Future skills

The recent high profile disagreement between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg on the dangers of Artificial Intelligence (AI) did nothing to dampen the sentiment that is implicit across today’s mainstream media; humans are slowly being replaced by robot workforces. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon Philip Hammond, has been involved in the rhetoric, telling a House of Lords committee that robots will soon be running UK government.

Against this backdrop, the obvious presumption would be that businesses are responding to rapid advancements in technology in their future workforce plans. However, research by Alexander Mann Solutions suggests quite the opposite, with a recent survey of over 2000 senior HR professionals finding that just 23 per cent believe we are preparing the next generation of professionals for the rise of AI. This is despite the fact that two thirds (69 per cent) forecast it is very or somewhat likely that we will see humanoids in the workplace by 2030. 

According to Accenture, AI could add an estimated £654 billion ($814 billion) to the UK economy by 2035. However, the potential of any intelligent software is limited by the human talent responsible for commissioning, implementing and managing it. This, of course, means that leaders are increasingly looking for individuals with the requisite technical skills, but strategic workforce plans should also focus on investing in talent with adaptable core competencies that are currently difficult to recreate in machines, such as creativity and communication skills.

This perhaps explains why Alexander Mann Solutions’ research found that, when quizzed on what skills businesses should be developing to enhance the potential of AI, over a third (36 per cent) cited adaptability to change and around a fifth (22 per cent) listing creative skills as most important.

A recent study by the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford and the Department of Political Science at Yale University found that AI will outperform humans in many activities in the next 10 years. Areas where machines will excel include: translating languages (by 2024) driving a truck (by 2027), writing a bestselling book (by 2049), and working as a surgeon (by 2053).

Indeed, the robots we have developed and deployed at Alexander Mann Solutions are succeeding in managing the routine elements of the hiring process more quickly, efficiently and accurately than humanly possible. As our Director of Technology & Business Intelligence, Andrew Wayland, notes, “Our robot colleague ‘DORIS’ manages the organisation of often complex documents without errors while ‘ISAAC’ schedules thousands of interviews. As a result, big brands in sectors including energy and retail banking have already seen vast improvements in the efficiency of hiring and on-boarding processes. By delegating mundane administrative tasks to the bots, they’ve freed up our human talent day to day for higher value, high touch interactions with candidates, thereby allowing the recruiters to do what they do best”. Make no mistake there are many areas where the human touch is still vital – including within the tech sector itself. 

The Singularity

Ultimately, debates about AI capabilities often come down to whether or not Artificial General Intelligence (that is when a machine has the same intellectual capabilities as a human), can be achieved. Many researchers doubt that ‘The Singularity’ is even possible and, without it, machines will never truly match the human mind. 

Businesses must become accustomed to upskilling existing teams and planning future workforces with robots in mind - but there will be no cliff-edge of job losses as AI replaces human workers. Instead, the roles of real-life employees will develop so that we will work alongside robots to become more efficient and productive, and innate human traits will become more valuable than ever before. GE, for example, is reportedly building a ‘robotic workforce’ as part of its shift toward high-tech business. To manage the transition, scientists are being redeployed to the company’s machine-learning lab where they are tasked with helping to make cloud-hosted software models of GE’s existing machines that can be used to save money and improve safety for its customers long-term.

As Ian Pearson, leading futurologist of Futurizon and fellow of the World Academy for Arts and Science, points out, employers have a long way to go before they can solely rely on an automated workforce. "AI and robots can automate intellectual and physical tasks,” he said, “but they won't be human, and some tasks require the worker to be human. A human will always be able to identify with another human on an emotional level better than a robot can”. With this in mind, it is crucial that business leaders plan future workforces to ensure that they not only have access to requisite technical skills, but also focus on investing in talent with adaptable core competencies that are unique to the human species.

Jeremy Tipper, Director of Consulting and Innovation, Alexander Mann Solutions
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