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How Can Companies Prepare for the Age of AI?


Over the past decade, artificial intelligence (AI) moved beyond the hype and into the realms of reality, with enterprises finding smart solutions to legacy problems as computers became smarter with massive processing potential to handle huge volumes of data and studying their patterns. As a new decade starts off, enterprises and nations are racing to harness AI to spur growth and competitiveness.

However, as the business of big data and its analysis has grown, so have the challenges and none more glaring than the scarcity of talent to harness and grow AI. More so, since the distribution of such talent is skewed across industry verticals and countries. If not sought out and addressed soon, the AI skills gap could create another digital divide turning some businesses into pariahs while others become demigods.

This year’s Global Talent Competitiveness Index that addresses the theme of ‘Global Talent in the Age of Artificial Intelligence’ and released at the recently concluded World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, explores how the development of AI is changing the nature of work and forcing a re-evaluation of workplace practices, corporate structures and innovation ecosystems – in other words, how companies can prepare for the AI. (Read the complete report by clicking on this link)

The GTCI report compiled by INSEAD in collaboration with human resource firm Addeco and Google, finds that more than half of the population in the developing world lack basic digital skills. This digital skills gap is only widening, with a few countries progressing quickly while most of the developing world lags behind. India in particular has climbed eight places to 72nd rank in the report, which was topped by Switzerland, the US and Singapore. Sweden (4th), Denmark (5th), the Netherlands (6th), Finland (7th), Luxembourg (8th), Norway (9th) and Australia (10th) complete the top 10 league. In the BRICS grouping, China was ranked 42nd, Russia (48th), South Africa (70th) and Brazil at 80th position.

“Although more could be done to improve the country’s educational system (68th in Formal Education), India’s key strength relates to growing (44th) talent, due to its levels of lifelong learning (40th) and access to growth opportunities (39th). India’s highest-ranked sub-pillar is employability, but the ability to match labour market demand and supply stands in contrast to the country’s poor “mid-level skills”, which result in a mediocre score in vocational and technical skills, the report said.

Read more: 2010-2019: When Artificial Intelligence Trumped Humans

“As machines and algorithms continue to affect a multiplicity of tasks and responsibilities and almost every job gets reinvented, having the right talent has never been more critical. Today, robots and algorithms have travelled beyond the factory floor and are functioning at front of house, the back office and company headquarters. At all levels, workers need training to hone quintessential “human skills” – adaptability, social intelligence, communication, problem solving and leadership – that will complement technology,” said Alain Dehaze, Adecco Group’s Chief Executive Officer.

“This decade will be characterized by a re-skilling revolution with a focus on ‘fusion skills’ – enabling humans and machines to work in harmony in a hybrid model. With this in mind, the Adecco Group is committing to upskill and reskill five million people around the world by 2030 – equipping individuals with future skills that will enable them to thrive in the AI age,” Dehaze added.

New approaches are being tried and tested to find the optimum balance, where people and technology can successfully work side by side and thrive in the workplace of the future. As these new collaborations continue to be developed, global talent competitiveness is being redefined, with nations striving to position themselves as leaders of the AI revolution. While the digital skills gap is significant and continuing to expand, the report’s analysis found that AI could provide significant opportunities for emerging markets to “leapfrog”.

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

– The gap between high-income countries and the rest of the world is widening. A similar gap is also seen in the universe of AI – where talent is scarce and unequally distributed across industries, sectors, and nations. More than half of the population in the developing world lack basic digital skills. In the age of AI, this digital skills divide is broadening, with a few countries progressing quickly while most of the developing world is lagging. AI policies and programs should work to minimize negative outcomes and increase access to AI for those left behind.

– AI may also provide significant opportunities for emerging markets to leapfrog. The GTCI’s longitudinal analyses highlight that some developing countries such as China, Costa Rica and Malaysia possess the potential to become “talent champions” in their respective regions. Meanwhile, other countries like Ghana and India have improved their capacity to enable, attract, grow and retain talent in recent years, earning them status as “talent movers”. As India did in the late 1990s (becoming a global off-shoring base for IT services), AI may provide opportunities for other countries or regions (e.g., Latin America) to become ‘global delivery centers’ for AI applications.

Read more: Vision 2020: The Journey of Artificial Intelligence

– The emergence of AI in the workplace requires a massive re-skilling of the workforce. At all levels of qualifications, workers will need training on adaptability, social intelligence, communication, and problem-solving. Life-long learning will increasingly play a key role in developing skills to foster empathy, creativity, imagination, judgment, and leadership, which are likely to continue to be human-only activities. Re-skilling will also be necessary to develop fusion skills in order to allow humans and machines to effectively and efficiently interact in hybrid activities.

– It seems critical to create a narrative about AI and the future of jobs that emphasizes its many possibilities instead of just instilling more fear. Since AI-induced changes will be fast and broad-ranging, it will be important for educators and leaders to realize that new generations will continue to attach key importance to values and seek jobs that offer them opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way to society.

Cities are striving to become AI hubs and attract relevant talents. Such efforts translate to different initiatives and strategies (curricula in local universities and schools and aggressive policies to detect, attract, and retain AI talents, for example). In many respects, such efforts coincide with cities’ strategies to become smart cities, as AI becomes a core engine of the local transformation of transportation networks, energy grids, and other fundamental components of urban strategies. Currently—and increasingly in the future—cities continue to be the main testbeds for new AI-based tools such as facial recognition, tele-surveillance, and self-driven vehicles. Experience shows that perceptions of the value of such technologies vary greatly from one city to another, which is a phenomenon worth watching before these tools can be sustainably deployed.

Good news is, many corporations have already established AI working groups, ethics boards and special committees to advise on policy, risks and strategy. A recent KPMG survey found that 44% of businesses surveyed claimed to have implemented an AI code of ethics and another 30% said that they are working on one. The report said, AI and automation will alter the world of work.

In this scenario, researchers see, winning organizations will be those that can compete on an increasing rate of learning. Companies that continuously provide their employees at all levels with the latest digital skills will be most likely to thrive and continue to attract top talent.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at [email protected]