What does training look like in an unknown future?

Written by Dr. Carina Paine Schofield on 12 April 2019 in Features
Features

Dr. Carina Paine Schofield looks ahead to the uncertainty of the jobs market, and how it could affect young people. 

Reading time: 5m 30s.

Over the next few years technological advancement will affect all sectors of the workforce. Organisations face the steep challenge of preparing new employees for this rapidly evolving job market, by not only developing their technical abilities, but also those skills technology cannot replace.

Recently I studied the views of around 400 students across the UK and US, who will soon enter the workplace, to find out their visions of their futures; their hopes and fears and how they plan to prepare for the coming changes.

These students are of interest to employers because of their unique place in history. They will be the employees – even leaders - of tomorrow and are about to enter a workplace that will be transformed by emerging technologies, but who have arguably not been prepared for this future.

The impact of AI on careers

All respondents acknowledged that AI and automation would impact their careers to some degree. However most felt unprepared for this future and that this was contributing to a sense of fearfulness. A lack of balanced information was also to blame.

Inspired by popular culture stereotypes, media hype, and their own knowledge of what is coming, respondents exhibited alternating emotions of confidence and anxiety when asked to visualise themselves negotiating emerging technologies in their own future careers.

The key question organisations need to ask is whether their entry level jobs are there to attract and develop the young people that will help develop the business for the future

So what can we learn from this research about how we might equip our new starters with the skills and mindsets they need? How can companies help young people learn the skills that will provide a solid foundation for their careers, despite not knowing exactly what that future might look like? 

Provide flexible training to meet changing needs

Learning more about emerging technologies and the ways in which they were likely to impact the workplace gave respondents a sense that there were things they could do to navigate the coming changes, rather than simply being overwhelmed.

L&D professionals will need to focus on how to make training and development more flexible and agile, to keep up with constantly changing skills needs, including practical ones. Importantly, the most useful training programmes will need to be revisited and redesigned frequently.

Respondents were hungry for all kinds of courses – theoretical ones, but also practical ones where they could experiment with coding, 3D printing, virtual reality and other tools. Organisations can embed more courses on AI itself and the impact it is likely to have on the workplace within L&D strategy and training programmes.

Only by providing the right balance of training, can employees learn to balance bleak predications with the prospect of new jobs, better data and life-changing potential to improve society.

Reframe traditional roles and training models

The key question organisations need to ask is whether their entry level jobs are there to attract and develop the young people that will help develop the business for the future – or whether they are still bringing young people in to fill traditional entry level jobs that are there because they always have been.

 

There is also need for a complete reframe of long-standing models of training and career development, many of which are no longer fit for purpose. For example, individuals will need to think of their working lives in terms of skills, not jobs, focusing on building a portfolio of portable capabilities, that will transition from job to job and from career to career.

Companies will need to redefine roles to make sure they are exploiting the potential of AI alongside the potential of people, rather than simply replacing one with the other. Finally, organisations will need to ensure that they have a sustainable model of training, where lifelong learning is the responsibility of both individuals and the company.

Forge closer links with academia

Organisations must align with educational institutions more than ever before, to ensure graduates moving into the workplace can keep pace with the changing needs of the workforce. 

This may be through practical sessions or partnerships with universities – businesses working with educators to continually bring insights and connections to students and better integrate with workforce needs.

It was clear that our respondents sought a wide range of interactions with industry: from field trips to companies that use AI and automation, to guest lecturers from industry who can talk to them about ongoing changes and developments in different companies and sectors.

This will also help business schools make sure they are continuously adding more content on future trends and technologies, to help future employees/leaders think critically about future opportunities and the range of skills they will need to navigate an AI future.

Preserve the human

Companies will need to carefully consider how they develop the next generation of workers under their care – embracing coaching and mentoring to help build relational and soft skills. Respondents showed an increased appreciation of human beings and their abilities after spending some time reflecting upon the nature of AI and automation.



In an increasingly global, virtual working world, there is a need to focus on human interaction between team members, as well as the need to guard against skills erosion by keeping their brains sharp. 

Companies need to consider how to balance these new ways of working and innovative technologies, with workplaces that still see the importance in face-to-face contact and emphasise training the brain and learning soft skills including communication and people skills.

Certain perceived qualities and abilities such as complex decision making, critical thinking, intuition, emotional intelligence, grit and entrepreneurship are exclusively human areas less likely to be replaced by AI, which is reflected by the demands of our respondents for more humanities-type courses in subjects like ethics and psychology.

These areas could equally be worked into L&D programmes.

Help your people to adapt

We can’t expect our people to know the nuts and bolts of every emerging technology, as it all changes so fast, but what they do need is the ability to be aware of the changes and adapt to them.

A strategic awareness of what is possible is key - where competitors are already experimenting and where AI is likely to lead - so that they can quickly adapt to any role, see how the company will be affected by AI and react accordingly. Adaptability is hugely important in a future workplace characterised by continual and rapid changes.

In this modern age, it is all crucial for employees to develop their humanity and study AI simultaneously, in order to understand more firmly the strengths of both types of intelligence, and how the two together can improve the workplace. 

 

About the author

Dr. Carina Paine Schofield is Senior Research Fellow at Hult International Business School.

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