What skills will the workers of the future need to develop?

Carol Foote
Published on 29th December 2017
3 min read

Will robots take over our jobs or just make them better? Artificial intelligence, or rather as we like to think of it, augmented intelligence, is a hotly debated topic these days. People tend to fall into one camp or the other – but really it is somewhere in between.

Naturally, as machine learning and artificial intelligence improves, the more manual tasks it can do, hence there is no doubt we will see a decrease in manual jobs – but not altogether.

The reason that we call it augmented intelligence is because we believe that augmented intelligence will enhance people’s work by relieving them of mundane tasks. It will not replace them entirely; there are too many human attributes that we just cannot do without.

We see it around us already. You can order your McDonalds meal from a kiosk, check out your shopping at the supermarket, check yourself in at the airport, and you can even send your own parcel at the Post Office. But think about all of these scenarios: have you been able to do them without the assistance of a human being?

Most of the time a human needs to be there to offer advice, to assist when the machine isn’t doing what it’s supposed to, or solve an irregular problem you might have.

Soft skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity are the top skills for 2020

With the avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, employees are going to have to become more creative in order to benefit from these changes.

Robots can help us get to where we want to be faster, but they can’t be as creative as humans. So there are definitely opportunities for workers to develop.

Robots can gather and analyze data; and interpret results much better than humans can. They can scour much more data, more accurately and much quicker than a human ever can, but they can’t read human emotions. Only humans can do that.

If employees want to stay relevant in their professions they will need to focus on skills that AI has difficulty understanding and replicating – emotional skills such as motivating and interacting with human beings.

AI can diagnose an illness and even recommend treatment better than a doctor.  However, only a person can sit with a patient and understand their life circumstances like finances, family and quality of life to help determine what treatment plan is best for them.

It’s the soft skills that will be most valued in the next decade. Skills such as persuasion, social understanding and empathy will be the differentiators between artificial intelligence and other tasks.

This is even more so the case in HR and People teams, who often work with employees who might need support or have grievances at work.

Automation will revolutionize all industries across the board

With regards to HR and People teams, it will free up time normally spent on administrative tasks to concentrate on delivering great workforce experiences for their people, with the end result being a much more engaged and motivated workforce.

This is because the people who make up a company are so much more than a resource. They are its ideas; its creativity; its ambition; and its potential. They are its values and culture. They are one of the company’s biggest assets for growth commercially. More than anything, they are people with different motivations, mindsets, passions and interests. The more time HR and People team spend time on creating experiences for them, the more engaged and productive their people will be.

Kriti Sharma, VP of Bots and Artificial Intelligence at Sage explains that bots are not about replacing human beings – but rather about making it easier for them to get the most out of technology and produce better outcomes for the business.

In fact, at Sage People, we’ve demo-ed the use of chatbots for employees to book time off, in order to free up HR and People teams’ time to improve the workforce experience.

Rather than filling in a form and sending it to HR and then waiting for a response, the whole process takes minutes.

In an on-demand world where we can order dinner and groceries and do our banking instantly, employees demand the same experiences at work. This is an example of just that.

We can’t take the ‘human’ out of human resources any time soon – but HR is changing

Of course AI will reduce many manual jobs but that is why it is key that young people are increasingly taught the soft skills needed to cope with the ever-changing technology.

But the role of AI is to help humans make better, and quicker decisions in line with the business strategy, not to replace them entirely. This is where its role can be invaluable for HR and People teams.

However, just as we waved goodbye to Personnel in the 1980s, we’re now waving goodbye to Human Resources and saying hello to a people function, to reflect that a workforce is so much more than a resource – it’s made up of people. People Companies are automating transactional processes and leaving their leaders free to focus on people get quicker feedback and take remedial action.

By continually redesigning better ways of working in this way thanks to AI, People Companies provide better workforce experiences, and see a faster impact on engagement and productivity as a result.

AI isn’t coming – its already here. What’s important is not just how the workforce upskills and evolves as a result – but how HR and People teams do too.

What did 500+ HR and People leaders say about how the sector is changing? Read our research report ‘Becoming a People Company’ to see what they said.

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