While artificial intelligence (AI) may still be synonymous with images of robots, it’s becoming pervasive in our daily lives, from our personalized shopping experiences on Amazon to our individual entertainment suggestions on Netflix. AI uses our browsing and purchasing histories to evaluate what we consume and make recommendations accordingly.

At home, we take virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri for granted. We depend on them for traffic reports, weather forecasts, the latest news and even placing Amazon orders. These services use natural language processing to understand and respond to our requests.

As we begin to transact more digitally, AI and AI-driven chatbots are instrumental in delivering strong customer experiences. Whether it’s to process a return on a retailer site, prequalify a candidate for a job application or answer questions about a product, a chatbot is available 24/7 and can drive personalized customer experiences.

In social and business environments alike, AI is becoming engrained in our daily lives.

Massive Labor Market Churn

AI is set to drive a workforce transformation that we haven’t seen since the advent of the personal computer. While it will eliminate 75 million jobs, AI will also create more than 133 million jobs, according to the World Economic Forum: Future of Jobs report. There will also be an accelerating demand for a variety of wholly new specialist roles related to understanding and leveraging the latest emerging technologies. AI will create roles such as AI and machine learning specialists, big data specialists, process automation experts, information security analysts, user experience and human-machine interaction designers, robotics engineers, and blockchain specialists — all of which did not exist a decade ago.

The technological revolution we have seen over the past 30 years has been unparalleled and exponential, resulting in more jobs and higher salaries. The future is ever-changing, and what felt impossible a decade ago is now deemed a mundane part of workers’ everyday lives. As such, there is no telling where science will take us next … or what the next step for AI will be.

If We Could Survive Spreadsheets, We Can Survive AI

The birth of spreadsheets reduced the demand for bookkeepers by more than 44% since 1985, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal. However, people who could “run numbers” on the new software became hot commodities. Since that year, the number of accountants and auditors has grown 41%, and the number of financial managers and management analysts has almost quadrupled, to reach 2.1 million.

Just as spreadsheets reduced costs and increased the demand for calculations, machine learning — the application of AI to large data sets — will do the same for predictions. However, unlike spreadsheets, machine learning doesn’t yield exact answers; it reduces uncertainty so that domain specialists can make evaluations accordingly.

Even with the rapid advancement of technology, nothing has genuinely replaced humans or made them secondary in the world’s hierarchy. Why? The answer is simple: We live in a human-made society. And humans, being innately self-serving creatures, would never let anything, technology or otherwise, turn them into secondary citizens within their creation. Although machines may eventually take over most jobs as we know them today, it’s safe to assume that new job opportunities will arise in the future, making up for the lost livelihood.

New Work, New Skills

As the nature of human work changes in the emerging technological context, a new workforce is set to emerge, requiring a diverse range of skills. Innovating and succeeding in this constantly evolving corporate landscape is challenging, as dealing with a complex and unknown future requires individuals who can communicate effectively, apply problem-solving and critical-thinking skills on the job, and draw and act on insights from vast amounts of data. To survive in the future of work, organizations need employees with strong soft and technical skills.

Ultimately, technological advancements are changing the nature of work and, with it, the skills employees need to succeed in today’s business environment. As a result, organizations must prioritize upskilling and reskilling initiatives to ensure they — and their employees — are prepared for the future.

Closing the Skills Gap

The IBM Institute for Business Value has identified organizations three strategies organizations can use to build and maintain a skilled workforce:

1.) Make It Personal

Personalization has become commonplace in the consumer world. Creating learning experiences tailored to customer and market needs and employee goals and interests can improve retention and help build a future-proof workforce. This approach requires the training organization to understand the current skills of every employee, know where the corporation wants and/or needs to progress, and create personalized learning paths.

AI can help create these personalized paths and bring a meaningful employee learning experience to life. Most importantly, however, companies must foster a culture of continuous learning, personalizing the employee life cycle to build, grow and reward continual skill growth in the future of work.

2.) Turn up the Transparency

To stop operating in the dark, organizations must protect their people by making skills development initiatives a key part of their people strategy. Organizations should develop a transparent skills-based people strategy that:

  • Shows employees the roles and skills that are growing in market demand.
  • Provides employees with engaging, meaningful ways to develop their skills in the areas that matter most.
  • Allows them to demonstrate their skill proficiency and recognizes employees who have progressed.

This new level of transparency provides employees with information to self-direct their learning and career choices.

3.) Look Inside and Out

To remain competitive, companies must adopt an open technology architecture and organize a set of partners that can take advantage of the latest advancements. Inside the organization, organizations should build agile teams with heterogenous skill sets to enable experiential, peer-to-peer innovation and create a culture where learning becomes viral. They should also create opportunities for job-sharing and internal mobility that focus on skills development and share skilled talent across organizational boundaries.

Across the external ecosystem, organizations should engage a coalition of partners to explore and pilot innovative skills gap closure strategies iteratively. Additionally, they should invest in innovative skill-building technologies and harness the power of initiatives such as massive open online courses (MOOCs), coding schools and bootcamps, and industry expertise networks, by using AI to source and curate the most relevant educational assets for learners.

A Call to Action

The skills shortage is unlikely to go away any time soon. Closing this global skills gap will require collaboration across ecosystems that span industry, education and government environments. Executives can start today by committing to a modern workforce strategy that places skills at the center, delivers deep visibility into the skill levels of both the enterprise and individual employees, personalizes skills development at scale, and leverages new partnerships and platforms that integrate data and insights across the employee life cycle. The time to act is now.

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