ABB at WEF: leading in times of digital revolution

2017-01-16 - The world is changing at an ever-faster pace. What does this mean for the workforce?
The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting is a prestigious event which, over several decades, has consistently attracted major business leaders, heads of state and thought leaders to the ski resort of Davos in Switzerland. ABB is a strategic partner, with both CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer and Chairman Peter Voser, along with other senior managers, sharing their expertise throughout the four days of the event, which takes place between the 17th and 20th of January.

This year’s WEF annual meeting is the first to welcome a Chinese head of state and, underscoring ABB’s important role in China, the week of WEF sees a meeting between Ulrich Spiesshofer and Premier Xi Jinping, as well as a Chinese trade delegation visit to an ABB site in Switzerland.

The centerpiece of ABB’s involvement in WEF 2017 is an event held on Wednesday the 18th of January in Davos, featuring Ulrich Spiesshofer and David Autor, a professor of economics at M.I.T. and an authority on the impact of digital technology on jobs. The theme of the event is “leadership and employment in times of digital revolution”. ABB believes that digitalization is of benefit to mankind, increasing productivity, mitigating the effects of climate change and improving quality of life. The rapid pace of change may lead to the loss of certain jobs, but new ones are created and others are evolving.

In academic papers David Autor has written that, after 200 years of technology replacing labor, there are still many jobs. He posits that current fears of massive job elimination fail to take into account humanity’s capacity for endless innovation and insatiability. For example, the introduction of cash machines, or ATMs (automatic teller machines) in the 1970s was expected to lead to the elimination of human tellers. In fact, their number rose as automation and IT made it cheaper to open and new branches, and allowed personnel to be shifted to more diverse tasks. However, whilst automation and technology create wealth and opportunities, he warns that institutions must decide how the wealth is distributed throughout society.

ABB is a world leader in automation and robots, both key drivers of the fourth industrial revolution. These will lead to more jobs, not less: countries with the highest density of industrial robots (such as Japan, Germany and South Korea) also have the lowest unemployment levels. In China, where ABB recently sold its fifty thousandth robot, automation is being embraced to counter a huge drop in workforce in the coming decades

Leading by example, ABB is proactively managing its internal organization to make it “future ready”. Digital technology training is customized to suit the needs of our multi-generational workforce, apprenticeships are being expanded in robotics and automation, and strong university relationships are being maintained, ensuring that we attract the best millennial talent.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution offers an unprecedented opportunity to improve the world and achieve the UN’s goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. To do so, we must keep moving forward and, at WEF 2017, ABB demonstrates how we deliver responsible and responsive leadership in the face of upcoming technological upheaval.

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