According to a recent McKinsey survey, “executives increasingly see investing in retraining and ‘upskilling’ existing workers as an urgent business priority” — and they also believe that this is an issue where corporations, not governments, must take the lead. Yet executives struggle with several barriers to address the skills gap. One-third of executives believe they need to transform their current HR infrastructure and feel they lack a deep “understanding of how automation and/or digitization will affect our future skills needs.” Additionally, traditional training and retraining has generally failed in the past. So what are organizations to do? McKinsey’s research indicates that empowering employees to be more productive is the key to “cracking the code on reskilling.” When considering investment in training, “the only way to realize the potential productivity dividends from that investment will be to have the people and processes in place to capture it.” Having an action plan to manage the transition into a workplace that has been transformed by automation will become imperative to succeed in the future of work. In exploring when and how to retrain workers, executives are also assessing what part of the future employment demand can be met by retraining current employees, what the ROI of doing so would be, exploring nontraditional talent pools, and how partnering with private, public, and NGO sectors can help.
With so many different schools of thought around how AI and new developments in technology will affect and define work, what are some actions employers can take to prepare for using automation in the workplace and support their human employees at the same time? Based on recent research, Accenture’s Mark Knickrehm suggests that organizations focus on using technology to “augment human skills,” such as having automation take over routine or tedious work while freeing up employees to have more time to do high-value work. Knickrehm also recommends rethinking organizational design: assessing which tasks are most likely to be given to machines, then redefining current jobs with new tasks or creating entirely new roles that may be needed to help manage intelligent technology altogether. When redefining the new organization as an “intelligent enterprise,” organizations can involve employees in building it, which can help “unleash human talents that machines still can’t match and that are essential to growth.” The clothing subscription service Stitch Fix is one example of a workplace that successfully blends AI and human work — employees and their AI system work in tandem, with machines speeding up the process and the human employees contributing final recommendations that require judgement machines can’t make. In the end, “companies that actively seize control of what can be done to prepare will position themselves to thrive in this exciting new era.”
Caught in the Middle
While facing the transition into the age of automation, organizations are exploring how to best support employees with retraining. But what about middle-skills workers who are currently unemployed or have already been displaced? Jeffrey Selingo continues The Atlantic’s “What Makes a Worker?” series with a look into the retraining dilemma for middle-skills workers, a demographic where many do not hold a college degree and have already been affected by automation. In general, the state of current retraining programs often deters workers from participating, with many resisting the need to relocate, go back to school, or enter a specific occupation based on gender stereotypes. For unemployed workers, “it’s often easier to collect unemployment or other cash benefits that come along with training” instead of learning new skills or earning a degree. Between now and 2024, 16 million middle-skill jobs will be open, but many of them require education beyond a high-school diploma, and “the pathway to retraining these days almost always runs through a college campus.” Community colleges have become key in helping facilitate better retraining programs that target needs of middle-skills workers and work with local organizations to develop programs for in-demand skills. The more higher education institutions and organizations partner to align retraining with hiring needs, the better, especially as many workers are more willing to enroll in training when there is a better chance of a job at the other end.
The New Steel
It’s official: “for the first time in history, health care has surpassed manufacturing and retail to become the largest source of jobs in the U.S.” This is for a variety of reasons: the population of aging Americans is growing, with nearly one-fourth of the workforce reaching 55 or older by 2025 — and the larger elderly population will need more care. Health care is also publicly subsidized, which helps to protect health care employment even through economic downturns. Finally, health care is one of the few industries that is resistant to globalization and automation, since health care is generally local and most occupations within the health care industry cannot be replaced by robots or artificial intelligence. In fact, one in ten of new jobs in the next decade will be for personal care aides or home health aides. “Of the 10 jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will see the fastest growth in the next decade, five are in health care and elderly assistance.” Health care is also poised for a potential transformation, with the recent merger between Aetna and CVS and the possibilities of one-stop all-service “health hubs,” and the announcement that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan are joining forces to create an independent health care company for their employees. While their intent does not seem to be replacing existing insurers or hospitals, “the lines between traditionally distinct sectors, such as pharmacies, insurers and providers, are increasingly blurring.”
Going the Distance
How are leading organizations providing better training for their employees? KPMG, Disney, and Amazon have all recently made headlines for new efforts to skill up their workers. To focus on continuous learning, KPMG is spending $450 million on a learning, development, and innovation center with the intent of enabling its “workforce and clients to collaborate and learn while also looking after their health and wellness.” The core of the facility will include programs to “retrain and upskill employees across every unit of the company,” and also extends to clients and staff from other companies. Disney is investing $50 million in new and ongoing education programs, with a new initiative offering higher education or vocational training for hourly employees. And, Amazon recently hired Stanford professor Candace Thille, known for data-driven work on “non-traditional ways of learning, teaching, and training,” as its new director of learning science and engineering.
From MIT Technology Review: every study on how automation will affect jobs, in one chart. With such a wide range of predictions, it is clear that more research still needs to be done on how automation will impact the future of work.
Through the Looking Glass
Lizzie Widdicombe’s in-depth New Yorker article on the jobs site Glassdoor is a fascinating glimpse into a company that is aiming “to upend corporate power dynamics by emphasizing transparency.”