Rise of the machines

Automation and AI are changing workplaces and Alan Hiddleston says that L&D need to re-think their approach to learning to reduce the impact on jobs

Innovation across automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies continues to have an impact on today’s global workforce. Although specific outcomes will differ between job functions, it is fair to assume that nearly all employees will feel the effect of automation in some way – either positively or negatively – and this means that a large cross-section of staff will need to be reskilled in a relatively short space of time. 

According to research firm Forrester’s latest forecast, working populations in the five largest markets in APAC – India, China, South Korea, Australia, and Japan – risk losing jobs to physical robot automation at higher rates when compared to Europe and North America. By 2040, the report suggests that 63 million jobs are expected to be lost, with more than 247 million jobs in jeopardy across industries that are more susceptible to automation, such as construction and agriculture. 

On the surface, the reskilling challenge that this presents is nothing new. Over the last decade, hard technical skills have become less valuable as technology automates them, and soft (or durable) skills, such as leadership, emotional intelligence, and collaboration have subsequently become more crucial to running a successful business.  However, what has changed is the approach that L&D teams must take to meet this challenge head on.

Acquiring green skills will therefore be critical for workers looking to position themselves for these emerging opportunities

Holistic changes for modern learners

The future economy will not only be about developing skills, but ultimately about changing culture, attitudes, and behaviour. More specifically, the way in which we deliver and measure learning will need to be re-evaluated. As business leaders identify specific gaps in skills or capabilities, employees will need to be retrained quickly and efficiently to plug them. 

A good example of this is the International Labour Organisation predicting that the green economy will create 24 million jobs worldwide by 2030. Acquiring green skills will therefore be critical for workers looking to position themselves for these emerging opportunities.

To date, reskilling strategies have been created under the assumption that learners will be based in the traditional office environment. Now, as hybrid working has become the norm for a significant portion of the population, L&D teams need to think about how to shift those strategies into the digital realm. This will be no mean feat, and they must pivot corporate learning efforts in specific ways to meet these challenges head on.

Today’s training programmes must be far more agile and responsive, accounting for personalised learning pathways and individual employee requirements. The traditional ‘cookie cutter’ approach is no longer sustainable, and a one-off e-learning module or course does not expose employees to the breadth of information that is needed to cover the more intricate skills or business challenges. 

Programmatic learning for modern workforces

A goal for HR and L&D departments is to speed up the delivery of corporate learning to keep pace with the evolution of technology. As the concept of desirable skills continues to evolve, businesses are prioritising shorter courses that condense skills and abilities into ‘bitesize chunks’. With micro-credentials, skills are essentially quantified, allowing traits to be compartmentalised and evaluated against an agreed system of measurement. 

By taking this approach, L&D teams can increasingly tailor learning programmes to specific individuals. Skills can then be more closely matched to individual job roles and learner needs – accounting for truly personal learning journeys. These shorter courses are also more manageable and will likely become the preferred way to deliver company-wide training in the future. With this structure, workers can ‘top up’ their skills on a regular basis, effectively stacking their credentials as they go.

Compared to traditional training courses, a programmatic approach to learning relies on continuous collaboration and feedback. Action-based blended learning programmes enable employees to test their knowledge in real-life situations, often over several months. This presents an opportunity to better understand how a particular task relates back to the overall business function and assists with knowledge retention.

When assessing the adoption of any new L&D policy across the organisation or addressing a specific skills gap, every individual learner needs to be accounted for – from the stage they are currently at, to specific areas for development and improvement requirements.

That said, many organisations still struggle to understand the exact needs of individual learners. What works for one may not necessarily work for another. Understanding an individual’s learning preferences is difficult enough, but for an L&D professional to look at scale across an organisation, it is near impossible to do without technology.

Utilising the data analytics offered through modern learning platforms can help. Learning analytics enable L&D to identify the type of content a particular employee is likely to engage with, and offer up rich content including video, interactive quizzes and gamification models through the platform to suit that particular learner’s needs. This makes it easier to create personalised learning pathways for employees and provide course materials in a form and context that best fits their preferences.

Education, enterprise, and a culture of lifelong learning

As automation continues to gain ground within global organisations, business leaders and L&D teams have a responsibility to ensure staff are adequately trained and offered regular reskilling opportunities. To instil a culture of lifelong learning, students will need to be taught early on that learning does not stop after tertiary education. Similarly, the demand for training programmes and opportunities will continue to grow, so the workforce must accept that lifelong learning will remain a constant feature of their working lives. 

There also needs to be greater collaboration between both education and enterprise. Only by working together, can they ensure that desirable, durable skills are continually embedded within curricula and delivered across all courses to future-proof the onward careers of students.

Alan Hiddleston is senior director, Corporate Learning (International) D2L


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