As we move further into the age of disruption, the advancing field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing industries across the world. Many discussions are centered around the widespread fear of job loss; but, as seen with previous revolutions, some of these concerns may be exaggerated. To keep pace with the changing landscape, the responsibility falls on the government and companies to aid the workforce with skill training that can better prepare them for the coming advancements. According to McKinsey, robots could potentially replace 800 million jobs by 2020. However, with the right training, the workforce can embrace this advancement rather than fear it.

Currently, most companies have already integrated a digital component to various roles and, if they have not, they are preparing to. Therefore, the future of work has changed dramatically over the past 50 years.  Automation and AI are the key components of change as they begin to permeate diverse industries from healthcare to transportation. Rather than just affecting one type of position, both traditional blue and white-collar jobs are affected by this transition and thus, the need for a systemic shift in education and regulatory policies are required to continue to support the workforce.

Indian Initiatives Driving Change

In India, due to the unique nature of the tech-dominated workforce, the issue of upskilling workers for an AI-driven world is of paramount importance. The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) India Skills Report 2018 demonstrates that 46 percent of college graduates place AI as a crucial next-generation technology where they should have considerable focus. In line with these findings, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has also revised the curriculum for four-year undergraduate programs. AICTE is now recommending mandatory inductions for AI, robotics, and Internet of Things (IoT) for the 2018-19 academic year to make future engineers more employable.

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has also launched a comprehensive platform called Futureskills to draw attention to eight key technologies poised for tremendous growth in the coming decade. These technologies are primed to deliver 55 different job roles and corresponding skills including AI, Virtual Reality, RPA, IoT, Big Data Analytics, 3D Printing, Cloud Computing and Social and Mobile.

Reskilling Revolution of Tomorrow

To contend with the advancements in technology, the new key objective must be to revamp institutions and prepare the workforce for the AI revolution. As seen throughout history, several inventions have transformed the workforce and AI is just another building block in our continued path to enlightenment. The workforce is still determining how to respond to the contemporary skill upgrade that AI is driving. Instead of the common fear that AI will replace jobs, it is clear that this advancement will not only transform the workforce but, in turn, create new job opportunities. This survey by Capgemini states that four out of five companies have created new positions in relation to deploying AI-based systems.

Obtaining the right kind of training is critical for those in and preparing to enter the workforce. Companies who currently employ AI have transitioned from traditional hiring methods to skill-based recruitment techniques, and as more organizations adopt AI, this expansion will only continue. Traditional qualifiers such as experience may take a secondary role to the skills possessed by potential candidates as organizations hire for these new fields. Preparing the workforce with relevant skills is no longer an optional endeavor but the standard.

To stay ahead of AI in an automated world, the workforce needs to focus on some core skills that machines may never replicate. While AI can run through databanks and generate new insights, humanity is innately driven to explore, find new ways to solve problems and imagine new opportunities. Abilities like creativity, imagination, empathy, critical thinking, ethics and more are the qualities we should be increasingly attentive to. Commonly known as “soft skills,” these skills are now more essential than ever and are only dubbed such because they cannot be quantitatively measured. In a machine-driven world, these qualities will become even more important because any activity that AI undertakes must somehow fit inside the value systems driven by humans. We cannot and should not prevent AI from becoming more powerful, but at the same time, we must focus further on the skills that separate us from it.

This report by MIT Review says that five key skills will become increasingly important:  

  • Judgment and decision-making
  • Fluency of ideas
  • Active learning
  • Learning strategies
  • Originality

It is now more obvious than ever that organizations must look at AI and similar technologies to stay competitive and generate additional value. Mapping this goal with specific scenarios of skills and workers is a journey that every organization needs to invest in and continually advance. Identifying skills and adaptations of skills-forecasting models are essential for this process and will greatly help maintain the supply and demand of the 21st century workforce.

Drawing Inspiration From the Brightest

There is much that India can learn from the insights of other countries by drawing upon that inspiration and making it our own. We must realize that preparing future generations for the jobs of the future is essential and deserves all the resources and attention we can afford. Driving collaborative problem solving should be a key focus area at all education levels. According to the World Economic Forum, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea are currently the most advanced in this area and we should be learning all we can from their successful models. As AI turns to more cognitive tasks, workers with the best non-cognitive skills will have increasingly important roles to play and we should encourage and invest in those qualities.

This World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report 2016 argues that by 2020, “Creativity will become one of the top three skills workers will need. With the avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, employees are going to have to become more creative in order to benefit from these changes.” In addition, the report goes on to state that 35 percent of core skills will change between 2015 and 2020: We should be doing all we can to prepare our workforce in these changing times. We have a challenge ahead of us with the advancement of AI and we can either skill up and advance alongside it or scramble to keep up afterward - the choice is in our hands.

This article was first published on Computerworld and CIO.

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