Broad reskilling around tech will define the future of work, argues LinkedIn China President Jian Lu, but presents opportunities for a wide spectrum of talent, and still offers certain advantages for multinationals over their domestic competitors.
The social and economic shockwaves of the COVID-19 pandemic have strongly amplified underlying trends that were already steadily reshaping the outlook for global industries and the talent marketplace. For many companies, this global crisis uprooted digital transformation efforts with shallow foundations and made gaps in talent and tech-related skills glaringly apparent.
“There are two types of enterprises that digital transformation is impacting differently,” says Jian Lu, President of LinkedIn China. “I don’t think we’re seeing anything particularly new from the pandemic, but more of an acceleration. While ‘natively digital’ tech companies haven’t been as negatively impacted – and, in fact, some of them are doing better – traditional companies are being impacted significantly, with many now dragged into highly accelerated digital transformations out of necessity.”
Tech-powered disruptions have not only shaken-up industries and business models, they have dramatically reshuffled career horizons. According to The Future of Jobs Report, a joint research project from LinkedIn and the World Economic Forum, 150 million new tech jobs will be created over the next five years, and bring sweeping new demand for “tech-enabled jobs” across all sectors. This has ushered in a monumental race for reskilling at a scale that is unprecedented in human history.
This sea change in the future of work has been firmly on LinkedIn’s radar for years, and the company has been expanding its global digital platform to help equip all stakeholders from corporations, to governments, and academia with the data and tools they will need to evolve. One reason to be optimistic is that many luminaries, who are actively building this tech-enabled future, see mounting evidence that the companies who succeed in this paradigm will be people-centered at the core.
Reskilling on a Global Scale
A few months ago, LinkedIn and Microsoft launched their global reskilling project, which seeks to reskill 25 million people worldwide. “When we talk about the skill gap, the reskilling, and the upskilling that have become absolutely essential in today’s workplace, we feel it’s essential that employers are able to continue developing talent while they’re on the job,” says Lu. To this end, LinkedIn is arguably the single best player poised to move the needle on problems related to the future of work, with a massive trove of curated, high-quality data spanning every major organization and hundreds of millions of professionals in more than 200 countries and regions.
Outside of natively digital companies (where “tech first” is part of the DNA), the early waves of digital transformation efforts in traditional companies haven’t necessarily amounted to quantum gains. “The impact of the COVID-19 crisis in conjunction with pervasive reskilling efforts across most functional roles may finally instill tech-enabled, people-centric digital transformation deeper into the fabric of organizations,” says Lu. To help on this journey, LinkedIn has developed a suite of tools to help organizations and professionals navigate this reskilling. This includes everything from macro data partnerships, like Economic Graph, to channels for professionals to learn and share, plus LinkedIn podcasts and influencers.
“For professionals, we offer three values. The first is the ability to build your professional network in China and abroad; the second is passive job searching and career advancement opportunities; and finally we provide a platform for thought-leadership that gives people an ability to stay informed on leading trends and developments,” says Lu.
Technology Adoptions and the Evolution of B2B
The economic and operational difficulties of 2020 also brought intensified time pressure for companies to identify the most impactful areas to apply new technologies. “I think for the natively digital companies, there are opportunities in areas like computing, AI, robotics, and cloud, for example. Many traditional companies are at an earlier stage of embracing advanced technology, and are likely to see the greatest return on investment in areas like digital marketing and leveraging more effective B2B channels,” says Lu.
LinkedIn has now launched a new feature called Online Events, which connects with LinkedIn Live and other livestreaming and webinar platforms. “Traditionally, in enterprise B2B marketing where you have a business solution, the mainstream way to market it is still going to a big expo to meet potential customers. These are not a complete replacement for offline activity, but we’re seeing strong interest and participation from businesses seeking new features and channels to connect,” Lu adds.
