Skilled labor shortage: Swiss CEOs optimistic on an international comparison

in Industry insights, 01.09.2016

Our employees are our most important resource” or “We are in the midst of a war for talent” are some of the common clichés found in CEO speeches and annual reports’ prefaces. But what do such statements really mean in light of an economy increasingly experiencing rapid digitization and a widening gap between traditional job profiles and future? Which talents are needed and how can companies ensure that they have these experts on board in the near future?

The majority of CEOs surveyed abroad for the KPMG CEO Outlook expect about 5 percent of positions in their companies will be lost to automation within the next three years — most likely in marketing and sales, research and development or in production and engineering. Swiss CEOs are much less gloomy and find this scenario rather implausible. Here in Switzerland, the expectation is that new jobs will be created in the wake of digitization to compensate for the loss of traditional jobs.

Swiss CEOs share a more positive outlook

According to the latest CEO Outlook, the surveyed CEOs see the greatest medium-term danger to be the growing gap between supply and demand in finding the right resources for key positions. But even here, CEOs in Switzerland have a more optimistic take. CEOs abroad already see a scarcity in skilled personnel especially in areas such as engineering, strategy or research and development. Surprisingly, Swiss CEOs seem to be much more convinced that their companies will not suffer quite as drastically from a shortage in skilled labor in the medium term.

My personal contact with clients and discussions around the issue of a shortage of skilled labor show that many clients do perceive this to be a challenge to be mastered cleverly — especially given the political decisions taken in a recent popular vote to restrict immigration and to limit working permits. In this respect, it may be out of place here to speak of the myth of a skilled labor shortage when only the future will tell just how digitization and automation will affect the Swiss labor market.

Strategies to deal with shortages in skilled labor

When asked what measures they plan to take in order to avoid a future shortage in skilled labor, most CEOs state that they will place their bets on internal and external training and continuing professional education. About a fifth of Swiss companies also seem ready to hire more mature and experienced specialists again. A quarter of the CEOs also think that automation could be one way of avoiding being caught without skilled labor.

The strategy for many foreign CEOs is aggressively poaching skilled labor from competitors (26%) or from new disruptive companies (22%) – those shaking up the market with new approaches and/or business models. Many Swiss CEOs plan to circumvent getting left out in the cold as far as skilled labor is concerned through strategic acquisitions (20%) — perhaps indicating a lively M&A market in Switzerland — or outsourcing certain activities (17%).

Full survey: CEO Outlook – Now or Never

What is the CEO Outlook?

KPMG has asked more than 1,300 CEOs in a global cross-industry study on their take on medium-term growth perspectives and transaction expectations, on the promotion of innovation, the handling of digitization and risks and human resources.

In the current series of articles, I will further highlight some of the specific perceptions of the Swiss CEOs who participated in this study.