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Mobilizing Talent: Driving Growth

“The success of any national or business model for competitiveness in the future will be placed less on capital and much more on talent. We could say that the world is moving from capitalism to ‘talentism’.” 1 

Klaus Schwab

Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, 2011

Talent grows businesses and economies: understanding and harnessing talent mobility is now more critical than ever. The talent crisis points out serious imbalances in human capital markets. On one side, there are talent shortages. On the other, high unemployment rates and employability challenges slow down economies and threaten future growth across the globe. In 2011, movements such as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were fuelled in part by anger about high youth unemployment. Protest was also rooted in fears about the mismatch between the skills that people have and those demanded by business. The new “Millennial” generation is calling for a change. At the same time, talent is landing at the top of CEOs’ agendas.

The Global Agenda Council for Skills & Talent Mobility has consistently worked to flag up and help solve the talent crisis. This report will highlight the latest good work undertaken by the Council to champion stakeholder dialogue and the need for a “collaborative mindset”. The Council’s view is that, while this will require new skills and a shift in thinking, it can be achieved with a more transparent approach to doing business at the global level.

Transparency on attracting and keeping talent can be helped by sharing stories about what works. With this in mind, the Council has created a platform where business leaders can exchange real life tales about how mobilizing talent can help drive growth. The Council’s latest report – Talent Mobility Good Practices – Collaboration at the Core of Driving Economic Growth2  – goes deeper into this terrain. It was launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012 in Davos-Klosters, and can be accessed by visiting the Forum’s website:

Although this paper takes a positive stance, it also outlines some of the obstacles that frustrate talent mobility. When people’s skills and talent are not nurtured and moved, countries can struggle with widespread unemployment. Untapped labour pools lead to a talent gap and skills shortage that can dampen economic growth. The report will show that stakeholder dialogue can be one solution. Other ways in which the Council’s multidimensional approach seeks to widen the talent debate are also explored.

Background to the Council’s Work

The adverse effect of a stagnant workforce has been explored by the Council in previous years. In 2009 and 2010, the Global Agenda Council on Skills & Talent Mobility pointed to the acceleration of the talent crisis in both mature and emerging economies. The Forum’s report in 2010, Stimulating Economies through Fostering Talent Mobility3,  assessed the most critical talent shortfalls across countries and industries by 2020 and 2030.

Having highlighted the risk, the Council then worked hard to find solutions. Its report, Global Talent Risk – Seven Responses,4  argued that job creation would depend on an upskilling of the workforce and that innovative ideas are needed to foster and retain talent. The Council called on the international community to take action to mitigate the talent shortage. One of the seven responses was the idea of “brain circulation” rather than “brain drain”.

During the past year, the Council has gone further in promoting its thesis of circulation rather than stagnation. While still encouraging investment in education and promoting the need to scan for gaps and skills shortages, the Council also calls for global players to approach the game of talent mobility with a new openness. László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, expressed this view in the foreword to the Council’s newest piece of work:

“We must recognize that the search for the best talents is a race that takes place at the global level. Companies across the world are competing with one another to attract the brightest people, while governments are developing schemes to attract both foreign talent and provide sufficiently attractive conditions for home talent to remain in the country; Europe as a whole is developing strategies targeted at labour immigration from outside the continent.

Andor added that the need to develop “win-win policy approaches to talent mobility that takes into account both industrialized and developing countries is one of the key global challenges for the coming years.”

This new global cooperation is essential if economies are to accelerate results and impact. The Council believes there needs to be a systematic process of cooperation and dialogue on talent mobility good practices among businesses, governments, academia and international institutions. To this end, the Council have designed and launched an innovative collaboration platform to connect, educate, and support a global community of leaders. The online repository can be viewed alongside the Council’s latest report.5  Contributors to the platform would be committed to driving a shared agenda, enhancing the mobility of the global workforce and stimulating economic growth.

The Importance of Stakeholder Dialogue

The Council’s talent mobility collaboration platform provides access to good practice that provides governments, businesses, academia and NGOs with a unique mechanism to make better-informed decisions on talent mobility. Multistakeholder dialogue helps decision-makers understand the interdependencies between education, employment, diversity and migration policies, as well as the interrelated needs of business, academia and civil society involved in the mobility of talent.

For example, governments considering easing migration policies are equipped with successful examples of programmes that enhance the productivity and employability of the workforce and stimulate job creation through the intensified mobility of the highly skilled. Governments can also learn from academia and knowledge-intensive businesses about how to match labour supply and demand through strategic workforce planning.

Businesses can more easily address talent shortages and skills gaps through talent mobility programmes, workforce development and inclusion if they have the access to the database of effective examples. For instance, companies that have established partnerships with academia or even funded their own education programmes have much to offer other firms considering how best to invest in the training of their employees. Academia can learn from businesses what skills are required to be employed and how they can adapt their programmes in innovative ways to develop future talent and entrepreneurs.

Equally, facilitated talent mobility offers new opportunities to individuals moving across countries, industries and occupations in search of professional advancement, multicultural experience and a better life.

