November 2019
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Future-Ready or Not?
TD Magazine

Future-Ready or Not?

Friday, November 1, 2019
Future-Ready or Not?

Workers need help preparing for the future of work.

Companies are automating routine tasks, so the types of work that people will do will change. And that change is forcing workers to expand their abilities beyond their current roles. These competencies are not just about understanding and working with technology but about problem solving, critical thinking, interpreting data, and strategically using digital information.


If employees aren't prepared to learn these new skills, they will get left behind.

AI and machines are everywhere

Automation is abundant within manufacturing. And in fast food, it's become commonplace—cashiers are gradually becoming things of the past. In fact, artificial intelligence (AI) is almost certainly present in your workplace, and machines likely will become fairly prominent within your company's industry (if they haven't already). The Brookings Institution report Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How Machines Affect People and Places estimates that about 20 percent of the work people currently do is at risk of being lost to automation.

On the surface, that makes it sound like jobs will be lost. To that end, the World Economic Forum's Towards a Reskilling Revolution: Industry-Led Action for the Future of Work predicts that nearly 1.4 million workers will be displaced from their current roles in the next decade, largely resulting from AI. While these people may no longer fit their job descriptions, that doesn't necessarily mean they will lose their jobs; they may just be repurposed into another role—officially or unofficially.

In many respects, automation isn't new. In the 30 years following the introduction of ATMs, bank teller employment in the United States rose by 50,000, according to "Bring On the Robots: Why Automation Is Good." People are still working; the world of work simply has changed.

Losing routine tasks and expanding roles

Routine tasks, such as bank deposits, are the simplest to automate. HR and IT will pass on many of their onboarding tasks—for example, collecting documents for verification and giving tool access to new hires—to machines. AI will affect the HR profession sooner and more directly than some others, but is that a bad thing? Automation should give HR more time to focus on employee engagement and person-to-person interaction.

Across industries and professions, automating certain tasks frees up workers to expand in their existing roles. Reskilling has become a buzzword across the world of work, and rightfully so. But in many cases, reskilling isn't what is occurring. Rather, these altered roles that AI has forced humans to adapt into often become opportunities for companies to optimize the skills individuals already have, enabling them to more directly benefit their organizations. Naturally, these more optimal fits may also provide employees with an increased sense of fulfillment.

Think about marketers. If AI can take on a chunk of their day-to-day digital operations and communication, marketers—who have a keen understanding of target audiences—may be able to help instructional designers create user personas for learners, which is a clear benefit for the business.

Skills required to succeed

With so many evolving roles and new workplace situations, virtually every job will require an altered skill set. As noted in CTDO magazine's "The Yin and Yang of Automation," McKinsey predicts that demand for social and emotional skills will grow by 26 percent by 2030 across all industries in the United States, while demand for higher cognitive skills—such as creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing—will grow by 19 percent in the same time. Some of these skills (such as empathy) are innate, but individuals can hone or learn others (like advanced communication).

In ATD's The Future of Work whitepaper, Dana Alan Koch, global lead of learning research and innovation at Accenture, emphasizes that soft skills will grow in importance. "Teach people uniquely human skills, like complex problem solving and habit formation," he says. "Give them opportunities to teach each other, teach them how to learn, and set the precedent about how we can continue to be relevant as we grow skills." Other future skills that Koch's research identifies include curiosity, storytelling, creativity, and emotional intelligence. Adrian Stevens, vice president of learning and professional development at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, suggests that individuals start using "how might we" questions to help tap into creative thinking.

Of course, agility also is a hot-button need in the future of work, particularly in the context of expanding automation. Most notably, learning agility will give workers and organizations a leg up, giving them an enhanced ability to adapt into any role. In the ATD blog post titled "Neuro-Agility: A New Paradigm for Safeguarding Learning Organizations," Arie de Geus, former CEO of Shell Oil Company, declares that "A company's ability to learn faster than its competitors may be its only sustainable competitive advantage in the future."

Impact on TD pros in upskilling

Just like the rest of the work world, talent development professionals will be affected by automation. In Upskilling and Reskilling: Turning Disruption and Change Into New Capabilities, ATD reports that 48 percent of talent development leaders cited "changes in technology that cause employees to need skills upgrades so they can use new machines or software effectively" as a motivating factor for skills training.

Learning technologies have evolved and im-proved over the years. Talent development professionals' job is to determine how to best deploy the technologies while using their uniquely human soft skills to enhance the learner experience.

Digital literacy

The workplace is becoming more digitized—and the necessary skills have less to do with computer programming and technology and more to do with digital literacy, which is the ability to interpret, create, and strategically use digital information.

According to MindEdge's 3rd Annual State of Critical Thinking Study, most Americans believe that critical thinking and data literacy are key competencies in today's workplace, but most flunked a test examining whether respondents could identify suspicious material on the Internet, which is a part of digital literacy. Only 7 percent of the respondents scored an A on the test, and 75 percent of Millennials flunked the test, failing to get more than five questions right.

In "Improving Digital Literacy in the Workplace," Deakin University anticipates that in the next five years, 90 percent of the workplace will require at least basic computer skills, such as using email or company software. But in the next two to three years, more than 50 percent of workers will need to be able to use, configure, and build digital systems. "Those who lack digital literacy may soon find themselves at a huge disadvantage," the article states.

