Updated: Jan 13
What new surveys reveal about the skills preparation gap.
How will AI and automation affect industries over the next five years, and what’s being done to prepare organizations and workers for the coming change? In a recent on-demand CLO webinar, Jerome L. Rekart, Ph.D., presented his work examining the perceptions of HR leaders regarding this topic. Dr. Rekart is the vice president of research and insight at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and has a background in neuroscience and learning theory. His goal is to ensure imparted knowledge has a practical application.
Dr. Rekart indicated that it is important to understand how organizations are beginning to plan for changes likely to be brought about by AI and automation, particularly as a 2019 Northeastern/ Gallup survey has shown that a majority of workers worry that technology will destroy more jobs than it creates. The work conducted by Southern New Hampshire University examined the perspectives of HR leaders from across the United States.
• 32% of corporate respondents think there will be no AI or automation impact on their organization, though some think it will have an impact on their industry, and an even slightly larger percentage think it will have an impact on the global economy.
• Leaders Across All Surveyed Industries. anticipate an average of 32% of the workforce will be displaced by AI or automation over the next five years.
• Almost Two-Thirds of organizational leaders indicate they’re not making any plans to prepare for the impending AI- and automation-induced employee displacement.
Despite the clear perception that AI and automation will affect all industries and workers in some manner within the next five years, the SNHU survey exposed a disconcerting truth: most companies aren’t thinking about how to prepare. “This was incredibly interesting to us as researchers,” Dr. Rekart said. “Most (strategic) plans go out five to 10 years, so the fact they chose an overwhelming ‘No’ was very interesting.”
Further analysis found a threshold by industry. “Those leaders who indicated the highest likelihood of displacement were those most likely to say yes, they were planning,” Dr. Rekart concluded.
The rosy outlook of respondents seemed somewhat discordant. Even though the respondents on average thought half of their workforce would be displaced and weren’t making plans to prepare for that, a majority of organizational leaders thought the changes brought by AI and automation would have a positive impact on their employees.
Prepare against worker displacement with upskilling.
Of those leaders who have begun planning for employee displacement by AI or automation, upskilling was found to be the top choice, whether through employer-provided professional development opportunities or by offering tuition reimbursement or opportunities to retool via college coursework.
“We asked respondents what advice they would give an employee whose job is likely to be replaced by technology in the next five years, and the advice was to get new skills or training,” Dr. Rekart said. “It isn’t just that the technology is coming to replace us, but we could be replaced if we can’t keep up with particular technologies. There is a necessity to adapt.”
SNHU’s research found the general advice from organizational leaders was to upskill now and find a job that technology will never be able to replace. “Begin reading about AI and probable displacement and look into some percentage of current transferable skills into expected high-demand skill areas and skill up now.”
“Don’t wait,” advised one leader. “Begin reading about AI and probable displacement and look into some percentage of current transferable skills into expected high-demand skill areas and skill up now.”
“(Try) not to specialize too much. The more flexible you can be, the better,” advised another.
There are different ways to upskill yourself and your employees: tuition reimbursement, education, and learning on the job, among others.
“There are unbiased academic studies that show upskilling really does work,” Dr. Rekart said. “Science shows that productivity and loyalty to an employer increase through on-the-job training. Lumina did a great study a few years ago that shows a clear return on investment for every dollar invested in training employees.”
“At SNHU, we’re developing learning products that are practical, targeting skills that transcend just one job, and making use of the reality that you can learn while on the job. Adults in the workplace who’ve done well the last 10-15 years now need to pivot, so we’re working to help them capitalize on the skills they already have,” Dr. Rekart said. “But it’s not just SNHU; higher ed as an industry is moving.”