urgent need for large-scale upskilling and reskilling. Now, this need has become even more important. And – as we highlight in our new insight report with the Forum – upskilling is key to stimulating the economic recovery from COVID-19 and creating more inclusive and sustainable economies. To make this happen, greater public-private collaboration will be key. We’re delighted to be part of the Reskilling Revolution platform, which will help foster greater action, collaboration, accountability and progress on this important topic,” said Bob Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC.

One year of impact through the Reskilling Revolution

The research on upskilling supports the work of the Reskilling Revolution platform. Launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters in January 2020, the Reskilling Revolution set out to provide better education, skills and work to one billion people by 2030. In its first year, despite the pandemic and economic downturn, the platform’s initiatives are estimated to have benefitted more than 50 million people globally through rapid reskilling, upskilling and redeployment.

“Millions of jobs have been lost through the pandemic, while accelerating automation and digitization mean that many are unlikely to return. We need new investments in the jobs of tomorrow, the skills people need for moving into these new roles and education systems that prepare young people for the new economy and society. Initiatives like the Reskilling Revolution hold the key to converting ideas into action and creating the necessary coordination between the public and the private sectors. There is no time to waste,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum.

After focusing in 2020 on setting up systems for rapid reskilling and upskilling – particularly vital in the midst of the pandemic – the initiative will continue to scale up its skilling work in its second year, while expanding its work in education, job creating investments and work standards.

“Investment in job creation, particularly climate-friendly jobs, is key to ensuring a Reskilling Revolution, and concerted action by governments and by business is needed urgently,” said Sharan Burrow, General-Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Developing a common language for skills

The absence of a shared language for skills poses a significant obstacle for the reskilling and upskilling agenda. An additional report by the World Economic Forum, also launched today, provides a common taxonomy for skills to help employers, government and learning providers more efficiently match talent to jobs and learning opportunities.

The Global Skills Taxonomy: A Common Language to Unlock the Reskilling Revolution includes specific definitions and categorizations of skills, creating a common taxonomy for the labour market to adopt, from online training providers and universities to hiring managers in companies and education ministries. It consists of an interactive taxonomy with definitions as well as recommendations for adoption to inform hiring, reskilling and redeployment practices in the workplaces of the future.

More about the Reskilling Revolution

The Reskilling Revolution works through three action tracks: Forum-led initiatives that engage the public and the private sectors in joint initiatives; public-sector and multistakeholder initiatives; and company-led initiatives.

The Closing the Skills Gap country accelerators are developing and implementing national strategies for reskilling and upskilling. Accelerators are active in 10 countries with Georgia, Greece and Turkey having recently established accelerators, and a further six accelerators under discussion. Commitments made by established and planned accelerator countries and their member companies to reskill and upskill their employees are expected to reach up to 47 million individuals.

Comprised of major online learning providers, including Udacity and Coursera, and reaching 200 million learners worldwide, the Forum-led Skills Consortium aims to elevate online learning as an accepted route to employment to provide more opportunities for reskilling, upskilling and redeployment. Building on this success, the Chief Learning Officer Community brings together industry leaders in learning and development to transform workplace learning for 2.9 million employees.

In the year ahead, the Consortium, the community of Chief Human Resources Officers and Chief Learning Officers of the Reskilling Revolution platform will work on the adoption of the skills taxonomy to help make skills the key currency of the labour market and create greater efficiencies in the labour market.

The Preparing for the Future of Work industry accelerators are estimated to have reached nearly 8 million employees to prepare them with future-oriented skills. In addition, the Chief Human Resource Officer Community brings together companies’ HR leaders to share best practices and mobilize action to provide better jobs and skills to a further 4 million employees.

Multistakeholder coalitions that joined the Reskilling Revolution, led by UNICEF and the ILO among others, have been focused on delivering better education and skills, through equalizing access to digital learning (mass teacher reskilling, or identifying, supporting and amplifying new approaches.

Company-led initiatives are helping future-proof their workforces, even in an economically constrained environment. Reskilling Revolution companies are leading new approaches to support their workforces, and their supply chains and communities through access to education, skills and better jobs. In addition to founding members of the platform, such as Adecco Group, LinkedIn and ManpowerGroup, the initiative recently welcomed new partner commitments from Royal Bank of Canada, Unilever and Verizon.

