This commentary was written by Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD.
Today marks the start of the G8 Summit, when the world’s most powerful leaders – from the UK, the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Russia and Japan – gather in Northern Ireland for their annual meeting. As host nation, the UK has set the priorities for the discussion, namely Tax, Trade and Transparency. These are, of course, important global issues that are worthy of consideration. However, we firmly believe that there is a fourth ‘T’ underpinning these weighty issues that needs to be deliberated: Talent.
The G8 themes of Tax, Trade and Transparency all acknowledge the extent to which the world now operates as a single market. Sometimes described as the defining feature of our era, globalisation touches every aspect of our lives: the ease with which businesses and goods can be moved around the world has had, and will have, profound impacts on the way we structure our tax regimes and our trade agreements. The focus this year on transparency in governments and business is, partly, an effort to ensure that developing countries can be welcomed into this global community on fair and reasonable terms.
And as we grapple with these grand themes, it’s all too easy to forget that, beneath and alongside the trade routes and tax regimes are real people. Globalisation might be the product of technological change, but its impacts are felt on a very human level.
Inspired by the G8, the CIPD has taken a closer look at working lives around the world. We’ve collected and compared data on elements such as wealth, flexible working, education levels and gender balance, among other things. We’ve considered the G8 countries and have also included the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – because the world economy is changing and because including these countries brings a fresh perspective. Our aim is to provide a talent-focused state of the nations; to show just how diverse the world of work is and how our ways of thinking about and measuring our working lives don’t necessarily apply in other countries.
For instance, we discovered that Japan has the oldest workforce among the G8 and BRIC members, with 17 percent of workers over 60 years of age, versus eight percent in the UK. Staying in Japan, it has the fewest number of women in leadership positions while, perhaps surprisingly, Russia has the most. A mere five percent of senior management positions in Japan are held by women compared with 46 percent in Russia and 20 percent in the UK.
We also found that in India you’re more likely to be satisfied with life if you’re unemployed than employed and that Germany is the nation that is most supportive of flexible working. We learned that there’s a strong correlation between the ease of starting a business in a country and that country’s GDP per head of population. South Africa and Italy have the highest levels of youth unemployment, while workers in Russia work the longest hours.
Differences abound, and what is clear is that there are as many ways of thinking about, valuing and measuring work and working lives around the world as there are countries we looked at. It’s important now more than ever that we’re sensitive to these differences. We need to look carefully at what we might be able to learn from other nations and think about how we can adapt our workforce and economy to fit into the new global jigsaw. Should we make it easier to start up a business or be more supportive of flexible working? Should we and our government be prioritising GDP, or happiness, or gender equality – and what helps to achieve these priorities?
We also need to understand the way the globalised world works to know what we can usefully contribute to a global economy. What skills will we need to develop in our workforce and in which industry sectors should we focus our efforts? This goes much deeper than understanding local customs and cultures in order to do business effectively – important though that is.
The world is changing quickly, and our work, workforces and workplaces will – and must – change in line. By recognising the crucial importance of real people and real working lives – in addition to the grand themes of Tax, Trade and Transparency – we better equip ourselves to operate in the modern world and to achieve David Cameron’s stated goals for the G8 of growth, prosperity and economic development.