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Look Busy, a Robot Might Take Your Job

Expectations are now set for individualized learning of skills, both for the now and the future.


@henniestander via Unsplash

Unleash Your Mindset Progress in AI is moving at breakneck speed, so how can we prepare the labor market with the right skills for the future?

  • More than 60% of executives say their organization is woefully behind
  • Automation and AI causes both direct and indirect effects on skills and the labor market.
  • Benchmark against current business demands, making sure to assess what skills are needed now, next year and in the future.

A day usually doesn’t pass without some version of the “robots are coming for our jobs!” story popping up in our news notifications or social media feeds. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a big story, and with good reason. But many of us might be a touch uneasy. We’ve all thought at least once or twice, “How will AI affect my job?” 

If you use services within the health care, transportation, entertainment, media, or security industries, you’ve seen firsthand the impact of automation. When Netflix serves up personalized movie recommendations or Google Home adds “coffee beans” to your shopping list, that’s AI at work. Do you check Waze before hitting rush-hour traffic? That’s more AI at your fingertips. 

Depending on your comfort level with the steady progression of AI-enhanced technologies, you may feel exhilarated or uncomfortable. Progress is certainly being made at breakneck speed. If you work in marketing, human resources, legal, education or finance, it’s just a matter of time before some of your work becomes more automated. 

The Robots Are Coming…Look Busy by Laura Thomson via TEDxRoyalTunbridgeWellsWomen

Changing the Organizational Mindset 

For those of us in learning and development, there’s good news about AI’s ascendance: It offers HR professionals an opportunity to be more proactive than ever in assisting people in developing their skills. We need to be particularly adept at figuring out what the next set of skills will be for our employees. On one hand we’ve got to get better at peering into the crystal ball of the future. But we also have to do a really stellar job of creating the crystal ball in the first place. Happily for us, the stats show that our colleagues want to learn new skills or re-train to remain employable in the future, according to PWCs’ Workforce of the Future report

Even better, enhancing talent development — by offering learning that develops the skills employees need — gives our employees a better experience at work. This in turn drives engagement, which studies show leads to improved business performance. When talent development is connected to business goals and strategies, everyone wins. 

“How will AI affect my job?” 

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Where L&D Needs to Be 

As we peer into that crystal ball once more, we already know that in the digital transformation race, more than 60 percent of executives say their organization is woefully behind. 

Workers with highly specialized and in-demand skills — such as data scientists and software developers — will want to work for companies that have their digital transformation game together. The very top companies will have pushed talent development to the forefront of their employee experience, developing employees’ skills with personalized learning that’s directly related to the company’s business goals and strategies. Companies that fail to make these learning and performance connections will struggle to attract the best of the best. 

photo.lara_ via Twenty20

Larry Boyer, author of “The Robot in the Next Cubicle,” points to a few things that L&D pros can do to help others rev up their digital transformations, including taking a hard look at the automation of jobs and responsibilities. What are the direct and indirect effects? A direct effect is losing a job to automation because AI replaces what you do. Boyer says an indirect effect is when a new firm uses AI or develops a substitute product, and it then grows and puts the company you work for out of business. 

Let’s look at three ways L&D professionals can assess the impact of AI on employees and get them ready for the next step. 

Uncover The Skills You Need Now and Into the Future 

This is a place where HR can truly shine. Use a centralized HR system to paint a vibrant picture that contains job descriptions, employee profiles, employee goals and performance to set the organization up for success. Take the time to benchmark this data against current business demands, making sure to assess what skills are needed now, next year and in the future. What technology is necessary today? What about three years from now? How can your employees contribute to areas of the business outside of their current area? Remember to draw a dotted line between the learning the employees might need and how that training will lead to improved business performance. 

new tech can provide employees with a different and maybe even “fun” spin on learning.

Serve Up In-Demand Resources 

Now that your HR team knows the skills that employees have and which skills will be in demand, you can start to pull together vital resources and learning tools that will help employees cross-train and develop. In case you missed the memo, L&D teams are well on their way to becoming a useful education facilitator for people and teams, providing clear and easy access to many forms of learning. The latest in talent development puts these resources in the hands of learners as they want it: It’s a learning experience that is customizable, just in time and just for them. 

The sixth annual Learning in the Workplace Survey indicates that this type of customizable learning is what people want and expect. Employees who ranked different learning formats in order of usefulness put daily work experiences, knowledge sharing with teams, web searches and the use of web resources as the clear favorites. Sorry, in-person trainers: Classroom training and e-learning — which has traditionally been the focus of L&D — fell to the bottom of the list. 

Give New Tech a Warm Welcome 

Often, new tech can provide employees with a different and maybe even “fun” spin on learning. While some new tech falls by the wayside pretty fast (Google Glass, anyone?), other AI-powered tech is helpful in daily life, such as the smart reply feature in Gmail. The feature suggests three different brief but customized responses to answer an email. Your learning management system may suggest various resources to help you perform better, learning more about you every day. 

Bersin’s 2018 HR Technology Disruptions report spotlights the use of virtual and augmented reality in corporate learning. These types of learning experiences, in addition to formal and informal learning, present L&D professionals with seemingly endless opportunities to create highly skilled workers with the help of new tech such as wearable augmented-reality glasses and “see what I see” (SWIS) glasses. 

sagefoto via Twenty20

Although there often is a learning curve with new tech, once employees are confident in the applications they often derive enjoyment out of new tools and resources. Learning new skills to embrace the upward trajectory of AI is no different. The upside is more engaged employees who enjoy their jobs and feel stimulated and challenged. Once again, learning can lead to engagement, personal development and a leap forward in performance. 

AI’s Impact and Reach 

Anyone who has placed an Amazon Alexa on their kitchen counter and asked for a recipe, the weather forecast or to hear a song on Spotify has enjoyed the intimacy that modern technology brings to our lives. With just a few taps on our devices, we can order groceries, deposit checks, pay our friends for our share of dinner or call for a Lyft. These types of connections and interactions are happening at work too. 

As L&D pros, we should be at the forefront of helping our colleagues understand the impact of technology and AI. Our best business performance and our best employee experiences will occur when we make sure our companies are ready with training, learning strategies, talent development and performance management practices that embrace the future of work. So bring on the robots — we’ll be ready! 

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