Skilling in the time of Artificial Intelligence (AI): Creating value for lower job bands

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Digital voice assistants like Alexa and Google Home are transforming the way we manage our daily lives. As perfect examples of real life application of Artificial Intelligence (AI), smart gadgets like these might soon convert our homes into smart homes where devices speak to each other. Robots like Sophia are disrupting the services industry, way beyond just manufacturing operations. The next wave of automation has seeped our homes and workplaces in most phenomenal and unforeseeable ways. The technological revolution is here to stay and we cannot escape its impact on our lives.

Looking back at the turning points in the evolution of technology, whether it was mechanisation through the power of steam or the use of electricity for mass production or IT and computers in automation, at every juncture, we have accepted and adapted to this evolution. While the all-pervading effect of new technology has taken over many jobs over the years, it has also created new jobs that demanded fresh skills and knowledge. Today, if automation is being perceived as a threat, it has to be understood in the larger context of how Industry 4.0 is driving changes in the evolutionary cline when systems talk to each other.

What does this mean for future workplaces? Does it augur well for current job roles? What will be the life span of a job? What job roles are at high risk? A plethora of questions have dominated the headlines for a while since the pace at which AI has disrupted jobs is incredibly unnerving. From driverless cars to robotic surgery and automated retail stores, there has been an extremely rapid adoption of AI in many industries.

Embracing jobs in the new tech world

Automation brought with it the fear of replacing human talent, particularly for employees at lower job bands. Though the apprehension is as old as the replacement of horse-drawn carriages with motorized transport and the inevitable loss of jobs, one needs to appreciate new job roles that were created as the automotive industry embraced latest technology. This has also led to an increased demand for skilled professionals who can handle machinery and workflows seamlessly.

Nevertheless, with AI adoption, many lower job bands that entail repetitive and routine work are at higher risk since automation can optimise and deliver better outputs. Will this lead to people competing for jobs with computers? Quite contrarily, this calls for a completely different approach to skilling, training, and the conventional perception of jobs and careers. It would no longer be sufficient for people to acquire sectoral or domain expertise. Due to the high adaptability nature of the new workplace, employees need complex problem-solving abilities and social skills that engenders non-linear and creative approaches to work with smart technology. 

Skilling in the time of Artificial Intelligence_ Creating value for lower band jobsCreating value for lower job bands

The concept of job levels and bands will definitely undergo many changes as technology evolves further. What we perceive as jobs at the bottom of the pyramid – manual labour intensive, would soon get substituted by job roles that demand continuous learning. Here are some interventions that help the current as well as potential workforce.

1. Policy transformation

It will necessitate many measures at the policy or macro level. For instance, re-skilling of the workforce could become a norm and this may be preceded by redeploying the workforce who will lose their jobs to other sectors. It will also require major reforms in social security for vulnerable job roles.

2. Re-skilling and redeployment of workforce

New jobs that are getting created as a result of automation calls for humans and machines to work together, complementing and enhancing each other’s strengths. Skills like complex reasoning, social and emotional intelligence, creativity and certain forms of sensory perception along with mathematics and programming would become mandatory. Despite the introduction of technology, employers would need a workforce to run the machinery. Hence, people at the lower job bands could be re-skilled with leadership, teamwork, and social skills that will complement the speed, scalability, and quantitative capabilities of the machines. When it comes to redeployment, it is essential to map the aptitude and interest of current workforce with the skills demanded by the job market. This will also ensure that the future employers and workforce are aptly guided to understand each other better. 

3. Reworking educational standards

Today, curriculum in most schools and colleges prepare students for jobs that don’t exist. While it may be impractical to overhaul the education system to keep pace with technology, it would be perfectly appropriate to explore ways in which the right skills are imparted to students at the right time. Exposure to future workplaces, awareness about the job market and VUCA world are some of the essential components that should be woven into the existing curriculum. To avoid further mismatch between supply and demand, industry-academia collaboration should be encouraged and facilitated to align education as per the emerging job roles. Creating a skills repository in close coordination with future recruiters would be a possibility worth exploring.

The impact of AI and automation is sure affect many job roles. However, the idea that technological onslaught will leave us jobless and we get overpowered by machines is highly improbable. The bright side is that such a revolution has always fuelled job growth, demanding new skills that in turn expect us to adopt a positive attitude and adapt to changing circumstances by making ourselves relevant.

This article has been written in association with UnLtd India and J.P. Morgan who are working extensively in the domain of skill development and training with early-stage social entrepreneurs. 

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