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Skill Development Key to Forthcoming Automation

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An increased reliance on AI technology in the workforce is an inevitability and automation is expected to eliminate 32% of U.S. jobs by 2030. But that doesn’t mean human beings are doomed; they’ll have to adapt.

One of the main adjustments that is already being made, according to Parminder K. Jassal, Ph.D., of the Institute for the Future (IFTF), is the merging of work and learning. And it’s presenting a changing landscape for the HR profession.

“We’re talking about working and learning simultaneously. That’s a major, major shift that we are seeing and it’s quickly replacing separate areas of an individual’s life” Jassal said. “The traditional role of an employee and that of a learner is merging quicker every day – transitioning into a working learner. You can’t have one without the other. And that’s a really big hurdle that HR is really facing now,​ because ​learning and working are no longer disconnected, it's no longer a competitive advantage to simply connect the two. This is about survival for the working learner, the businesses, and the economy. And that’s one shift that’s really causing chaos out there.”

IFTF partnered with Cornerstone OnDemand and several other companies to develop a list of skills they foresee as being invaluable as AI technology and robotics become more prominent in the workplace.

Chris Stewart, vice president of global client success at Cornerstone, said softer skills, such as empathy and interpersonal skills, will be increasingly important as the landscape shifts.

“There is a general need in society as technology continues to evolve and more people adapt and absorb and latch onto technology, you lose that people connection,” Stewart said. “It’s important for people who have it to maintain it. And it’s important for companies that don’t have it to start to focus on it. If you want to continue to grow within your career or move jobs, I think being empathetic and having some of those other softer skills will prove very valuable as robotics get introduced.”

What’s an organization or manager’s role in this transition? As employees attempt to enhance their capacity to learn new skills while working, managers should be involved in that growth, Stewart said.

“I think it’s about making sure that managers are open, clear and transparent in communicating the change that is happening within the company,” Stewart said. “In some cases, it’s just finding these free resources that are out there and bringing those into their teams or into their companies. Anything that managers can do to help coach and recognize, reward or provide constructive feedback about the softer skills and continue to grow their employees, is the role of a manager as we continue to evolve.” 

Given the projections about job replacement and the large AI investments many organizations are planning on, the fear and angst of many in the workforce is warranted. It doesn’t, however, have to be such a daunting proposition, Jassal said.

“Jobs don’t go away, they transition, and they transition in different ways,” she said. “So what we do believe is that many more jobs will be affected by automation, but we believe they’ll be affected in different ways. We think it affects the entire process and how we do things, not just front-line processes.” 

In addition to that, Stewart said employees should ground themselves in the idea that automation is simply another technological evolution; and while the technology is new, the concept of adaptation is not.

“People thought that they would never have a mobile phone and a lot of those people do have mobile phones now. It’s important for everyone to start to think about the future and be prepared for the continuing advancement of technology in the workplace — big data, AI, robotics — that is the reality of it,” Stewart said. “As we evolve to a place when you reach that space of being uncomfortable with change in the workplace, because you’re getting a new software system, or you’re seeing other jobs be replaced by robotics, you can ground yourself realizing that you’ve already adapted to a lot of this change in other areas of your life and this is just the next cycle of change that you’re going to go through and come out the other side of.”

Brett Christie is a staff writer at WorldatWork.

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