• Businesses must advocate for a modernized education system to boost the hard and soft skills employees need in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning will change the future of work but also provide new ways to train and reskill staff.
  • A top-down approach to learning led by executives and more flexible approaches to training will be necessary.

For years, the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum has provided an opportunity for industry leaders to discuss the rise and impact of emerging technologies. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI), automation and machine learning within business practices and how these technologies will affect and influence our workforce has become a common theme of discussion.

But the time for talk has passed; now we must act.

As business leaders, we understand that implementing these technologies is crucial to remaining competitive. There is no “if” – only “when” and “how much”. Today, we all agree that AI, automation, and machine learning bring tremendous value, in terms of efficiency, speed and flexibility, and we must ensure that our companies implement these technologies to remain ahead of the curve and the competition.

As we integrate these tools into our businesses, it is our duty – and, I might argue, our moral obligation – to also provide our employees with the new skills they need to adapt.

This month, as we approach the 50th Annual Meeting in Davos and a new decade, we find ourselves – business leaders from different industries and countries alike – charged with a significant challenge: in the face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, how do we build a sustainable workplace that marries this adoption of technology with the changing roles of our employees?

I propose we start here – the four areas in which business leaders must focus their attention in order to build a more sustainable workforce:

1. Become advocates for a modernized education system. I’ve previously said – and I strongly believe – that our education system itself needs to evolve to embrace not only traditional four-year universities but also vocational schools and apprenticeships. By properly investing in educational frameworks that allow for new avenues of learning and skills-gathering, we can make flexible education systems an intrinsic part of the cultural norm and arm employees with the complementary skillsets they’ll inevitably need for sustainable careers.

Today, many colleges are focused on honing one’s hard tech skills, but in this digitally native culture, success is built on possessing myriad talents. It’s therefore critical we advocate for curriculums that include both hard and soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, and self-efficacy. We must work to dispel long-held cultural beliefs that education ends at a person’s commencement ceremony. Consider LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, in which 94% of employees said they’d stay at a company longer if that company invested in helping them learn. If today’s workforce values continuous, multi-faceted learning, our education system must too.

Skills needed in 2022
What skills will be in demand and which will be in decline by 2022?

2. Implement fluid and seamless learning opportunities. The modern workplace will continuously require us to learn new solutions for a variety of fresh challenges and successful businesses will be those that both recognize and cater to employee hunger for lifelong learning. But we need to go beyond simply making education and training available. Gone are the days of large group day-long sessions and lengthy instructional videos; instead, employers must meet employees on the platforms that best align with their habits – encouraging them to pursue skills development programmes that are right for them, at their own pace, and through mediums that are best suited to their learning style. Whether it is webinars, online games, or in-person mentor programmes, we must find ways to seamlessly integrate organic reskilling moments at work, so it does not feel like a “chore,” but rather becomes a fluid and natural aspect of the holistic work experience.

The number of days of extra learning required
The number of days of extra learning required

3. Instil a top-down approach to learning. Executives need to “walk the walk” when it comes to reskilling employees whose roles are destined to change – laying the groundwork for a culture of curiosity and continuous learning. The best way to accomplish this is to instil change from the top down. Leaders themselves should show they are not immune to change and should participate in training alongside their direct reports. In fact, data suggests that the number one way learners discover the skills they need to improve in their roles is when their manager provides specific direction or hands-on guidance. At the same time, CEOs can’t be afraid to ask questions or learn from those around them. It is in being vulnerable and curious that we can create a larger company culture wherein workers are encouraged to exhibit more trainable and curious mindsets. Participating in regular skill development and retraining programmes allows all of us to feel more aptly prepared to embrace the workplace of tomorrow.

4. Take advantage of AI and machine learning to optimize reskilling. In the age of AI, success in business will increasingly be linked to the relationship between people and machines, and employee reskilling is no different. Our research suggests that workers are highly receptive to AI-related training, with 80% willing to learn new skills to take advantage of AI in their current jobs. So as AI and machine learning technologies change the types of jobs employees will have, these same technologies can be used to power the training systems and tools that can efficiently reskill employees. Reskilling tools powered by these technologies are scalable, available 24/7 and extremely cost-effective.

Rate of automation in the workforce
Rate of automation in the workforce

This is not simply about prioritizing digital technologies to gain a competitive edge – there will always be tasks that simply cannot be accomplished without a human touch. It relates instead to our inherent duty as industry leaders and global stakeholders to better invest in education systems wherein our employees can augment skills for sustainable careers and business leaders can develop a more enriched internal talent pool.