Advances in technology, education cited as key factors

Businesses around the world are currently experiencing a profound market shift that will impact the supply and demand for skilled talent over the next decade, according to a detailed research study conducted by Oxford Economics in partnership with professional services company Towers Watson, along with BAT, the Centre for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California, Cummins, Edison International and others listed in the research report at, and in collaboration with the Organization of American States. The research reveals a race between technology and education as technology fuels demand for highly skilled workers, while emerging economies increase the supply of talent through greater access to education.

The study, which includes a global survey of 352 human resource executives and in-depth interviews with leading multinational firms, examines how rapid globalization and the transformation of business models in virtually every industry will affect workforce needs in the future, and the implications for senior business executives and their HR leaders. The study also includes an extensive economic modelling exercise of 46 countries and 21 industry sectors to identify where pivotal changes in the demand and supply of talent will occur over the next decade, based on government data and Oxford Economics’ own forecasts.

The study revealed that the balance between supply and demand of talent differs from market to market in ways that will significantly impact the global workplace over the next 10 years. Specifically, as the skills employers require become more complex, labour shortages are projected in many mature markets, including the U.S., Germany, Canada and Italy. Meanwhile, a surplus of skilled talent is likely to emerge in locales such as Brazil, Colombia, India and South Africa.

“The dynamic changes in global economics and ever-evolving technology necessitate that companies rethink how they address their shifting talent needs. Some of these changes run counter to what most companies have been experiencing in various markets,” said Arvinder Dhesi UK Director of Talent & Organisation. “These new realities make it incumbent on HR executives to consider new and creative ways  to access talent across the globe.”

Future Global Employment Growth

The survey suggests that a decade from now, eight of the top 10 countries with the largest talent surpluses will be in the developing world, led by India, Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa. In these economies, the increasing abundance of skilled workers will compress the wage premium for talent, allowing for investment in new technologies and business models that will fuel growth well beyond 2021. By contrast, mature economies like the U.K., U.S., Japan, South Korea, Canada and Italy will confront shortages of skilled workers, in part because of their aging demographics.

According to survey respondents, the most dramatic jump in employment demand will be in emerging Asia, where the need for new employees will jump some 22.2%. Other emerging markets that will see above-average growth in required staff are Latin America (13.4%), the Middle East and Africa (13.2%) and Eastern Europe (10.5%).

Employment demand in Western Europe, by contrast, is projected to grow a rather modest 3.5%, according to the survey. In industries such as business services, energy, travel and transport, and life sciences, staffing levels will actually decline. Somewhat stronger job growth is expected in North America, where surveyed executives expect overall employment to rise 6.1% over the next three years.

Structural change in the pattern of employment underlies much of the data. In North America, for instance, demand for industrial workers is forecasted to decline by 2.4%, while in emerging Asia, the demand will rise 37.7% and in Latin America by 17.1% during the same period. Other findings include:

  • Business transformation requires new skills. The vast majority of companies are engaging in transformation initiatives to rethink their global strategies, business models and organizational approaches. This transformation also requires a repositioning of employee skill sets across all levels of seniority. Digital knowledge, agile thinking, interpersonal and communication skills, and global operating capabilities will be talent areas in high demand over the next five to 10 years.
  • Companies will need to address the talent mismatch. In the developed world, where talent shortages in a number of managerial and technical fields are expected to persist, companies will be forced to think more explicitly about the trade-offs among outsourcing work, offshoring staff and retraining workers.
  • HR executives who adopt an evidence-based approach will see significant results. We asked firms 42 targeted questions on the five core principles of evidence-based change: logic-driven analytics, segmentation, optimization, risk leverage, and integration and synergy. Our research showed conclusively that implementing the five HR principles boosted employee engagement.
  • Sources and expectations of talent are evolving. There will be an increased emphasis on working in several different countries throughout one’s career. How and where talent works is also shifting, including the increased frequency of alternate work schedules and work locations, including working virtually.


“Our study underscores the need for executives to prepare for the major realignment of the global workforce, which is already under way,” said Lou Celi, President of Oxford Economics America. “These changes in the talent landscape, brought on by rapid technology adoption, continued globalization, shifting demographics and increasing competition, are significant — and permanent.”