Even before COVID-19 interrupted large-scale physical events, online marketplaces like LinkedIn were introducing changes in B2B information sharing that mutually benefits companies on both sides of the buying equation. As business solutions become more complex and costly involving multiple departments, the B2B customer decision journey has gotten longer. “In enterprise B2B, there is a growing interest in two-sided marketplaces, which allows companies to be more sophisticated and targeted in communicating with multiple decision makers across an organization,” he says. As a result, advanced marketing teams have long singled out LinkedIn as the premium platform for high-ticket products and services, thanks to the ability to reach leaders at the right seniority and functional roles in a business-minded setting.
Native Innovation and the Talent Ecosystem
“There is now a lot of discussion about ‘dual circulation’ in China, starting with domestic consumption as a primary driver. But for greater growth, I think China cannot ignore the overseas export market,” says Lu. Regardless of how popular sentiment on globalization progresses, he continues, Chinese enterprises realize that an effective dual circulation strategy will still require a substantial pool of highly bilingual and bicultural talent.
In late October, LinkedIn and Center for China & Globalization (CCG) jointly published the University Alumni Insights: Chinese Graduate Career Development Prospects 2020, analyzing the profiles of more than 218,000 graduates from ten of China’s top universities. The findings show that more than 70% of graduates from this group studied abroad, but 80% of that subset then returns to China for work. “Anecdotally, we also know that this year, there has been an even greater number of students who completed their study overseas in places like the US, but due to a very tight job market and other challenges are returning en masse even with the difficulty of finding air tickets to return to China. So there’s another kind of ‘circulation’ happening here, with talents from top Chinese universities gaining international education experience and intercultural competence, but the majority then seeking job opportunities in China,” says Lu.
LinkedIn remains an important platform for this returning group to maintain academic and professional connections. “This group represents new talent in the workforce, who are highly educated and have overseas educational experience,” he says. “They will prove valuable for companies that are modernizing themselves and want to reach international markets.” Domestic companies who want to do business abroad will need to build branding and corporate identities that international audiences trust, starting with their presentation on platforms like LinkedIn. Currently, though, it’s not difficult to find influential Chinese companies with barebones LinkedIn profiles and barely any employees linking to their official page – from the outside looking in, these companies could easily be mistaken as inconsequential.
“There are very different standards for company culture,” Lu explains. “Throughout corporations in Asia, whether at the level of companies or the whole society, there is a greater priority placed on the development and success of the organization, rather than on individual ability. That’s a very different view than in many Silicon Valley companies, where championing the talents and the success of individual teammates is seen as a driving factor in the success of the organization.” Lu also notes that the way in which company culture and new generations of talent continue to develop in China will be a cornerstone of the dual circulation story, along with cross-border digital platforms that connect these people and organizations to the world.
Maintaining a Competitive Foothold in China
Lu, who from 2021 will join the AmCham China Board of Governors, stresses the importance of the US and foreign business community coming together to become stronger collectively. “I believe AmCham China can play a role bringing this community together, because there are certainly headwinds. In terms of multinational companies competing for talent and market share in China, we’re now at a disadvantage compared to 20 years ago,” he says. That’s due in part to jobseekers having more choices today, from large domestic companies to start-ups, and increasingly attractive packages on offer from top Chinese companies.
“From my own experience running a multinational company subsidiary in China, the company leadership needs to be very clear about their competitive advantages and leverage those in their China strategy. Specifically, they should avoid competing with domestic companies on their respective advantages,” says Lu. “There are always new fads in the market that domestic companies are chasing and I think it would not be strategic for a multinational company to compete on that front. Local companies may be more nimble and very fast-paced in execution.”
Looking at the big success stories of Chinese tech companies, the founding idea might have once drawn on an imported business model. However, after waves of considerable innovation and adaption to domestic needs, any initial similarities are almost unrecognizable. “I think a lot of this evolution or transformation in China has already taken place prior to COVID, such as the way the Chinese internet has developed. More recently, we’ve seen a proliferation of celebrity and KOL-driven business models,” says Lu. “Those models have enjoyed great success, but business leaders and the VC community have realized it is increasingly difficult for new companies to replicate that kind of success at scale. So now there is a turn from business model innovation back to technology innovation, and that is where MNCs can bring their unique strengths.”