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COVID-19 is reversing the important gains made over the last decade for women

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Progress for women in work could be back at 2017 levels by the end of 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to analysis conducted for PwC’s annual Women in Work Index, which measures female economic empowerment across 33 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries*.  The evidence emerging globally is that the damage from COVID-19 and government response and recovery policies, is disproportionately being felt by women.

For nine years, countries across the OECD* made consistent gains towards women’s economic empowerment. However, due to COVID-19 this trend will now be reversed, with the Index estimated to fall 2.1 points between 2019 and 2021, according to analysis undertaken for PwC’s annual Women in Work Index. The Index will not begin to recover until 2022, where it should gain back 0.8 points. 

In order to undo the damage caused by COVID-19 to women in work – even by 2030, progress towards gender equality needs to be twice as fast as its historical rate.

Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader, People and Organization at PwC, said:

“The setbacks that we are experiencing with COVID-19 in terms of the workforce tell a worrisome story. While the impacts are being felt by everyone across the globe, we are seeing women exiting the workforce at a faster rate than men. Women carry a heavier burden than men of unpaid care and domestic work. This has increased during the pandemic, and it is limiting women’s time and options to contribute to the economy. In the labour market, more women work in hard-hit human contact-intensive service sectors  – such as accomodation and food services, and retail trade. With social distancing and lockdowns, these sectors have seen unprecedented job losses.”   

Between 2019 and 2020, the annual OECD unemployment rate increased by 1.7 percentage points for women (from 5.7% in 2019 to 7.4% in 2020). In the US, the female unemployment rate increased sharply from 4% in March 2020 to 16% in April 2020. The female unemployment rate stayed high for the remainder of 2020, ending the year in December 2020 at 6.7%, 3 percentage points higher than in December 2019.  In the UK, the full impact of job losses from COVID-19 is yet to be realised due to job retention schemes, but furlough data shows that women are at greater risk of losing their jobs when these schemes come to an end. Between July and October 2020, a total of 15.3 million jobs were furloughed in the UK. For furloughed jobs for which gender was known, 52% of these were women’s jobs, despite women only making up 48% of the workforce.*** 

The disproportionate burden of unpaid childcare falls on women

Before COVID-19 hit, women on average spent six more hours than men on unpaid childcare every week (according to research by UN Women). During COVID-19, women have taken on an even greater share and now spend 7.7 more hours per week on unpaid childcare than men**  – this ‘second shift’ equates to 31.5 hours per week; almost as much an extra full-time job. 

This increase in unpaid labour has already reduced women’s contribution to the economy. If this extra burden lasts, it will cause more women to leave the labour market permanently, reversing progress towards gender equality and reducing productivity in the economy. 

While some women may choose to leave the workforce temporarily due to COVID-19 with the intention to return post-pandemic, research shows that career breaks have long-term impacts on women’s labour market prospects, and women will return to lower paid and lower skilled positions. 

PwC Women in Work 2021 Index (performance prior to COVID-19 pandemic)

Iceland continues to hold the top spot on the Index out of OECD countries. It is a consistent strong performer in female labour force participation (84%), has a small participation rate gap (5%), and even smaller female unemployment rate (3%).  

Greece saw the largest increase in terms of Index score between 2018 and 2019, driven by improvement in all labour market indicators except for the share of full-time female employees. On the contrary, Portugal experienced the largest decline in Index score between 2018 and 2019 due to a widening of its gender pay gap by 5 percentage points.

New Zealand and Slovenia both increased their rankings on the Index by one position. New Zealand saw an upward trend across all five indicators and has risen by 5 spots on the Index over the course of nine years. Government policy and a history of female representation in political institutions have helped to drive these gains. Slovenia’s improvement was driven by a fall in the participation rate gap and in female unemployment, as well as an increase in the share of full-time female employment. 

If OECD countries increased their rates of female employment to match Sweden’s (consistently the top performer), the gain to GDP would be over US$6 trillion per annum. The US, with one of the highest female unemployment rates, is expected to gain the most – as much as US$1.7 trillion per annum. 

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65% of Adults Think Race, Ethnicity or National Origin Affects Job Opportunities

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A recent Ipsos-World Economic Forum survey has found that 65% of all adults believe that, in their country, someone’s race, ethnicity, or national origin influences their employment opportunities. When considering their own race, ethnicity, or national origin, more than one-third say it has impacted their personal employment opportunities.

