The most valuable currency

What's the most critical currency in today's global economy? Jobs.

Businesswoman sitting in chair surrounded by dollar symbols
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And they likely will be tomorrow's, too. The shortage of job talent into the foreseeable future in staggering. In the Middle East and North Africa, some 100 million jobs must be created simply to maintain current employment levels, according to fresh research from General Electric. Governments, economic policy makers and corporate executives all consider a job as an entry ticket and benefit for new markets. Yet job creation alone can't guarantee competitive viability.

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Long-term growth requires strategic workforce planning, adaptive organizational design and career-long learning and development. The range of challenges involved — demographic shifts, talent rivalries and variations in education and skill levels, among others – underscores the necessity for a multimodal talent strategy.

GE and many other corporations are confronting these challenges. GE invests (U.S.) $1 billion in training and development annually. The company's leadership philosophy, "We All Rise," holds that everyone at GE is a leader. And, with operations in more than 170 countries, in multiple businesses ranging from financial services to jet engines, and with three out of every five employees based outside the United States, GE must compete in every geography.

The hurdles, though, vary with each major global region. In the U.S. and West European markets, for instances, the obstacles center on talent replenishment and knowledge transfer. Enterprises must assure that their productivity remains high even as their veteran baby boomer workers retire. They must counter these challenges with apprenticeships; partnerships that promote academic achievement and the pursuit of advanced degrees by public school students; and programs to hire and train military veterans and help recent graduates build critical leadership skills.

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Then, consider Africa, where talent potential is great but education and skill levels vary and continue to develop. GE, among others, are working with local universities and technical institutions to co-create a curriculum to strengthen skills, particularly in technical disciplines. Further, an advisory council of eminent professors and practitioners from the continent are helping identify mutual needs and ensure long-term talent development. Much of this work is through the GE Kujenga sustainability program (Kujenga means "to build" in Swahili).

In China and India, where an advanced talent pool is more established, competition also is intense. Thus, training and continuing education become critical differentiators. At GE, leadership-development centers in Shanghai and Bangalore are vital to deliver such career-long development.

The implications for employers over the long run are clear:

  • Increase the investment in work force development.
  • Employ strong in-country-for-country and in-country-for-world strategies. This explains why 60 percent of the contents of a new locomotive that our GE-Transportation division is building in Brazil will be made in Brazil.

Employers looking to the future are striving to match talent development to market opportunity — managing their pipeline for both mature markets and growth markets, and building sufficient capacity to accelerate as needed. At the same time, they recognize they must continue to develop leaders who are adaptable and resilient strategic thinkers capable of managing business risk across a range of contexts.

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Ultimately, the most valuable currency represents inventive and insightful ideas that serve society. Today, jobs are the key element of the equation. But to truly maximize human capital to meet human needs, we must recognize that leadership is a never-ending growth opportunity. Extending and accelerating the development of all employees ensures that a company possesses a continuous workforce of trained, motivated and high-performing talent.

Commentary by Raghu Krishnamoorthy, the vice president of executive development and chief learning officer at GE. Follow GE on Twitter @generalelectric.