How AI is Redefining L&D Leaders’ Job Scope

When you read any news today, there is a lot of talk about AI and robots taking over the world. Even such thought leaders as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have warned us that AI poses a great threat to humanity and that we should act now to save the future. While these case scenarios are more common in science-fiction movies, the majority of people are concerned with how AI will impact their jobs.

We happen to live during the Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. With the advent of big data, robotics, AI, and machine learning, all industries have experienced noticeable changes. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, says that “the speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”

The Deloitte review Industry 4.0: Are you ready? shows that only 14% of C-level executives are confident that their organizations are ready to fully harness the changes associated with Industry 4.0, with only a quarter saying they have the right workforce composition and skill sets needed for the future.

The question is: How can businesses get ready for these changes? How can they ensure that employees have pertinent skills? Or should companies start hiring robots instead?

Introducing AI, your new coworker. How to get along?

The first thing companies should do is embrace the change and not succumb to unreasonable panic. AI and automation are happening and there’s little we can do about it. Josh Bersin, founder and principal at Bersin by Deloitte, dispels the myth of the jobless future with real figures:

Will technology really create massive unemployment? Are we entering a “jobless” economy where only software engineers and designers have jobs?

Our research says no. Among the companies we surveyed, 77% believe automation results in “better jobs,” and only 20% see job reductions. 50% are investing in retraining workers to work side-by-side with machines, and 33% expect people to do “more human tasks” augmented by robotics and AI.

In short, two key steps that can help companies prepare for the future are constant employee training and a productive partnership with AI. Technologies will simply automate tasks, not jobs. However, this automation will modify jobs. Josh Bersin believes that the “new jobs” will be generally better, more hybrid, more social, and more human than before. The future of HR and L&D will be focused on recrafting jobs. Being digitally savvy, L&D professionals will get the best out of AI analytics space to meet the future needs of their companies.

The McKinsey report states that 75–375 million people may need to switch occupational categories and learn new skills, thus, indicating a rising demand for L&D professionals. Since all employees will be working alongside increasingly capable machines, they will require ongoing skills and knowledge refreshment. But this is only one aspect that constitutes L&D professionals’ responsibilities.

How to smoothly integrate AI into your company’s workflows

an L&D professional engaged in work

1. Future-proof companies and boost growth.

In the future, L&D leaders will rely on data even more to help companies adapt to new working conditions powered by AI. To meet business needs and future-proof a company, L&D professionals will assess and project what skills employees need to develop. As Deloitte reports, “chief learning officers must now become the catalysts for next-generation careers while also thinking about how to support the overall growth of the business.”

As nobody knows how the future will shape current job positions, Tom Brown, VP HR Americas and APAC at eBay, emphasizes that the focus should be placed on the development of a quorum of different skill sets which won’t necessarily be linked to the job titles directly.

2. Redefine employees’ mindset and company culture.

After L&D leaders accommodate AI and automation, their next step will be changing employees’ attitudes towards these notions. Without a culture that’s ready to embrace advanced technologies, the implementation of artificial intelligence and the automation of some work processes won’t bring any positive changes.

Digital transformation should be supported from the inside so that employees can see how technology actually changes the work they do, instead of worrying that they might lose their job. Larry Boyer, the founder of Success Rockets, emphasizes that L&D professionals should help employees prepare for and adapt to the impact of AI. He says:

A lot of AI will enhance the productivity of employees. In some cases, this will result in new work for everyone. In other cases, fewer people will be needed. Those who know and understand the new technology are more likely to be kept on the team after the AI system is adopted.

This means that L&D professionals need to be proactive in terms of providing employees with the latest skills and knowledge to be able to work in an environment influenced by technology. Changes are driven by readiness, through culture, and not by technology itself. That is to say, companies won’t see noticeable improvements with the implementation of advanced AI technologies without well-qualified employees who feel at ease working alongside AI.

3. Focus on employees’ digital learning experience.

It’s no secret that everyone learns differently. The way L&D professionals develop employees’ learning experience will define the way they acquire, perceive, and retain information. Besides providing various types of content (videos, tables, podcasts, blogs, etc.), L&D professionals should also focus on a digital learning experience, as Josh Bersin says. He also adds:

We need learning and information support to be as easy and intuitive to use. Shifting from “instructional design” to “experience design” and using design thinking are key here. And we have to look at employees’ journeys at work, so we can produce learning that is simple and easy in the flow of work.

In other words, L&D leaders need to provide relevant, interactive learning to employees through a new set of technologies, wisely interlacing it into the workflow.

4. Curate and personalize content.

Beth Loeb Davies, Director of Learning & Development at Tesla, says that the L&D professionals’ role is rapidly shifting from developers of learning content to curators of existing content. Employees will still need guidance in learning, and the L&D professionals’ task is to develop ways to ensure they are directing people to the relevant content. For this purpose, L&D professionals will serve more like mentors, building up individualized connections with each employee to guide them through the whole learning journey while maintaining their motivation.

In future, we’ll be seeing more technologies helping L&D leaders to scale these connections and reach out with a personalized learning approach to engage all employees wherever they are. This is where AI will come in handy, sifting through tons of live data and helping L&D leaders clearly see the learning and performance profiles of their workforces.  

5. Make sure that new information sticks.

No matter how interactive and easy-to-consume learning material can be via an LMS platform, L&D leaders will still be responsible for bridging the gap between learning and doing. To make sure that newly acquired skills and knowledge will be retained, there should be real-world opportunities to put them to practice. It all comes down to the way our brains work. The L&D leaders’ task will be to divide the training material into coherent and small digestible chunks that employees can apply right after completing a training activity. Moreover, the material should be arranged in a way that can be “rehearsed” over time for better retention. The LMS analytics engine of employees performance will help L&D leaders better see what challenges learners face to be able to restructure or modify the content.

In the future, L&D professionals will work more closely with executives to know what’s needed and plan what skills to develop to ensure business sustainability. That’s why L&D leaders will become more agile, placing the focus on employees’ learning paths. AI and automation will become a great tool for L&D professionals to analyze performance data and deliver pertinent content while providing ongoing feedback and tweaking the learning platform to fight challenges employees encounter in the workplace. All these activities will help L&D professionals complete business goals and help their company reach new milestones.

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