Center for Effective Organizations


Global Talent 2021

Research from John Boudreau, Towers Watson, and Oxford Economics

Get the Executive Summary here.

Global Talent 2021 is a collaboration between CEO, Towers Watson, individual companies, and Oxford Economics, which surveyed over 350 HR professionals worldwide and in various industries. The study looks at the demand for talent within specific occupational and industry groups as well as the upcoming brain drain. Where might organizations be looking for new talent as industry is transformed?

The global economy is still on a rollercoaster ride, as uncertainty about the near future abounds. There are several market shifts that will impact future talent requirements, most notably technological/digital change and globalization of markets and changing demographics. Disruptive technology is a threat and an opportunity and can require a huge business transformation. Business transformation is pervasive, and many organizations are rethinking their business strategies.

The survey cites four areas where skills will be in demand over the next decade. These include digital skills, agile thinking, interpersonal/communication skills, and global operating skills.

  • Digital skills include social media, digital technical skills, and business software and systems.
  • Agile thinking is the ability to prepare for multiple possibilities and futures. Agile thinking includes innovative thinking, dealing with complexity, and managing paradoxes.
  • Interpersonal/communication skills necessary are brainstorming, co-creativity, and teaming skills. A more collaborative style of operating is coming to the fore.
  • Global operating skills include the ability to manage diverse employees, as well as understanding international business.

Talent issues will vary regionally and by industry. For example, China will be able to meet its own talent demand needs. Japan will have one of the strongest talent deficits, and India will have a surplus of talent.

To rethink HR strategies, the report delineates five principles of evidence-based change that impact talent decisions. These principles are recommended as "important steps that organizations should take to retool HR for the changes ahead."

  • Logic-driven analytics
    Analytics and data are being relied on more and more to make decisions about talent.
  • Segmentation
    Talent segmentation will rise in the next 3 years, and the way companies approach segmentation will change as well. Segmentation can include top performers, employees in pivotal roles and high potentials.
  • Optimization
    Talent optimization will be important, especially for emerging markets, heavy manufacturing and financial services, as well as for companies with over $5 billion in sales. Do companies have the analytics to move it forward?
  • Risk leverage
    A more open attitude to risk is coming, seeing human capital uncertainty as both an opportunity and a risk.
  • Integration & synergy
    Synergy will be important as various HR initiatives will be integrated under key strategic goals, such as diversity or social responsibility.

Interestingly, results from the survey seem to indicate that implementing these five steps also increase employee engagement.

In conclusion, the report suggests that companies also implement the following to stay ahead of the curve:

  • Evidence based human capital planning/personnel management
  • Be open to recruit talent in different ways and in different locations
  • Do more retraining/reskilling
  • Evidence based approach to talent management
  • Work on employee engagement


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