Notwithstanding recent headlines about job losses at Hostess Brands, UBS and elsewhere, a new study by McKinsey suggests that global businesses are about to face an unprecedented talent shortage in just a few years. According to "Talent tensions ahead: A CEO Briefing" by Richard Dobbs, Susan Lund, and Anu Madgavkar (November 2012), many individuals have prospered due to a "world is flat" application of technology and freer trade practices but may now find themselves part of a grab for increasingly scarce talent. Their position is that the notion of sustained growth due to productivity advances "appears to be reaching its limits" because too many jobs require skills and education and there are too few qualified people to hire. They assert that "by 2020, the world could have 40 million too few college-educated workers and that developing economies may face a shortfall of 45 million workers with secondary-school educations and vocational training." It could be worse for developed economies, with "up to 95 million" people being left out of the hiring equation because they are deemed incapable of handling the work.
If the authors' predictions are correct, this situation would make for a seismic shift in economic and political harmony (or lack thereof) around the world. People who want a job may go begging for a long time while a limited supply of those who can will continue to out earn those who cannot. History has already taught us that greater income inequality often leads to social unrest which in turn manifests itself in the form of new laws that penalize the "rich" and impede growth. The ensuing cycle is not helpful.
Besides the macro implications, most hard-working people embrace a philosophy that allows for achievement and possibilities. A large and mobile middle class is a good thing. The report writers urge business leaders and legislators alike to understand talent imbalances and address them accordingly.
Many posit that a radical assessment of what skills are necessary to succeed is long overdue. A college education is not always the answer. Occupational training may better suit some persons.
Of course, where there is tumult there is always opportunity. According to statistics provided by GSV Advisors, in the "Education Sector Factbook 2012," the global education industry (in terms of dollars spent) totaled over $4.5 trillion with a projected increase in size to $6.4 trillion by 2017. As a former college professor and now a managing director with FTI Consulting in the Forensic and Litigation consulting practice, Dr. Susan Mangiero adds that "learning is a lifetime endeavor. It is critical that an individual stay on top of what skills are needed to remain relevant in one's career. This focus on continuing education can be a boon for companies that recognize the need for specialized training."