5 Davos Takeaways for UK Business

World Economic Forum 2020

At the 50th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) last week, political leaders and global business executives reunited once again in Davos, Switzerland to address the political, economic and environmental challenges of our time. The annual engagement, situated high in the alpine surroundings of the Swiss alps, has often been looked upon as the beating pulse for international trade and commerce, with commentators tuning in each year to forecast the mood of global capitalism for the year ahead.

Headlines around the global trade war, climate change, rising populism and the future of capitalism all dominated the pre-Davos discourse. In Donald Trump’s keynote speech, the US President again alluded to brokering a trade deal with Britain after its departure from the EU this week. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reinforced his hopes that a US-UK trade deal would be signed within the year and that it represented “an absolute priority” for Trump.

Newly-elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a noticeable absentee this year, with the only UK Government representative coming in the form of Chancellor Sajid Javid, who addressed the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) on Wednesday 22nd January. Despite a depleted British contingent at this year’s forum, there were a number of important discussions for British organisations to be aware of from this year’s talks.

Here are 5 key takeaways for UK businesses from #WEF20:

  • Climate concerns dominated the headlines over the course of the week, with 17-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thurnberg returning after her much-publicised Davos 2019 appearance to declare “our house is still on fire”. As consumer preferences continue to swing towards more sustainable products – and with the green agenda continuing to overshadow global trade events such as Davos – demand for specialists with expertise in sustainable engineering will continue to gain traction in 2020.
  • Talk of a US-UK trade deal looked to be temporarily halted when Javid reiterated his intent to introduce a Digital Services Tax on larger technology companies. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin countered the tax would discriminate against US-listed multinational firms, and retaliated that his administration would respond with tariffs on UK car imports into the US market. Roughly 18% of cars made in the UK are currently sold into the US, with many of Britain’s high-end automotive producers benefiting from access to the market. The automotive sector will likely be a high priority in the event of any further US-UK trade deal discussions, with significant ramifications looming for UK car producers if the technology tax rhetoric comes to fruition.
  • The issue of cybersecurity was again at the forefront, with reports breaking early in the week that alleged Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s mobile phone was hacked from the Saudi Arabian royal family. The hack was detected from a designated cybersecurity team operating within the United Nations and continued to permeate Davos discussion throughout the week. A report released ahead of the conference from accounting and consultancy firm PwC reported that 80% UK executives view cybersecurity as one of their main commercial concerns – higher than any other threats to their businesses. Expect more demand for these skills in 2020. You can find out more about the future tech skills that will be in-demand in ManpowerGroup’s Industry Insiders
  • Diversity in the workplace was again amongst the headlines as Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon revealed the investment bank would not IPO any business without at least one ‘diverse’ member on the recipient’s board – with a strong focus on women. With recent indications suggesting that 2019 witnessed a decrease in board-member BAME diversity from 9% to 7.4%, and with just 30% of Britain’s large public companies having women on the board, major upheaval will be needed from the private sector to get into Goldman Sachs’ good books. Read our 7 Steps to Conscious Inclusion paper to hear more about how to accelerate women into leadership positions.
  • WEF’s Jobs of Tomorrow report shone another light on the future skills debate. We can expect demand for millions of new jobs in areas such as big data, artificial intelligence and cloud computing. But these skills will also need to be augmented by human interaction; raising demand for workers in the care industry, in marketing/sales roles, and people and culture positions. Plugging the gap for these skills with untapped talent and upskilling current employees will be a key differentiator for UK industries to future-proof businesses. Find out more on how to foster a blend of talent and skills in ManpowerGroup’s Skills Revolution 4.0 series.

Hear the latest insider view from Jonas Prising and Becky Frankiewicz for their top takeaways from the World Economic Forum including our latest Talent Shortage data. Spoiler alert: Globally, talent shortages are at a record high. Tune in here at 5pm on Wednesday, 29 February.