Topics:   Strategy,Technology

Topics:   Strategy,Technology

September 10, 2019

New Strategies for Developing the Workforce of the Future

September 10, 2019

While every company knows that technology is driving profound change, the leaders of most companies are unsure of how to recruit and train for their future workforce. In fact, Accenture research shows that 97 percent of CEOs plan to use artificial intelligence (AI) to create value within their businesses, but only 3 percent have a plan to invest in the skills required for a successful human and machine workplace.

The good news is that there are strategies for “new skilling” the workforce and transforming work as we know it, while also building value for your company as it integrates AI.

What are the implications of pairing human and AI workforces? How will roles in the workplace shift and, as board members, the idea of investing in AI and new skilling today to prepare for tomorrow be advanced?

These concepts and more were explored at a recent roundtable co-hosted by NACD and Accenture with 19 directors coming together in the Bay Area. Eva Sage-Gavin, senior managing director and lead of the Global Talent & Organization Practice at Accenture, was joined by Christopher Y. Clark, director of partner relations and publisher of NACD Directorship magazine, who moderated the conversation. They led a vibrant discussion about the benefits of tracking data on the workforce, how director oversight can speed progress, and how work will evolve. Sage-Gavin advises some of the leading companies and brands in the world on how training and engagement will advance innovation within their workforces and she shared her insights on what’s happening now. This is the first of a two-part summary of the conversation.

The Era of AI is Upending Work as We Know It

As companies start using intelligent technologies such as machine learning, the Internet of Things, and biometrics, many people who have been well trained for their positions for a long time may find themselves in uncharted waters. Companies looking to succeed in the digital age must put transformation of their people first, Sage-Gavin claimed. She speaks from experience.

Ten years ago, Accenture set out to radically change its business model. In the process, it spent $1 billion new skilling 350,000 workers for the jobs that the firm would need in the future. Now, more and more companies are looking at new skilling in the same way that Accenture approached their own workforce a decade ago. Amazon, for instance, announced a sweeping effort to new-skill 100,000 of its workers to address its talent needs for today and for the future.

Sage-Gavin and her colleagues understand the impact that press around AI has had on the public imagination. While these predictions run the gamut of completely devastating to highly positive, continued progress in technology has stoked fears that AI may make some people’s jobs obsolete.  

But employees are ready to embrace the changes they see coming. Accenture research found that over 60 percent of workers have a positive view of the impact of AI on their work. And two-thirds acknowledge that they must develop their own skills to work with intelligent machines.

Build, Buy, Borrow, Bot

While companies must be thinking about new skilling their current workforce, they also have opportunities to think differently about how to get the work done. Sage-Gavin introduced the director-audience to one of Accenture’s key strategies for developing the workforce needed to compete now: “build, buy, borrow, bot.”

This process requires sitting down with the board or an executive team and looking at the current workforce, and the workforce it would need to achieve its market potential and navigate competitive threats, and then analyzing data to show how to shape the future workforce. Sage-Gavin explains that you can:

  • build the skills you need by investing in new skilling the people you have;
  • buy the skills you need through targeted acquisitions;
  • borrow skills with a liquid talent pool, hiring people on a contract basis; and  
  • look at what percentage of a job could be automated by bots, unlocking human potential for other creative tasks.

Sage-Gavin urged attending directors to work closely with management teams to identify workforce needs required for long-term value creation, and look at what strategy might be appropriate for reskilling the workforce with this framework in mind.

The Director’s Perspective

Sue Siegel, chief innovation officer at GE Ventures and director at Align Technologies and Illumina, was curious about new skilling and how the training and tracking software required to carry out the mission could be built to accommodate a vast array of subject matter and learning types. “There are lots of layers to understanding, education, and skillset when retraining a workforce, but you probably developed a curriculum that was easily understood, and standard,” Siegel said. “At the board level, should we be aware of that kind of training? We’ve done retraining a lot where I work, and have seen challenges with cultural training and skills training, too.”

Sage-Gavin pointed out that for Accenture’s own workforce training solution to be made the right way, her team sought help from professors at MIT to create models to motivate learning, recognize individual achievements, and identify employees whose performances exceeded expectations. Accenture also scrutinized the learning materials—and the rates that employees either passed or failed the tests—to ensure the tests were not unfairly calibrated.

Richard Horan, retired colonel and a director of the NACD Northern California Chapter, asked how to guard against “groupthink” when  all employees are trained using the same ideas or tools. Sage-Gavin explained that there are indeed some things that can come only through on-site, human observation paired with the power of critical reasoning and pattern recognition. Still, training could reinforce and strengthen those skills, and perhaps identify people who would otherwise go unrecognized.

Susan Lucas-Conwell, executive vice president of CSIRO and director, Wharton Club of Northern California and Women in Sports Technology, explained that she thinks it’s time to begin looking for talent in new places. “With all due respect to Harvard and MIT others, the experts of tomorrow, are going to come from elsewhere. They’re going to come from Harvey Mudd, from Cornell, and from others. From the top down, data will drive this. It’ll force us to look beyond college and pedigree. It’s going to force us to look beyond training and resumes, because people will have gone from one year at a nonprofit here, and three years at another company there. Maybe in 10 years from now, people will not spend money on four-year degrees. The real challenge is attracting talent that is going to look different from what we have assumed it will be. The generation coming up is interested in doing good. If our company isn’t invested in that motivation, it’s not going to do the trick.”

Coverage of this event will continue in another blog. Come back for more, or subscribe to our newsletter to have the latest delivered to your inbox.