Want top talent in your company? Then get mobile

When water, then steam, power were harnessed to spin and weave cloth, a cottage craft turned into an industry overnight. Since then, further technological transformations have followed: Henry Ford's production line and the transistor are two 20th century examples while robots, hyper-connectivity and, potentially, 3D printing are examples from more recent times.i

But technology is just one of the factors affecting the world of work. Economics, demographics, sociological trends and government policies also reshape labour markets and determine how we will work for years ahead. Considering most people spend most of their time – and thus a large part of their lives – at work, such changes are central to us all. And the world of work is changing faster than ever.

The five drivers underpin five key trends for tomorrow's workforce. Mobility is gaining importance for employer and employee alike, while hyper-connectivity is making the location of work less relevant. Ageing population challenges make inclusion another important development, with ever more emphasis on diversity at work.

Tomorrow's workers will also be much more independent in terms their attitude - not just because of all those communications gadgets in their pockets. The result will be a new "work-life blend" in which a "job" is no longer confined to the traditional hours or places, with employees taking total control. And with greater volatility and flexibility the norm, tomorrow's workers will have a very different approach to their predecessors, most evident through a greater emphasis on "purpose" in job selection.

'Now Hiring' signage is displayed as job seekers wait in line to enter the San Jose Career Fair in San Jose, California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
'Now Hiring' signage is displayed as job seekers wait in line to enter the San Jose Career Fair in San Jose, California.

What do these changes mean for countries and businesses trying to attract the best talents to boost competitiveness?

The Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI) 2015-16, an annual study by INSEAD, Adecco and Singapore's Human Capital Leadership Institute, focuses this year on the key role of openness for talent attraction. Appropriately at a time of haunting images of human masses in transit, it concentrates on talent mobility. And mobility, it stresses, no longer means just human flows, but a wealth of new opportunities - often enabled by the latest technology - alongside novel management practices.

In this scenario, "brain circulation" is more fitting than "brain gain" or "brain drain" to describe the potential benefits for countries of destination, transit and origin alike.

Mobility also means seizing opportunities to boost knowledge and expertise in ways that were unimaginable until very recently - just think of all those courses and lectures now online. For employers, mobility no longer means just traditional expatriate placements, but moving jobs to where talented people are located. And for countries aiming to excel in attracting talent, companies are needed that are committed to professional management practices. That means, among other things, a commitment to meritocracy, rather than promotion through cronyism or kinship. And it involves appreciating the importance of fast and relevant career development opportunities: research shows the millennial generation - in Asia's emerging markets in particular - thirsts for professional and personal development.

For millennials especially, mobility has become a key factor in selecting a potential career path and in choosing an appropriate employer. As mobility evidently helps to develop talent, it deserves specific attention and investment from countries and businesses. Companies – or states - that fail to notice these signals, do so at their peril.

This redefinition of mobility is essential to understanding the prominence of those countries emerging as the world's "talent champions". Those countries that dominate the 2015-16 GTCI are the ones that have a long-standing tradition of immigration, and economies that have a clear focus on becoming "talent hubs", attracting external know-how.

The GTCI is an action tool for continuous improvement in linking talent to economic development, and an instrument to stimulate dialogue between governments, business, academia, professionals and citizens. It helps companies and governments understand the broader issues behind talent competiveness and the shifting forces in the market.

So what are its key messages? For regulators and governments, structural reforms to remove barriers and bureaucracy and simplification of labor markets remain paramount, along with reducing taxes on labor, boosting education and training where necessary, and supporting startups.

Employers, for their part, must boost diversity and training, fostering inter-cultural environments and an atmosphere of exchange, so all can benefit. They should invest in technology in general, and in hyper-connectivity in particular, boosting mobility and flexibility. Companies should also take steps to facilitate employee autonomy and networking.

And beyond pure physical mobility, they should work to nurture a broader "mobility mindset" - a set of goals essential in today's increasingly fluid and challenging competitive landscape. For mobilising talent, in the broadest sense, is as much part of the fourth industrial revolution, the theme of this year's Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, as water and steam were in the first.

Alain Dehaze is Chief Executive Officer at Adecco Group