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Is Talent the Future Currency?

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Companies, countries and cities are increasingly competing for talent and seeking to attract, develop and retain it. Talent has become the key resource of the global economy and, therefore, is one that decision-makers need to understand in depth.

As the leading provider of HR solutions and one of the largest employers in the world, Adecco is confronted with the realities and challenges of labor markets daily. Present in over 60 countries, working with over 100,000 companies and employing more than 850,000 people every day, we see talent becoming increasingly scarce in many regions, due to demographics, and also to the mismatch between skills available and open positions.

Together with INSEAD and Singapore's Human Capital Leadership Institute, Adecco launched the first Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI) in November 2014. The GTCI confirms that countries apply different strategies to develop and retain talent. The result is that some countries are talent champions, others underperformers, and there seems to be a clear correlation with their respective economic and labor market performances.

Talent champions foster and develop locally available talent by making their labor markets more flexible, by investing in lifelong learning and by promoting geographical mobility. The availability of "labor and vocational skills" and "global knowledge skills" seem to be other crucial elements to do well in today's talent economy.

Countries in the northern hemisphere are struggling to match talent with market demand. In the United States, for example, millions of jobs in manufacturing and agriculture have shifted to the services and creative sectors. Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, is struggling to find enough talent with MINT (mathematics, engineering, natural sciences and technical) training to match the more than 90,000 technical and engineering vacancies. Even Switzerland, the "talent champion," faces a serious talent mismatch, for instance, in healthcare, where 40 percent of hospital roles need to be filled by foreign nationals.

The growing importance of talent comes at a time when the global labor market is suffering from high unemployment in many -- especially European -- economies. Youth unemployment, in particular, is at unacceptably high levels. Across Europe, nearly eight million young people are out of work, education and training. That is almost one person in four. Over 55 percent of young people are jobless in Spain; over 60 percent in Greece.

The mismatch in the need for and the availability of talents with the right skills is muddying the waters even further with many unfilled vacancies. In the US and Europe, up to eight million jobs are left vacant each year, with different countries requiring different skills. While in Asia, the demand for highly skilled workers now far exceeds the talent pool. China, for example, may face a skills gap of more than 20 million college-educated workers by 2020, and Indonesia's need for skilled workers could rise from 55 million to 113 million by 2030.

As the GTCI score exemplifies, China, which still exhibits solid economic growth rates, achieves 47th position in the ranking. Could this threaten the country's prospects for sustainable growth? To make matters even more complex, businesses and job seekers are increasingly looking for novel, more flexible ways of working.

All this emphasizes that it is more important than ever to understand talent. Governments and companies need to work together to create labor markets that are based on an understanding of what employers need and the skills required to meet those needs in an efficient labor market, taking into account labor mobility and education systems. The future currency is talent and only countries that can nurture, attract and retain the workforce of the future will come out on top.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum to mark the Forum's Annual Meeting 2014 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 22-25). The Forum's Strategic Partner community comprises a select group of leading global companies representing diverse regions and industries that have been selected for their alignment with the Forum's commitment to improving the state of the world. Read all the posts in the series here.