The online survey was conducted between 22 January and 5 February 2021, among more than 20,000 adults in 27 countries. It also reveals that 60% of adults think that someone’s race, ethnicity, or national origin plays a role in education opportunities, access to housing, and access to social services.

As Black History Month in the United States draws to a close, awareness of the impacts of race, ethnicity and national origin on opportunities in life is exceptionally high. It follows a tumultuous year when the pandemic put inequality into the spotlight, and events in the US sparked international protests as long-simmering, systemic racial inequities came to the forefront.

Of those surveyed, 46% say the events of the past year have increased differences in opportunities as well as access to housing, education, employment and/or social services in their country. In comparison, 43% say the events have had no impact on differences and 12% say they have decreased differences.

About 60% of respondents in Latin America, Spain and South Africa, and nearly half in France, Italy, Malaysia, Japan, Sweden, Belgium and the US say recent events have increased race, ethnicity, or national origin-based differences in opportunities in their country, compared to only about one in three in Germany, Poland and Saudi Arabia, one in four in China, and one in seven in Russia.

Perceptions versus the reported personal experience of inequality also vary significantly in countries. Compared with the 27-country average for all four types of opportunities measured, several countries stand out.

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‘Industry 4.0’ tech for post-COVID world, is driving inequality

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Developing countries must embrace ground-breaking technologies that have been a critical tool in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, or else face even greater inequalities than before, UN economic development  experts at UNCTAD said on Thursday.

“Very few countries create the technologies that drive this revolution – most of them are created in China and the US – but all countries will be affected by it”, said UNCTAD’s Shamika Sirimanne, head of Division on Technology and Logistics. “Almost none of the developing countries we studied is prepared for the consequences.”

The appeal, which is highlighted in a new UNCTAD report, relates to all things digital and connective, so-called “Industry 4.0” or “frontier technologies”, that include artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, nanotechnology and solar energy.

Gene editing, another fast-evolving sector, has demonstrated its worth in the last year, with the accelerated development of new coronavirus vaccines.

Drone aid

In developing countries, digital tools can be used to monitor ground water contamination, deliver medical supplies to remote communities via drones, or track diseases using big data, said UNCTAD’s Sirimanne.

But “most of these examples remain at pilot level, without ever being scaled-up to reach those most in need: the poor. To be successful, technology deployment must fulfil the five As: availability, affordability, awareness, accessibility, and the ability for effective use.”

Income gap widening

With an estimated market value of $350 billion today, the array of emerging digital solutions for life after COVID is likely to be worth over $3 trillion by 2025 – hence the need for developing countries to invest in training and infrastructure to be part of it, Sirimanne maintained.

“Most Industry 4.0 technologies that are being deployed in developed countries save labour in routine tasks affecting mid-level skill jobs. They reward digital skills and capital”, she said, pointing to the significant increase in the market value of the world’s leading digital platforms during the pandemic.

Innovation dividends

“The largest gains have been made by Amazon, Apple and Tencent,” Sirimanne continued. “This is not surprising given that a very small number of very large firms provided most of the digital solutions that we have used to cope with various lockdowns and travel restrictions.”

Expressing optimism about the potential for developing countries to be carried along with the new wave of digitalisation rather than be swamped by it, the UNCTAD economist downplayed concerns that increasing workforce automation risked putting people in poorer countries out of a job.

This is because “not all tasks in a job are automated, and, most importantly, that new products, tasks, professions, and economic activities are created throughout the economy”, Sirimanne said.

‘Job polarization’

“The low wages …for skills in developing countries plus the demographic trends will not create economic incentives to replace labour in manufacturing – not yet.”

According to UNCTAD, over the past two decades, the expansion in high and low-wage jobs – a phenomenon known as “job polarization” – has led to only a single-digit reduction in medium-skilled jobs in developed and developing countries (of four and six per cent respectively).

“So, it is expected that low and lower-middle income developing countries will be less exposed to potential negative effects of AI and robots on job polarization”, Sirimanne explained.

Nonetheless, the UN trade and development body cautioned that there appeared to be little sign of galloping inequality slowing down in the new digital age, pointing to data indicating that the income gap between developed and developing countries is $40,749 in real terms today, up from $17,000 in 1970.

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