Jobs and the Future of Work

How AI can help attract, nurture and retain talent 

This image shows a man wearing virtual reality goggles, illustrating the impact of AI on talent

AI is impacting how organizations retain and attract talent Image: Photo by XR Expo on Unsplash

Alain Bejjani
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Jobs and Skills

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • For savvy business leaders, AI heralds a golden opportunity to free up employees and create the space for them to innovate, dream and reimagine.
  • Contrary to popular belief, automation is forecast to lead to net job creation.
  • AI is set to drive meaningful change within the capacity of our individual roles and better contribute to the creation of truly sustainable, prosperous communities for generations.

The age of the machines – once the stuff of sci-fi writers and the silver screen – is now a stark reality. While many of us are already leveraging enhanced technology across our industries, many more are contemplating how their worlds will change as a result of machine learning, automation and sentient computing.

Concerns built on celluloid stories of dystopian futures, compounded by a general sense of post-pandemic, pre-recession malaise, aren’t helping - but for savvy business leaders, the 'Age of AI' heralds a golden opportunity to invest in talent, free up employees and create the space for them to innovate, dream and reimagine. It's a chance to reap the benefits of leveraging the uniquely human traits that will prove critical for the next stage in our evolution.

So, as we continue to discover the enormous opportunity that advances in digital technology provide, we must also consider how we define the evolving role of an organization’s human capital, mindful of the seismic societal shifts and megatrends reshaping the global workforce.

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How is the World Economic Forum ensuring the responsible use of technology?

A new social contract

Pre-COVID-19, time physically spent at a desk was a yardstick by which to gauge employee productivity. Staff that stayed late were often lauded as the most dedicated, dependable and productive team members. In 2020, the power dynamic irrevocably shifted. Driven by a new found appreciation of our own fragility, we set out on a journey of self-realization to rediscover our balance, reassess our priorities and reconnect with that which fulfils us.

The result sparked a transformation in how we work and our expectations of our employers in supporting our needs. For those organizations unable or unwilling to embrace the new working paradigm, the impact has been immediate and decisive. Termed the Great Resignation, workers have been leaving their jobs in droves as they re-evaluate their personal goals, aspirations and purpose. The fuse may have been lit by measures taken to curb the pandemic, but it shows no signs of snuffing out, with a PwC global survey finding a fifth of workers planned to quit their jobs in 2022. Perhaps more concerning is that this trend is especially prevalent among younger workers.

And to the great resigners, we can now add the quiet quitters, employees who wilfully disengage from work that ventures beyond their core job description. According to Harvard Business Review, much of this attitude is driven by the same feelings that result in people resigning – the sense that their employers are not adequately investing in them, their future or their talents.

Have you read?

A global skills shortage

Almost nine in 10 companies worldwide (87%) say they already have a skills gap – or will have one in the next few years, according to McKinsey.

87% of companies say they have skills gaps, or expect to within a few years
Image: McKinsey & Company

Left unaddressed, by 2030 that gap will become cavernous. McKinsey estimates that as many as 375 million workers worldwide will need to switch occupational categories – and develop skills to be effective in their new roles. The advance of digital technology will ensure skills, such as coding, engineering and data analytics, remain in high demand, but creating an effective workforce for the digital age will demand a broader skill set.

The uniquely human attributes, such as creativity or those requiring social or emotional capacity, are set to increase and lead to an even greater premium for finding and developing exceptional people leaders.

Many of these required capabilities will be developed in-house, as employees adapt to working in the digital-first age of intelligent machines. But education systems will also need to evolve to produce a new generation of talent equipped with the skills required to thrive in the digital economy.

Here in the UAE, a new standard is being set as the nation progresses towards its target of becoming a global hub for attracting the best minds, ideas and talent. Sitting at the heart of its Centennial 2071 plan is a steady and sustained shift towards becoming a competitive knowledge-based economy, with strategies in place to capitalise on talent, skills and competencies, recognizing the role of the education sector to instil the qualities needed to realise these goals.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

It’s evident that AI and machine learning technologies are rapidly changing the nature of jobs – especially those done by manual workers and involving routine tasks. But it’s important to remember that automation is forecast to lead to net job creation. Estimates in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report suggest that while 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines by 2025, another 97 million new roles may emerge over the same period. These positions will be more representative of the way humans, machines and algorithms best work together.

Job landscape
Image: Future of Jobs Report 2020, World Economic Forum

The most successful companies will be the ones investing in talent that can work most effectively alongside AI and other intelligent applications. With mechanical and cloud-based lifeforms appropriately leveraged, human employees with the right skills are liberated to be their brilliant best.

To be well-positioned for a tech-enhanced future means taking a long-term view of today’s labour market potential, in spite of the looming threat of recession turning the dominant narrative towards cost savings and headcount rationalisation. That means fostering an environment of continuous learning, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit and building the internal framework that supports sustained growth and development for all employees at every stage of their careers.

Despite Hollywood’s darkest warnings, what is certain is that the rise of machines is inevitable and resistance is futile. For those organizations and entities that embrace a tech-enhanced future today, AI is set to become the most valuable colleague we humans have ever had - enabling us to take the next step in our collective evolution, to drive meaningful change within the capacity of our individual roles and better contribute to the creation of truly sustainable, prosperous communities for generations to come.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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