Automation, artificial intelligence and the future of work have been topics saturating the news over the past few years. Just last month, Spyce, a fully automated “robotic kitchen” created by four MIT students, opened up down the street from my office in the center of Boston. I walked in, typed my order on a screen, paid and was transfixed by the machines putting on a Fantasia-like show as they prepared my food. I drifted off, contemplating what the next industrial revolution, the fourth industrial revolution will mean for the workplace and my job at Valamis, and realized how easy it is to forget the industrial revolutions that came before.
Revolutions of the Past
Inventions throughout history have changed the way we live and relate to each other, as well as the world around us. The steam engine triggered the original industrial revolution; the second revolution was driven by the invention of electricity and the proliferation of mass production, transportation and the distribution of the telephone. Then came the third industrial revolution, the transformation from analog to digital that brought us the personal computer and the internet. Just as access to information has been forever changed, technology has changed the workforce.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) proclaimed that “When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country.” Reflecting on past industrial revolutions, Schwab’s words ring true: It took decades for the telephone to reach 50% of U.S. households, yet it only took five years for cell phones to accomplish the same feat in the 1990s, according to Harvard Business Review.
Due to the accessibility and collaboration of information facilitated by the internet, technology adoption is faster than ever. Schwab says, “Disruption is ... flowing from agile, innovative competitors who, thanks to access to global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales and distribution, can oust well-established incumbents faster than ever by improving the quality, speed or price at which value is delivered.”
Intelligent Automation & Reskilling the Workforce
Intelligent automation requires a massive effort to re-skill the workforce, while some jobs will completely disappear with automation. As a result of these changes, it is estimated by McKinsey & Company that up to 375 million workers will need to switch occupational categories by 2030. McKinsey & Company also predicts that in about 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the constituent activities could be automated, implying substantial workplace transformations and changes for all workers.
Alongside the need to upskill the workforce in response to AI and automation, it is important to note the importance of workforce generational shift. “Millennials now make up more than half the workforce, and they bring high expectations for a rewarding, purposeful work experience, constant learning and development opportunities and dynamic career progression.” (Deloitte 2016)
Investing in Corporate Learning
Engaging Millennials, reskilling the workforce and investing in corporate learning are relatively new and major considerations that executives have been tasked with as a result of the third industrial revolution, and will remain important throughout the fourth industrial revolution. Global digital platforms as Schwab described, like learning experience platforms, have resulted from a global need for development.
With a changing workforce and new technology on the horizon, 8 in 10 executives surveyed by Deloitte ranked corporate learning as “important” or “very important.” Deloitte notes that “this focus on learning seems appropriate, as learning opportunities are among the largest drivers of employee engagement and strong workplace culture—they are part of the entire employee value proposition, not merely a way to build skills.”
Executives not only see the importance of learning, but are investing in it heavily. According to a recent study by Ernst & Young, “More than half of executives (55%) are struggling to identify and hire people with the right skills. Many are reskilling their existing workforce to better respond to technology changes as a result.”
Learning Experience Platforms & Artificial Intelligence
In order to reskill the masses, learning and development leaders (L&D) have turned to personalized learning. Curating content to upskill employees, assess skill gaps and even predict future skill gaps, is now possible with learning experience platforms leveraging artificial intelligence, which Valamis built on Liferay.
Learning experience platforms using AI are being adopted by organizations looking to quickly and efficiently upskill employees, and offer development as a benefit to attract and retain talent. Learning experience platforms coupled with AI can help organizations curate relevant and engaging content despite generational differences, delivered around the world at any time.
Technology: The Tool for Adaptation
With the progress and adoption rate increasing steadily, technology, especially AI and automation, will undoubtedly transform work as we know it. Responding to the transformation, as we have done for generations, will be facilitated by technology. Artificial intelligence will play a role in replacing monotonous work and jobs, but it will also play an even more important role in transitioning employees to new roles, quicker than we have ever seen in the past.
We text our family, snapchat our friends, slack our coworkers, google for answers, Uber/Lyft to the airport and today this all seems natural. It almost seems more unnatural to attempt to communicate and access information without technology. Technology has made the world borderless; the global diffusion of ideas has brought about more technology to solve new problems, and it will always continue to do so. The fourth industrial revolution will bring new problems, but also new solutions. Change is inevitable, but some things will be familiar in the fourth industrial revolution.
Back at Spyce, I watched as the robot finished my meal, an employee picked it up and called my name. She handed it to me, and wished me a good day.