Job postings more frequently include such competencies as HTML5, iOS, SEO, and mobile app development. "Because the workforce is becoming more and more digitized, employers now are looking for new hires to be digitally literate with the soft skills like collaboration, persuasive communication, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving, and are offering benefits like the flexibility to accommodate this type of valuable employee," writes Alex Gay in a March 2019 Adobe blog. "Academic leadership needs to consider improving their students' digital literacy to develop graduates who are competitive in a modern workforce."

Region 10 ESC is one of 20 regional service centers that the Texas State Legislature established to deliver professional development and other innovative solutions to students and school staff. It defines digital fluency as "the aptitude to effectively and ethically interpret information, discover meaning, design content, construct knowledge, and communicate ideas in a digitally connected world." In addition, digital fluency is one of the seven trends mentioned in the Center for Creative Leadership's report Talent Reimagined: 7 Emerging Trends for Transformative Leaders as a major component of digital literacy.

"Technology and data have the power to bring an organization together and propel it forward but can only do so if leaders at all levels are equipped to harness that power," Talent Reimagined states. "It's not only about learning the features and widgets of a device or app but also about the ability to apply critical-thinking skills to the volumes of information they can produce. Data and analytics are only as valuable as the collaboration they can enable and the insightful actions they can evoke."

In "Solid Education Foundations and Critical Thinking While ‘Learning to Speak Digital,'" Doris Viljoen, a senior futurist at Stellenbosch University's Institute for Futures Research, says, "We have to expand EQ and IQ to include digital fluency. Digital is a new language that all of us need." Everybody must be digitally fluent and be comfortable speaking digital, she adds.

James Densmore, director of data science at Degreed, and Tim Dickinson, director of learning analytics for Watershed, have created the Learning Data Fluency Cheat Sheet. Of note are three key data fluency areas for talent development professionals.

Know your data—identify the analytics categories:

  • learning experiences
  • learner
  • learning programs.

Start with measurement:

  • measurement
  • evaluation
  • advanced evaluation—predictive and prescriptive analytics.

Use your data:

  • Understand what learners want to learn.
  • Look for opportunities in data.
  • Match needs with resources.
  • Identify what skills to build.
  • Provide options for content access.
  • Improve recommendations.
  • Measure progress.
  • Identify skills gaps.

Prepare for the now

The pace of workplace change is rapid. It has been ramping up for a while, but it is here to stay, and workers must be prepared to adjust.

It is up to talent development professionals to proactively prepare employees to confront these changes, and it is up to employees to learn new skills so they don't become outdated.

"Change is happening so fast that by the time we upskill or reskill employees, some of those new skills are already obsolete," says Rob Lauber, senior vice president and chief learning officer at McDonald's, in Upskilling and Reskilling. "We are looking at a future where millions of people will constantly have to reinvent their skills. From a learning and development perspective, we have to acknowledge that skills training is just going to become more challenging."

The Association for Talent Development has been exploring the future of work for several years, and what it will look like is now beginning to come into focus. Two aspects of the work world that will become increasingly significant in 2020, and continue well beyond, are humans working alongside robots and digital literacy.

A Collaborative Upskilling

Accenture, Cisco, and Quest Alliance are teaming to equip 1.5 million youths across India with skills for the digital economy, Accenture reports.

As part of a yearlong collaboration, the three companies have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship's directorate general of training to offer a digital skilling program to all students enrolled in industrial training institutes (ITIs) via the government of India's Bharat Skills portal.

The three organizations also have signed memorandums of understanding with the state governments of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Bihar, and Assam. According to Accenture, the three companies will roll out a comprehensive blended learning program, which will cover more than 100,000 students from 227 ITIs across these states. The training modules will include online self-learning as well as in-classroom training.

The skilling program will expand in phases to ITIs across other states in India. It includes a tailor-made curriculum with modules for digital literacy, career readiness, employability skills, and advanced technology skills such as data analytics.

The in-classroom program will deliver more than 240 hours of training to impart skills for digital literacy and fluency; workplace readiness, including creative problem solving and use of data in decision making; and career management skills, including the cultivation of a growth mindset and the ability to identify and plan career journeys.

"The digital economy is creating opportunities—with artificial intelligence alone to add more than US$1 trillion to the Indian economy by 2035. And yet, an unintended consequence of advanced technologies is further marginalization of people; even though humans and machines work side by side," explains Kshitija Krishnaswamy, director of corporate citizenship at Accenture India. "The key to continued socioeconomic growth in the digital economy is large-scale skilling of those at the greatest risk of displacement, enabling them to use advanced technologies to further their growth."

Krishnaswamy says that her company's collaboration with Cisco and Quest Alliance is part of Accenture's Skills to Succeed initiative, which aims to create employment opportunities by leveraging digital innovation. More than 500,000 people in India have been skilled thus far. "By partnering with the ITIs, we hope to improve lives that could be most disrupted in the digital economy."

About the Author

Stephen Newman is a former writer/editor for ATD.

About the Author

Paula Ketter is ATD's content strategist. Previously, she served as editor of ATD's periodicals.

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