Artificial Intelligence bound to force workers to acquire new skills

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This article was written and published in Spanish and has been translated into English via Google Translate. Click here to read the original article.

The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, along with several CEOs from Silicon Valley recently participated in the VivaTech conference in Paris, with the aim of showing the “good” side of technology.

Our research highlights some of these benefits, especially the increase in productivity and performance that automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can bring to the economy, and to society in general, if these technologies are used to address important problems such as fight against diseases and against climate change. However, we also note some critical challenges that must be overcome. First of all, a massive change in the skills we will need in the workplace in the future.

To see how big those changes might be, our latest research analyzed the skill requirements for individual work activities in more than 800 occupations to examine the number of hours the workforce invests in 25 basic skills at present. Next, we calculate to what extent these skill requirements could change by 2030, as workplace and automation technologies are implemented, and we support our findings with a detailed survey of more than 3,000 business leaders in seven countries, who confirmed to a large extent our quantitative evaluation of recommendations. We group the 25 skills into five categories: physical and manual (which is the largest category today), basic cognitive, superior cognitive, social and emotional, and technological skills (the smallest category to date).

The results highlight the great challenge facing our workforces, our economies and the well-being of our societies. Among other priorities, they show the urgency of launching large-scale retraining initiatives for the majority of workers who will be affected by automation, initiatives that are currently very deficient.

Changes in skills are not new: we have seen a shift from physical to cognitive tasks and, more recently, to digital skills. However, the next change in the skills of the workforce could be massive in scale. To give a sense of magnitude, more than one in three workers may need to adapt the combination of their skills by 2030, more than double the amount that could be displaced by automation in some of our adoption settings, and continuous learning of new skills will be essential for everyone. With the advent of AI, basic cognitive skills, such as reading and basic arithmetic, will not be sufficient for many jobs, while the demand for advanced technological skills, such as coding and programming, will increase by 55% by 2030, according to our analysis.

The need for social and emotional skills, including taking initiatives and leadership, will also have a marked increase, by 24%, and between higher cognitive skills, creativity and complex information and problem-solving will also be significantly more important. Often “soft” skills are considered that schools and education systems, in general, are not designed to impart. However, in a more automated future, when machines are able to take on many more routine tasks, these skills will be increasingly important, precisely because machines are still far from being able to provide experience and training or manage complex relationships.

While many people fear that automation will reduce the number of jobs for humans, we realize that the popularization of AI will take time. The need for basic cognitive skills, as well as physical and manual skills, will not go away. In fact, physical and manual skills will continue to be the largest skill category in many countries for hours worked, but with different importance in all countries. In France and the United Kingdom, for example, manual skills will be surpassed by the demand for social and emotional skills, while in Germany, higher cognitive skills will be predominant. These country differences are the result of different industrial mixtures in each country and this, in turn, affects the automation potential of the economies and the combination of future skills. Although we base our estimates on the automation potential of current sectors and countries, this could change according to the pace and enthusiasm with which the IA is adopted in companies, sectors, and countries. It is already clear that China is moving rapidly to become a leading AI actor, and Asia as a whole is ahead of Europe in the volume of investment in artificial intelligence.

We see the retraining (or “recycling” as some call it), as the imperative of the next decade. It is a challenge not only for companies, which are in the front line, but also for educational institutions, industry and labor groups, philanthropists and, of course, policymakers, who must find new ways to encourage investment in human capital.

For companies, these changes are part of the greater automation challenge that will require a profound rethinking of how work is organized within companies, including what the strategic needs of the workforce are, and how to establish them to achieve them. In our research, we found some examples of companies that are focusing on retraining, either internally, for example, the SAP of Germany, or working with external educational institutions, as AT & T is doing. In general, our survey suggests that European companies are more likely to fill future personnel needs in the new era of automation, focusing on recycling, while US companies are more open to new hires. The starting point for all this will be a change of mentality, with companies looking to measure future success by their ability to provide continuous learning options to employees.

The change inability is not only a challenge, it is an opportunity. If companies and societies can equip workers with the necessary new skills, the advantage will be considerable, in terms of higher productivity growth, higher wages and greater prosperity. Macron’s argument that technology is an element to do good will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the contrary, if these demands for changing skills are not addressed, the polarization of incomes could be exacerbated and political and social tensions increased. What is at stake is high, but we can already see the sketches of what needs to be done and we have little time to work on solutions.

This article was written and published in Spanish and has been translated into English via Google Translate. Click here to read the original article.

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Simon Baker is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Online Marketplaces and Property Portal Watch. Involved with property portals for 15 years, he’s a well-recognized expert and industry consultant.
As former CEO/MD of the REA Group for 8 years, Simon led the group to its current market-leading position. When he joined REA Group in 2001, it had $4m in revenues, $6m in losses and an $8m market cap.
By 2008, the company presided over $155m in revenues, $35m in EBITDA and enjoyed a peak market cap of $1b. Simon is currently Chairman of the Mitula Group and Real Estate Investar and a serial portal founder and, investor.