Technology is changing the ways we live and work – the emergence of a ubiquitous internet, connected objects (e.g. self-driven cars), digital technology, robotics and virtual teams working from remote locations. They are affecting the world of work so deeply. Talent readiness and talent competitiveness will largely determine which economies will be leading in the race to turn technological advances into job creation.

The effects of technological change are increasingly impacting talent competitiveness. Jobs at all levels are being replaced by machines, technology is also creating new opportunities. However, people and organisations will need to adapt to a working environment in which technology know-how, people skills, flexibility and collaboration are key to success. Horizontal networks are replacing hierarchies as the new leadership norm.

Governments and business will need to work together to build educational systems, change ways of working and re-engineer talent attraction policies. But our school system, dating from the factory age, prepares our children for routine work rather than for creativity and projects, also neglecting to foster the learning-how-to-learn mentality that is needed in a world where people will have multiple careers during their lives.

The Insead Business School has recently released their fourth edition of Global Talent Competitiveness Index. Switzerland and Singapore occupy the top spots in 2017, with four Nordic countries in the top 10 (Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway). The United Kingdom and the United States rank third and fourth respectively.

These countries share key traits, including educational systems that meet the needs of the economy, employment policies that favour flexibility, mobility and entrepreneurship, and high connectedness of stakeholders in business and government.

The fast advance of automation and artificial intelligence is the source of the most disruptive changes of our time in the way we live and work. The transition will be rocky, so governments and business must act.

Education system reforms are urgently needed to provide the right technical and people skills, and the ability to adapt to change. As a multi-career reality becomes the norm, workers must boost employability by committing to life-long learning. At the same time, employment policies must combine employers’ need for flexibility with social protection.

Technology is having a profound impact on the nature and structure of work. In this digital era where work is constantly evolving, a premium is placed not on employees who possess the highest level of technical competencies, but on those who have the ability to learn and re-learn on the job. Many employees will find themselves facing technological and structural unemployment if they do not re-invent themselves.

Successful transformational change is most likely to occur where there are strong ecosystems. Cities and regions are showing the way in talent competitiveness because they enjoy a higher level of higher financial independence and economic growth rates than the countries in which they are located and have more agile decision making and innovative branding abilities. The top ten cities combine high quality of life, high connectivity, and high levels of opportunities for international exposure and careers.

The Insead Report offers an interesting picture of a world in which talent moves not only from country to country but also from city to city, often across national borders. Cities are hence emerging as global players on the talent competition scene. The rankings show that although megacities such as San Francisco, Madrid or Paris are among the leaders, smaller cities such as Copenhagen, Zurich, Gothenburg, or Dublin are competitors to be reckoned with. They are cities where talent can find excellent career opportunities, good connectivity (broadband and transport) and a high quality of life for themselves and their families.

Many small cities amongst the top performers have less than 400,000 inhabitants. Top performers combine the best of both worlds (high quality of life combined with opportunities for international exposure and careers). Interestingly 3 Scandinavian cities feature in the top 5, having benefited from concerted strategies for attracting and retaining talent.

Technology and hyper-connectivity are already changing the nature of work: along with demographic, economic and social factors, they are driving the rise of a more independent and dispersed workforce. Flexibility is the watchword of our age, as we are shifting from an environment in which work was based on traditional (salaried) employment to one where 30% of the USA and European working population are free agents. Foxconn the mega supplier of Apple has already replaced 60,000 of the 110,000 workers at its giant plant near Shanghai by deploying thousands of industrial robots.

Technical skills plus social/project competence are crucial for the new talent profile since innovation increasingly comes from collaboration. As the world we live in is so unpredictable, young people must be empowered by ‘learning how to learn’, along with creativity, problem solving and communication skills. Curricula must consist of experiential and project based approaches, including work-based training opportunities, such as apprenticeship systems. In a multi-career age, moreover, life-long learning is a must.

We are experiencing a profound transformation of society, organisations, careers, education and employment. Organizations are becoming flatter and interconnected; results and collaboration win over authority and hierarchy and a ‘multi-career’ has become the norm.