Business Strategy

Preparing for a Decisive Decade

  • September 14, 2021
Steve Toft, Associate, PARC

For the past year, much of the discussion about the future of work has focused on the impact of the Covid pandemic but, while this is important, it risks blinding us to everything else. The social, political and economic forces gathering pace in the last decade are still in play. The 2020s will be a pivotal decade, and probably would have been, even without the pandemic as a curtain raiser. 

2030 might sound like a long time away but it is only the same number of years ahead of us as the 2012 London Olympics is behind us. It will be here before we know it.

It is likely that, by 2030:

  • Population profiles will be top heavy, workforces will shrink and in some countries the elderly will predominate.
  • Carbon Net Zero targets enshrined in law will see us stop driving petrol cars and stop burning gas in our homes.
  • The process of re-engineering buildings and industrial processes for Carbon Net Zero will need to be well under way.
  • US economic and commercial domination will diminish and, inevitably, so will its military superiority. The country we have come to know as ‘top nation’ will lose its edge.

Many of us will have to get used to living with a climate we are not used to and for which our buildings, our transport and our infrastructure were not designed.

This decade is likely to see the most significant change that many of us will experience during our working lives. A lot will happen and a lot must happen. The combined and cumulative effect will be disruptive for governments, companies and households. Most of the assumptions we have held sacred since the 1950’s – about economic growth, the political balance of power, how we travel, what is valuable and at what age we stop working – are about to be rendered obsolete.

The nature of this decade’s disruption will be very different from that envisaged by much of the literature on business change, which tended to assume that change would be driven by business innovation. Climate change and the government responses to it, running in parallel with the aftermath of a pandemic, an ageing population and a shrinking workforce, may yet pose more of a challenge to existing business models than the expected advances in technology.

As with any rapid change, there will be winners and losers. For some of us it will be threatening, for many of us uncomfortable, but for a few (businesses and individuals) it will provide the opportunity that catapults them to fame and fortune. The upheaval might break up entrenched power and usher in a period of greater inequality. Or it might increase divisions and deprive the poorer citizens of what little security they have.

The intention behind this event and the accompanying report was neither to be glass-half-full nor glass-half-empty. Simply understanding what is in the glass is a reasonable place to start. Our main concern is that, as far as we can tell, governments and companies have only recently started to take on board these developments and few have made the connections between them. The business challenges will be significant, and it will require different mindsets and skillsets to deal with them. Employers need to start planning for this and preparing their workforces for this turbulent decade now.

To bring some clarity to this rapidly changing situation and complex mix of forces, we will be joined by a panel with a wide range of perspectives on international business and the global economy:

  • Gregory Thwaites – Former Head of International Research at the Bank of England, and currently Research Director at the Resolution Foundation leading its Economy 2030 Inquiry.
  • Gillian Pillans – Providing insights from the extensive research conducted in this area by CRF and their current report on ‘Reskilling and Rethinking Work’.
  • Duncan Weldon – Economics correspondent for the Economist and former asset manager at Senhouse Capital, and Economics and Business Editor for BBC Newsnight.
  • James Ludlow – Group Reward & Policy Director, Vodafone.

Catch up with the Post Meeting Notes here.

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