Recently, I attended the TechBeach conference in Hamilton, Bermuda, which showcased leading innovators and thinkers in the field of fintech and blockchain. During the conference, I was fortunate to moderate a fascinating panel of experts from both public to private enterprises who were leading movers and shakers in the area of technology, including:
- Lydia Dickens - Founder, Conci
- Natalie Neto - Partner, Walkers
- Zlatko Zahirovic - CTO, Cybernetx
- Gus Leite - Partner, Digital Upskilling Leader, PwC
While we discussed a number of topics, one that really resonated with me was a discussion about jobs and skills of the future. This topic is as important as ever, especially when you consider that a 2018 World Economic Forum report found that 50 percent of companies surveyed said they will reduce their overall workforce because of technologies such as automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence, which could result in up to 75 million jobs being lost.
In fact, during the conference, I heard the term "AI" used as a verb for the first time, as in jobs that we will "AI out of existence."
The jobs that are most at risk for being AI-ed away are those that involve numbers and predictable equations, or any that have a high level of redundancy, such as accountancy and truck drivers, just to name two.
For obvious reasons, the idea of any profession being eliminated by technology or a machine is a contentious thought, but the simple fact is that AI and machine learning is built for the very purpose of taking redundant activities and allowing algorithms to recognize and learn the patterns. The more redundant the task, the easier it is to learn. Learning the tax code or maneuvering around cities a lot to take on, but it doesn't change much after you learn it.
So how do we prepare for the future?
The obvious answer is to better prepare ourselves for new jobs, which include professions such as data analysts, AI developers, software developers, and so on. These particular skills require basic STEM comprehension and strong analytical focus, as well as a host of other skills we are yet to realize.
In fact, the same report that indicated that 75 million jobs could be lost also estimated that up to 133 million new jobs could be created in these fields.
But not everyone is cut it to be a data scientist or software engineer, so how do we prepare these people for the next generation of jobs?
One panelist, Gus Leite, is leading PwC in Canada with its "upskilling" efforts. While self explanatory, upskilling is the process of training personnel to handle new technologies and equip them with the skills necessary to remain relevant as the industry and organization evolve.
Leite pointed out that these upskilling efforts are often misunderstood by employees who expect to learn a new software or specific practice. Instead, Leite emphasizes that upskilling is as much about creating mindsets that allow employees to be nimble, flexible and adaptable to change as it is about learning to code. It is these types of skills, perhaps more than technical skills, that will allow a company to evolve and adapt quickly when change happens.
In the end, the future of business is as exciting as it is uncertain. While technology continues to disrupt and shape industries and professions, the pace of change is creating a new needs for skills almost as fast as we learn them.
And while AI threatens many industries and professions, we must not lose sight of the fact that artificial intelligence is not truly intelligent. It is only as smart as we make it. What it will not replace, at least for a few more generations, is the human element of work. Managing people and leading change with emotional intelligence and measured empathy is an extremely variable task with very little redundancy.
So for the time being, as long as we can continue to offer up our humanity as a competitive advantage, there will continue to be a need for us. And, honestly, I don't want to think about what happens otherwise.