Engaging Experts: Collecting Good Practice

During the year, the Council, with the support of Mercer, collected numerous programmes and policies in broadly understood talent mobility and demonstrated their significant impact on economic growth.

The process for identifying and selecting these practices began by reaching out to a broad audience across diverse geographies, industries and stakeholders through a survey and interviews. The information collected was then funnelled according to selection criteria such as applicability, effectiveness, innovativeness, urgency and impact to identify appropriate good practices.

The research has shown that the perfect functioning of talent markets is impeded by four key problems: widespread unemployability, skills gaps, information gaps and private and public constraints on mobility.

Talent mobility can address these issues through:

  • Innovative employment training to reduce unemployability and foster entrepreneurship and job creation
  • Retraining and upskilling the workforce and better career development to close skills gaps
  • Increasing the information available to individuals and employers, improving workforce planning within organizations and standardizing credentialing to encourage mobility across occupations, geographies and industries
  • Easing migration, facilitating mobility within organizations and moving jobs to people to reduce constraints on mobility

The good practices illustrated the variety of ways that different stakeholders are using talent mobility to grow their businesses, industries and economies. There is much more to talent mobility than international assignments. They include moving people physically within and across organizations, countries or industries, or globally, and moving people professionally across occupations and skills sets. Good practices also show examples of moving people from unemployment to employment, as well as virtual mobility and moving jobs to people – two recent practices that are becoming more important in light of globalization.

The programmes and policies clearly demonstrated that collaboration in talent mobility among stakeholders on both sides of the employment equation are most effective in addressing labour market failures and enhancing job creation. The broader the collaboration, the greater its impact on global economic growth.

However, collaboration requires new skills and new thinking. While its benefits are clear, collaboration itself is complex and difficult to implement. Convincing stakeholders to consider goals greater than their own immediate ones takes diplomacy and persuasion. Critical to success is the collaborative mindset: the willingness to think broadly, to be comfortable with complexity, and able to understand and find common ground with the goals of other stakeholders. Perhaps most importantly, the successful collaborator seeks to understand and engage the hearts and minds of the people inside and outside the workforce who are to be targeted by the practice.

The research provided guidance on how stakeholders can build their collaboration “muscles”; and advice tor individual stakeholders interested in improving talent mobility practices through collaboration.

Sharing Good Practices and Encouraging Multistakeholder Collaboration

During 2011, the Global Agenda Council also canvassed the opinion of leaders in the private and public sectors, as well as from academia and international organizations. They were asked to engage in the conversation about how to establish a community for sharing and promoting successful policies and programmes in talent mobility.

The World Economic Forum, the Global Agenda Council for Skills & Talent Mobility and László Andor, European Commissioner, Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, met in June 2011 to discuss the optimal collaboration mechanism for engaging policy-makers. Progress was also made on establishing collaboration with international institutions, such as the International Labour Organization, with respect to the exchange of good practices in international development initiatives and migration.

The need for multistakeholder collaboration on talent issues was further emphasized at the Forum’s Special Meeting on Economic Growth and Job Creation in the Arab World in October 2011. Partnership models that big employers could use to address the job creation imperative and youth unemployment were discussed and shared among cross-sector decision-makers in the Arab world, including heads of international organizations and government leaders.

Subsequently, at the cross-industry meeting on Deploying and Employing Mobile Talent in the 21st century in late October, significant progress was made with respect to how the plan for action can be scaled up. A business concept for a large-scale, multistakeholder talent mobility collaboration platform, advocacy and sharing insights was developed, which was further discussed and refined at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters.

Next Steps for 2012

The project’s goal is to further its mission to catalyse an accessible, relevant and sustainable talent mobility collaboration platform: an online stage where governments, businesses and academia can reference and contribute to make informed decisions about talent.

The project will continue to collect examples of good practices for online publication. It aims to refine the vision for an interactive online multistakeholder collaboration platform, where good news about solutions that solve the talent crisis and stimulate economic growth can be shared.

Much has been said within the global community about the myth of the skills gap, but this Council believes that the talent crisis is very real. Getting the talent question right will be pivotal for economic recovery and growth around the world. The good practices gathered by the Council – along with its innovative business concept – will be shared with businesses, policy-makers, academics, NGOs and international organizations at key regional events throughout the year. In addition, the talent mobility good practices collected will be disseminated around the world so that people learn what has and has not worked in different national, political, economical and social contexts.

Since its inception, the Council has worked hard to identify the cause of the talent crisis and create a raft of solutions to help mitigate risk and roadblocks.

As the Network of Global Agenda Councils grows and the topic of skills and talent mobility is increasingly critical to the Forum, the different dimensions of the Global Agenda Council on Skills & Talent Mobility will be integrated into three Global Agenda Councils:

  • Education & Talent
  • Employment
  • Youth Unemployment

The goal is to find innovative ways of bridging the mismatch between the skills required for employability and the quality of education, with the aim of approaching the topic as a life-long learning piece.

The Global Agenda Council on Skills & Talent Mobility will be closed, yet the work undertaken will continue through the above three Councils and through the Practicing Talent Mobility for Economic Growth project.


The opinions expressed here are those of the individual Members of the Council and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated.