How to prepare IT workers for the impact of automation

What happens to technology professionals as artificially intelligent machines take over increasingly complex IT tasks?

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Another example is a demand for candidates within AI organizations who combine skills in mathematical logic with knowledge of the human mind in order to automate activities that can improve quality and speed of service across all industries. At its core, driving ROI and fostering innovation has been—and will continue to be—driven by people.

According to Accenture’s recent Technology Vision 2016 report, the qualifications for leading employees are changing. Only a few years prior, ‘deep expertise for the specialized task at hand’ was ranked as one of the most important hiring factors for IT and business executives. Today, this was only the fifth most important characteristic required for employees. [Today, skills such as] the ability to quickly learn, ability to multitask, and the willingness to embrace change [lead]. This strongly indicates that CEOs and CIOs are placing a premium on candidates whom they believe will evolve with their business and have the aptitude to learn quickly. This can only be achieved through proper education and training. How can business leaders win the trust of their workforces amid this expansion of automation?

Dube: Building trust in an organization involves transparency in workforce changes and providing the right tools for both current and future employees to succeed. Leaders must prepare today as if tomorrow were already here. What jobs would exist? What would be the needs of corporations in a cognitive era? In order to build trust amongst employees, show them that the roles of the future are not to be replaced by AI.

For instance, rather than classic systems engineers, develop automation engineer roles today. By doing so, your engineers can be a part of galvanizing the transformation to a more efficient ecosystem. When your entire organization is embracing the change, it provides a smoother path to the future with less fear of the unknown. What are forward thinking companies doing to ease uncertainty during this transition?

Dube: There are two core elements to effectively enabling changes: education and incentives. Successful leadership will involve educating the workforce about how automation and overhauling the exiting operational model can result in more enjoyable, strategic, and creative job roles, and how people and machines working together will bring more productivity and increased revenues.

Once the correct technology is in place, staff must be incentivized to assist in the smooth running of the transition. Incentives may come in many forms including financial rewards and the offer of additional training or better roles within the organization. This needs to be communicated from the highest level and filtered down throughout the workforce. Alongside incentives, workers must be given the tools to be able to succeed—be they financing, time, technology or management support. What about the ethical considerations involved in creating policies to ensure that these changes have a positive impact on workers in the long term? What responsibilities do companies have to train their employees for different roles?

Dube: All stakeholders have a role to play. In addition to organizations investing in skills development, local and central government bodies need to look at the policies and incentives they can provide to accelerate reskilling. It’s also unquestionably the responsibility of all of us as individuals to adapt and seek out ways to take our own steps in learning more about the new skills we need to thrive—not just survive—in this new world. Labor flexibility to adapt will be a primary factor in the ability of entire economies to reorient themselves in order to prosper in this smart machine world. Galvanizing all stakeholders to collaborate positively is the only way forward. What sorts of policies and processes will be more effective in helping professionals make this transition?

Dube: By hiring employees who have the aptitude to learn quickly, leaders can build a more adaptable workforce by providing these fast learners with the right tools to drive growth.

Although technology is what is driving this disruption, it is also at the center of creating the solutions to mitigate these risks. This includes massive online open courses (MOOCs) that are enterprise-focused and scalable. In addition, internal collaboration tools that foster group thinking and problem solving will also build a more effective workforce.

But this education must also go beyond the four walls of the office. There is a great opportunity for corporations to align their corporate social responsibility initiatives with STEM education [efforts] in order to integrate futuristic technologies into the education of our youth in order to better prepare them for the future. This includes exposing them to robotics and AI at a younger age and giving them opportunities to experiment with emerging technology. With AI already entering the workplace, we must prepare the next generation of the workforce to work seamlessly with these technologies as a partner, rather than seeing them as a threat.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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