A cross-sectoral survey

Attracting and retaining top talent is a major concern for companies based in Switzerland, particularly in the areas of STEM and ICT, notably in blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), connected systems and encryption. To address this concern, digitalswitzerland carried out a survey on top talent of the Swiss workplace with the following objectives: identify what new top talent will be needed in the next five years, what must be done to educate and attract these talents, and what investments must be made to educate new talents in Switzerland. The report aggregates existing study results, personal interviews and an online questionnaire. Switzerland will need to address the issue of top talent development, attraction and retention if the country is to remain at the top of international competitive and innovation rankings.

What is top talent?

Top talent can be defined as employees who “have greater potential to occupy key leadership positions in the future, are more difficult and more costly to replace, and diminish an organisation’s status when they leave”.  Top talents are people who perform better than their peers and possess the ambition to further self-develop. Top talents can quickly process and critically engage with complex information. They have the social and emotional skills to collaborate, communicate and negotiate in a diverse and unpredictable environment. They possess at least a basic understanding of technological innovations in fields such as data analytics and artificial intelligence, which helps them understand the strategic position of their organisation in a rapidly changing business landscape.

Trends affecting employment including top talent

Four macro-trends are affecting the work environment: flexibilisation, automation, demographic changes and the changing geo-political landscape. Technological innovations such as online platforms allow people to offer their services to a wider set of potential customers, increasing the opportunity to be successfully self-employed and independent. One consequence of this trend is a growing preference for self-employment. In Switzerland 14.9% of the population is self-employed, higher than the United States at 6.3% and lower than the United Kingdom at 15.4%.

The combined effect of innovations in machine learning and the availability of big data enables the automation of a potentially wide range of non-routine cognitive activities, like driving a car or medical diagnostics. Activities that are unlikely to be automated soon are those that require social and emotional skills, creativity and the ability to improvise. According to a study by Deloitte, roughly 270,000 new jobs will be created by automation in Switzerland by 2025, and the Adecco group forecasts a shortfall of about 500,000 workers.

The world’s population is expected to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050. The median age of the Swiss population is expected to grow from 42.4 in 2017 to 47.5 in 2050. A declining active workforce puts pressure on the dependency ratio; to sustain current standards of elderly support and pension schemes, societies have to facilitate and encourage longer participation of older employees. Societies have to rethink how their older generations are valued, as well as how to better use their potential. National labour markets have become more and more interdependent.

The outer segments of the labour market – characterised by either unskilled or knowledge-intensive labour – are integrating on a global level. This means that competition over jobs and workforce is increasingly taking place on a global scale. This trend aligns with a preference for international labour mobility among the future workforce: the majority of the Millennial generation (born between 1990 and 1995, also known as generation Y) expects and aspires to work outside their home country at some point in their career.

Core skills and competencies sought

Technological innovation has long been recognised as the distinctive determinant of sustainable economic growth. Technological innovation is predominantly driven by human capital, in particular since our economic system has shifted from one whose added value is determined by physical goods to one rooted in intellectual assets, information, and the talent that develops them. It is estimated that intangible assets, which largely consist of know-how, unique intellectual property and patent rights, drive more than 80% of the valuations of contemporary publicly traded companies. In today’s economy, talent is therefore the most strategic asset, and people are the greatest creator of value. If self-motivation ranks highest on the list of desired personality traits that include complex cognitive, personal and social competencies, curiosity, creativity, agility and adaptability are among the top five personal traits desired from top talents. All these traits relate to openness to learn or to change. One key offer that companies desirous to attract and retain top talent must develop is Learning and Development (L&D), in the context of lifelong learning.

Five key recommendations

Five overarching recommendations transpire from this study:

  1. Companies should define a clear value proposition to attract and retain top talents. This value proposition needs to be explicit at all levels of the organisation and enforced in all company behaviours.
  2. Employers should help employees address planned and unplanned life events by offering them greater work flexibility (when, where, what, how work is done and who does it), thereby boosting the intrinsic motivation of each employee and attracting/retaining older and female talents.
  3. Employers should investigate which skills they will require long-term based on a clear vision, analytics and tracking, then assess their current situation and develop a roadmap and measures to close the gap.
  4. Public education should train in cognitive, personal and social skills starting from an early age. Higher education institutions and employers should collaborate more closely and provide opportunities to practice and learn in real life situations, beyond research and knowledge transfer.
  5. Employers as well as public/private academic institutions should support and encourage lifelong learning. Where possible, offerings should accommodate needs at different ages.