Accelerating Skills Acquisition

The last blog post in this series on the reports presented at the G20 YEA 2018 Summit, talks about skill acquisition in the age of intelligent technologies. The report was written together with Accenture. Pierre Nanterme, Chairman and CEO of Accenture, writes:

“Employers face a global skills crisis that could hold back the economic promise of intelligent technologies. Well beyond today’s talent shortages, digital innovations will continually and rapidly alter the demand for skills in the future. Incremental changes to our education and corporate learning systems will not be sufficient.

In response to this crisis, business leaders must completely rethink how to prepare their workforces, from anticipating the skills their organisations will need, to how they will help people learn and apply new skills throughout their careers. For leaders looking to drive growth in an incredibly competitive and rapidly changing business environment, investing in people is both responsible and cost effective.”

In the report, the situation is seen as a race between education and technologies. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this is not about technological skills. It is about cultivating the full range of skills, from the creative to the complex cognitive capabilities that the future workforce will need.

Current education and corporate learning systems are not equipped to address the coming revolution in skills demand. The challenge is especially urgent for roles that are more vulnerable to dislocation through intelligent automation.

Looking at how work tasks have shifted between 2008 to 2017, it seems workers are performing interactive and collaborative tasks more frequently, and repetitive ones less frequently. This would imply that where technology can replace manual work, the skills we now have to foster are the “soft factors” – our specifically human skills.

Robert Seamans, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at New York University’s Stern School of Business, says:

“Technology like AI puts a premium on human skills like empathy, creativity and critical thinking. But unless we analyse the everyday activities of workers on the ground, it’s hard to understand precisely how needs will evolve and where to take action.”

So, the analysis reveals that for almost every single role, a combination of Complex Reasoning, Creativity, Socio-emotional Intelligence and Sensory Perception skills is increasingly relevant.

It’s a finding that raises a daunting challenge: today’s education and training systems are ill- equipped to build these skills. By their nature, these skills are acquired through practice and experience, often over long periods of time. They are not inculcated in the classroom, lecture hall or library.

As so well put by Tony Wagner, Senior Research Fellow, Learning Policy Institute.

“We still talk about a knowledge economy, but the reality is that the world is moving beyond it. What we have now is an innovation economy. Knowledge has been commoditised. There is no longer a competitive advantage in simply knowing more than other people, because Google knows everything. What the world cares about is not how much you know, but what you can do with it.”

Finally, in the report, three steps are suggested to solving this “skills crisis”.

  1. Speeding up experiential learning through the use of technology and apprenticeships. One well-known example of the former is pilot training in flight simulators.
  2. Shift focus from institutions to individuals – meaning that interest should be put in the actual individual. What specific mix of knowledge and skills would be relevant to each individual?
  3. Empower the vulnerable learners. Poorer, less educated and less digitally-literate adults face significant informational and motivational barriers. Also older workers tend to participate less in training, due to a mixture of their own reticence and a corporate bias toward investing more in youth skills development.

You can review the full report here.

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