Global CEOs' recession concerns fade as talent shortage bites

While Brexit was a relatively low concern globally, it was No 8 among CEOs in Europe, unchanged from the previous year.
While Brexit was a relatively low concern globally, it was No 8 among CEOs in Europe, unchanged from the previous year.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG)- Fears of a world economic slump have receded among chief executive officers, who are instead preoccupied with hiring and retaining top employees, an annual survey found.

Global CEOs polled by the Conference Board, a New York-based researcher, ranked a global recession as their 19th concern out of 28 choices, down from being the top worry a year earlier. Failure to attract and retain talent was the No. 1 concern, followed by creating new business models and cash-flow volatility, according to the C-Suite Challenge survey, conducted from September to November.

The shift in concerns from a cold economy to a hot one mirrors an upswing in global growth and declines in unemployment, including the lowest level in the US since 2000 and an eight-year low in the euro-area.

Other major worries include new competitors, developing leaders and cybersecurity, while Brexit, terrorism and America's departure from the Paris climate accord were at the bottom of the list."

A big change from last year's survey was factors that CEOs can't control are further down on the list and ones that they can control are further up," Conference Board chief economist Bart van Ark, a co-author of the report, said in an interview.

The report, out on Thursday (Jan 18), is based on responses from 561 CEOs and 475 other senior executives from more than 50 countries.

Formerly called the CEO Challenge, the survey began in 1999 and was expanded this year to include other officials such as chief financial officers and chief information officers.

While Brexit was a relatively low concern globally, it was No 8 among CEOs in Europe, unchanged from the previous year. US CEOs also expressed more concern about declining trust in political and policy institutions in America.

Among other issues, concern about income inequality rose to seventh from 18th among global chiefs. Threats to global trade jumped to eighth worldwide from 15th, as the Trump administration withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and considered pulling out of Nafta.

Above all, though, companies are trying to cope with a tight labor market and find workers with needed skills."They are trying to get the talent piece right," said Rebecca Ray, another co-author and an executive vice president at the Conference Board.

One way to deal with the issue is to tap temporary or freelance workers, according to the report.

In one portion of the survey, about 80 per cent of chief human resources officers said they agree with the statement that the share of contingent workers and freelancers will increase. The use of automation and robots is also likely to rise, according to the survey.