We interviewed more than 130 thought leaders in the public and private business sectors, higher education and government in the fall of 2017 and the winter of 2018. While our research team continues its analysis, we are excited to provide some preliminary findings. We asked thought leaders to share their views on three of the workforce imperatives FTC has identified that will profoundly affect the future of talent by 2030; artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, leadership and lifelong learning.
AI and Automation
AI and automation was identified as one of FTC’s top imperatives, so it is no surprise that the effects of AI and automation on talent are high on employer, educator and public policy maker agendas. Most thought leaders anticipate significant job changes ahead. AI and automation will fundamentally change, and in some cases, eliminate, jobs across almost all industries. The changes, however, will be more of an evolution rather than a revolution. Some thought leaders believe that while there will be job losses in the short term because of AI and automation, particularly for lower-skilled jobs, in the long term, AI and automation will ultimately create higher level and more satisfying jobs. Few leaders interviewed thought that AI and automation would replace humans altogether in the workplace. Most envision future workplaces with humans and machines working together.
From the interviews analyzed to date, it is clear that AI, automation and digital disruption will profoundly change the future workplace.
AI and automation is currently, and will continue to, change higher education in terms of how and when learning is delivered over a person’s lifespan, what is learned, and how it is applied. Most academic thought leaders said they have already added or will be adding technological courses as required study in all majors. Technical courses like coding, data analytics, cybersecurity and the ethical implications of AI are all topics under consideration. Like business and industry leaders, educators know that graduating students will need more technical skills but are having a difficult time, given the rapid changes in technology, identifying what those specific technical skills will be.
Preparing leaders today for the demands of leadership in the future is an overwhelming theme being discussed at senior and board levels. When asked if they felt that the younger generations coming into the workplace had the skills they needed to become leaders, only a few business thought leaders said they were not. Most thought leaders were actually quite optimistic about the rising talent, noting that they were bright, enthusiastic, technically savvy and good communicators. Concerns for future talent arise when talking about existing leaders in organizations. Thought leaders felt that many of their existing leaders lacked the strategic vision or open mindset needed to change with the times. Some existing leaders, they said, will and can change. Others cannot, and this is a challenge facing organizations, academic institutions and public policy makers.
Thought leaders felt that many of their existing leaders lacked the strategic vision or open mindset needed to change with the times.
In terms of what specific leadership skills are needed for the future, thought leaders interviewed generally focused on “soft skills” like critical thinking and problem solving, agility, flexibility, collaboration, and entrepreneurial and communication skills.
When asked if employers were concerned that Millennials and other younger generations lacked interest in taking on leadership roles, employers said that while Millennials may not want to take leadership roles in traditional, hierarchical organizations, they are willing to take leadership positions on teams. They see a trend toward flatter, less hierarchical organizations where the notion of “team leader” or “project leader” will rotate and replace unit managers or directors.
All thought leaders agree that the need for employees at all levels to constantly reskill as a result of AI, automation and the rapid rate of global business change is a trend that is here to stay. Nearly everyone interviewed agreed that it is an issue employers, universities and governments must work on collaboratively to address, because reskilling will cut across all industries, including higher education, and will have public policy implications, particularly when some jobs become obsolete. Thought leaders across all categories used the truck driving profession as an example of a career that may soon be extinct; self-driving trucks are already being tested in the United States.
Employers are already changing how continuous education or lifelong learning is delivered to employees. Just-in-time training, online training, experiential learning, virtual simulations, individualized learning platforms, and university/employer partnerships were all discussed. Many employers mentioned that Millennials (and Gen Z) love to learn, expect to continuously learn, and will walk if those opportunities are not given to them, so constant learning is increasingly seen as a retention tool.
Educators also mentioned the trend toward the “flipped classroom” and a trend toward offering more experiential, case-based learning.
Educators are coming around to online learning but feel that especially at the undergraduate level, it will never fully replace face-to-face learning, although most introductory courses could be delivered online. Blended learning is the wave of the future. At the post-graduate level, academic thought leaders see a rise in virtual learning because the need for human interaction is needed less at this level (it is, they believe, human interaction that gets to those soft “leadership” skills for undergraduate students). Micro degrees will be huge at the post-graduate level. Educators also mentioned the trend toward the “flipped classroom” and a trend toward offering more experiential, case-based learning.
From the interviews analyzed to date, it is clear that AI, automation and digital disruption will profoundly change the future workplace and the knowledge and skills talent will need to succeed in a VUCA business world. Leaders and employees will need to be agile to keep up with the changes and must be prepared to continuously learn throughout their careers.