Retraining required for 120m workers

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Global companies are faced with the prospect of reskilling millions of employees to remain competitive in the digital economy.
Global companies are faced with the prospect of reskilling millions of employees to remain competitive in the digital economy.

In the next three years, an estimated 120 million workers in the world’s 12 largest economies will need to be retrained or reskilled as a result of artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent automation.

This is according to new research: "The enterprise guide to closing the skills gap", conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value. 

The study, which lays out step-by-step strategies for businesses to better foster talent and close the skills gap, includes input from more than 5 670 global executives in 48 countries across the globe. 

It reveals challenges faced by many organisations in meeting new digital skills requirements and the required fundamental shift in how companies meet and manage changing workforce needs.

According to the research, one of the greatest threats facing organisations today is the talent shortage of both soft skills and technology-related skills such as data analysis, mobile expertise, multi-platform user experience (UX) design, network and information security, creative thinking,digital business analysis, digital project management, decision-making and basic computer skills.

Only 41% of CEOs surveyed said they have the people, skills and resources required to execute their business strategies.

Intelligent automation benefits


While they recognise that advances in intelligent automation will bring multiple benefits, they also realise most of their workers may require retraining/reskilling. Most don’t believe their organisation or their country is prepared to effectively tackle the issue, according to the study.

“Organisations are facing mounting concerns over the widening skills gap and tightened labour markets, with the potential to impact their futures as well as worldwide economies,” explains Amy Wright, managing partner at IBM Talent and Transformation.

“Yet, while executives recognise the severity of the problem, half of those surveyed admit that they do not have any skills development strategies in place to address their largest gaps. And the tactics the study found were most likely to close the skills gap the fastest are the tactics companies are using the least. New strategies are emerging to help companies reskill their people and build the culture of continuous learning required to succeed in the era of AI.”

According to Investopedia, the world’s top 12 global economies by gross domestic product are US,China,Japan,Germany,UK,India,France,Brazil,Italy, Canada,South Korea and Russia.

Advancements in AI are spawning a new phase of automation – intelligent automation, which incorporates recent advances in AI and other technologies to manage and improve both physical and digital business processes automatically and continuously, the report says.   

Intelligent automation is helping organisations create new personalised products and services, improve operations, reduce costs and elevate efficiency. It is also transforming the way humans interact with and benefit from technology, it adds.

Closing the skills gap

In terms of closing the skills gap, the research points out the time it takes to retrain employees has increased to an average of 36 days in 2018, from three days in 2014.

The study shows in 2016, executives ranked technical core capabilities for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and basic computer and software/application skills as the most critical skills for employees. In 2018, the top skills sought were behavioural skills – willingness to be flexible, agile and adaptable to change and time management skills and ability to prioritise.

“Executives are now tasked with continuously innovating and succeeding in this constantly evolving landscape. And they recognise that navigating it requires individuals who can communicate effectively, apply problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to drive innovation using new technologies, and draw and act on insights from vast amounts of data. It also calls for creativity and empathy, an ability to change course quickly, and a propensity to seek out personal growth. Expectedly, teamwork and organisational flexibility top executives’ list of most important attributes for successful innovation,” explains IBM’s Institute for Business Value.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute report: “Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation”, by 2030, as many as 375 million workers – or roughly 14% of the global workforce – may need to switch occupational categories as digitisation, automation and advances in AI disrupt the world of work.

The kinds of skills companies require will shift, with profound implications for the career paths individuals will need to pursue, adds the report.

At the World Economic Forum last week, McKinsey released the local version of the report: “The future of work in SA”, which shows digitisation and automation could result in a net gain of up to 1.2 million jobs in SA by 2030.

The report found that, while the threat of digitisation is real and will result in significant displacement of jobs, technology-related gains could triple SA’s productivity growth, more than double growth in per capita income, and add more than a percentage point to its real GDP growth rate over the next decade.

On the contrary, a report issued by Accenture: "Creating South Africa's future workplace", found over a third of current jobs in SA are at risk from technologies like robots, AI, machine learning and automation, with both white- and blue-collar workers' positions being in the firing line.

While there are fears that automation will result in significant job losses, experts say most jobs in the global economy will not be replaced by automation, but AI will rather pave the way for humans to work alongside digital agents.

A research report from Forrester found that, while automation will displace 24.7 million jobs globally by 2027, new technology will create 14.9 million new jobs in the next decade.

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