The room was filled with much debate as a group of global manufacturing leaders assembled to discuss their concerns about the pace of technology accelerating faster than their workers ability to keep up. The participants in the room included CEOs, leading technologists and an array of management consultants. While there was much excitement around the potential of advanced technologies making work better, many of these opportunities seemed to go unrealized. As technology advanced in their workplaces so did their talent concerns around worker displacement, outdated management practices, low morale, and mounting safety issues as workers were unskilled in the new ways of working alongside the technology.
Can you guess what year this meeting took place?1955.
More than 60 years later, as technology continues to advance us to a post-digital era, the questions regarding talent development remain timeless. In fact, as technology advances, talent conversations among CEOs and in boardrooms around the globe are increasing. More than ever, leaders outside of the HR function are under pressure to create talent strategies to ensure competitive advantage in a post-digital era.
Yet, while 47 percent of business leaders say skills shortages are a key influence of their workforce strategy, only three percent say their organizations plans to significantly increase its investment in reskilling their workers over the next three years. While digital technologies offer promising opportunities for business growth, the need to unlock the potential of people alongside these technologies has never been greater. Simply investing in technologies without making the investment in people undermines the ability of organizations to reach their full potential.
Whether you are shaping public policy, leading a workforce, or are simply seeking to keep pace with change in your own career, you should be looking at the impact of technology. Organizations can’t expect to pivot their business through technology without also pivoting their people. People can’t expect to grow in their roles, unless they fully engage in adapting both their mindsets and skill sets as it relates to this new world of work. Through Accenture’s formal research and experiences with clients, we have identified three strategies that may help us to answer those questions posed back in the boardroom in 1955.
  1. Redesign work around human+machine: When it comes to AI and automation, we find companies focus on efficiency as the end goal. This leads to conversations around what people can do without AI-powered machines or what work can be automated by machine. Yet, the greatest value comes from people working in collaboration with machines. It is our view that human+machine interactions adds up to more than the sum of either of the parts. This shift calls for more than just introducing efficiency into a business model with technology, but rather driving dramatic change in human potential and performance. And, businesses who do can anticipate reaping the benefits. Our research suggests that if organizations fully commit to AI and invest in human-machine collaborations they could boost revenues by 38 percent in the next five years.
  2. Engage in new skilling activities. Our research has also found that over 60 percent of the workforce has a positive view of the impact of AI on their work. And, two-thirds of workers acknowledge they must develop their own skills to work alongside intelligent machines. Workers are ready to be what we call “new skilled”. This includes identifying new tasks required in the future and the skills needed to perform them. By mapping the company’s existing internal capabilities to these new tasks illuminates where training and new skills are required. And, learning these new skills won’t be a matter of more training. It’s about new training such as utilizing AI-based adaptive learning systems to accelerate workforce development through personalized lessons, coaching and feedback. AI enables the acceleration of new skills to be developed throughout your workforce.
  3. Leave no one behind. The impact of AI on redefining work as we know it does not just impact us today– but for the generations that follow. At its current pace, the opportunities in technology advancement appear to be unevenly distributed, which has impact not just for organizations but also as a society at large. It is important as we identify the opportunities in human+machine work and new skilling that we look to all segments of our workforce to ensure that no one is left behind. The focus on talent development must extend beyond our own organizational boundaries back into our local communities to identify those disadvantaged by the rapid advancement of technology and new ways of working.
We’ve been talking about how to address talent and technology for more than six decades. Finally, we have come to a place where we have a tremendous opportunity to reimagine people at work – where people’s potential is inclusively unlocked in way.
Eva Sage-Gavin is Senior Managing Director, Global Talent and Organization Lead at Accenture with more than three decades of broad experience in Fortune 500 global consumer, technology and retail corporations. Dr. Kelly Monahan is an organizational behaviorist and studies the future workforce at Accenture Research.