New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are transforming the workplace. The World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs” report found 35% of the core skills required in the workforce will change between 2015 and 2020.
As CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLC, Dan Helfrich sees firsthand the effects of digital transformation across a wide range of industries. He and his team work with companies every day on strategies to leverage the benefits of these new technologies while avoiding the pitfalls.
At Salesforce, we empower teams to work as one to understand, anticipate, and respond to customer needs, so we talked to Helfrich about the future of work, the likely impact on workers, what it means for recruitment and training,and what business leaders can do to help their employees become valued members of the workforce of the future.
Q: From what you’ve seen consulting with a myriad of businesses across industries, what does the future of work look like — and are we ready for it? What steps can business leaders take to ensure they prepare their workforce for the disruption ahead?
A: The future of work is about integrating Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to create positive change in the workplace and, in turn, make a positive impact on society.
But there are gaps in the workforce’s readiness to deal with these technologies — and not just the gaps that everyone talks about. There are gaps in workforce readiness everywhere where people are not used to the intersection of new technology and new societal norms.
So, one of the most important things business leaders can do is invest in their workforce, because everyone needs to understand the challenges they will grapple with in this new world.
Business leaders can prepare their employees by saying to them, “Hey, I’m going to invest in your tech fluency. Then I’m going to prepare you to be a great member of my organization, and I’m going to prepare you so you can be an influential member of the business and your community for the decades ahead.”
Emerging technologies have made learning opportunities all over the world more accessible because things can be done in bite-size morsels. People can learn on the job with video or using contextual learning aids. Emerging tech offers so much, including the power to transform the skill levels of people of all races, ages, and genders.
Q: How do automation technologies such as AI fit into the new workplace? What are their benefits and pitfalls, and how are they changing the nature of work?
A: AI has transformed the way we work. The tasks we used to require humans to do on their own, we can now augment with AI. So, it’s time to rethink the workforce we require, and the way we go about performing our tasks.
There’s a lot of discussion about replacing manual tasks like data entry with robotics, and I think that’s great. It’s all about technology taking routine tasks out of the hands of employees so they can focus on activities that add more value and are inherently more human. That can only be positive, as long as companies are investing in their workforce, and upscaling the skills of their employees, too.
So, AI at its worst is humans not embracing their moral and ethical responsibility to society, and not governing the use of technology. But AI at its best simplifies the work and lives of individuals, allowing them to make better decisions more efficiently.
Q: What does all this mean for recruitment? How should business leaders change hiring practices to best prepare for the challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
A: The technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will transform the way society and all business, government, non-profit, and education organizations work. It requires a brand-new set of norms and a brand-new workplace paradigm.
What a successful businessperson looks like now is different than it was a generation ago. We have to move beyond the idea that tier one universities and advanced degrees are the only places to find employees with advanced skills.
We need to invest in, and believe in, the infrastructure and the education programs of our high schools, community colleges, and design and technical schools. It’s becoming critically important to have a combination of leaders from traditional colleges, with advanced degrees, along with those with the hard skills acquired through less traditional institutions. This is one of the most important mind shifts business leaders need to make.
Q: How does diversity in hiring change the way teams work, and drive improvements in productivity and innovation?
A: There is a lot of discussion about the rise of cross-disciplinary teams due to the advent of new technologies. We are now finding we need engineers, researchers, humanitarians, sociologists, and English majors on the same team. My view is that we always have needed diverse teams with diverse skills and backgrounds, but we are only now discovering it produces the best outcomes.
So, you need to be inclusive of everyone. To do that you need to make sure you provide opportunities for everyone. That includes employees or prospective employees of any age. It’s about opening up the aperture to future opportunities for the broadest set of stakeholders possible.
There’s perhaps no more fundamental responsibility for a business leader than recognizing the imperative and the value that comes from diversity and inclusivity.