Robots Won’t Take Away Jobs – But Ineffective Skills Training Might


By: Paul Mumma

It’s not news that today’s education system and workplace look substantially different than they did 50 years ago. Maybe not physicallywe still have the lecture halls and desks, cubicles and conference roomsbut if we take into account our roles, processes, and the increase in talent, we’re in an entirely different era. The influx of technology is largely responsible for this change. Automation continues to shift demands from humans towards technology, and that’s not stopping anytime soon. Though technology certainly has the potential to displace jobs, and we’ve seen that throughout history multiple times, it also has the ability to promote new talents and skill sets and prepare people for a changing future of work. To shift the narrative from one of displacement to one of increased human potential, we need to utilize technology to improve our learning abilities and create a system of effective lifelong learning.

In the private sector, companies already recognize workplace learning as a strategic differentiator. Companies known for supporting upskilling programs and professional growth opportunities are more likely to attract strong candidates and retain them for longer. LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report found that 94 percent of employees were likely to stay at a company if the employer invested in workplace learning. Amazon acknowledged the importance of skills training earlier this year and committed $700 million to upskill employees into more technical roles, a strong endorsement from one of the largest employers in the U.S.

Alongside the value of increased employee retention, companies can reduce their recruiting costs and improve company workflows through employee skills training. Effective upskilling programs enable businesses to recruit for new, elevated positions internally, and nurture skills specifically for the company’s needs. When companies utilize their own employees for new positions, they cut costs for external recruiting and retraining, and are able to prove their investment in long-term employee growth. Employees can stretch into new roles, and companies save time and money—effective reskilling is a win-win for all parties.

While it’s encouraging that companies increasingly recognize the value in reskilling, there’s a lingering issue. Corporations are often not seeing benefits that equate to the time and money they’re investing in upskilling programs. This is likely due to the fact that training sessions are forgotten shortly after they’re completed. Data shows that 70% of training is lost within 24 hours, and nearly 90% is lost after 30 days. That’s a pretty massive depletion, considering the long-term value of skills training and the $34 billion that corporations and government institutions will spend on upskilling in the coming years.

Take even the most basic professional trainingonboardingand consider the consequences of mismanaging the process. Effective onboarding is imperative to teach a new employee the company’s culture and workplace expectationsit supports the future success of an employee by developing strong foundational knowledge to then build from in the future. Though companies generally have strategic processes in place, employees certainly do not retain that information for as long as it’s needed. Instead of treating training and development as an expense or a box to check, it must be considered a core business value, from the C-suite to new hires. That means shifting the focus from short-term gains and cutting corners, to determining what information is being retained, the content that sparks employees’ interests, and how these lessons allow employees to grow their skills well into the future. Organizations already dedicate billions of dollars and hours of time to training, however, it’s not well-spentbut that doesn’t need to be the reality.

With adaptive, tech-enabled learning, humans can use the technology at the root of automation to decrease the time required for training and push for long-term retentionresulting in improved ROI of employee development programs. Adaptive learning tools are digital tools that customize learning activities to each user, enabling each person to learn to the best of their abilities. They allow people to learn information faster and retain it for longer. By using adaptive learning tools, employers ensure their employees receive training and development as a long-term investment, not just a short-term task.

The benefits of adaptive learning programs extend beyond the learner themselves. Through these digital tools, employers can develop a more fluid and long-term overview of an employee’s skills training and retention, and break the cycle of ineffective upskilling. For example, employees, educators, and learners alike can use adaptive learning to monitor the information that is sticking and that which is not, and understand how each person learns most effectively. This helps gauge employee interests, wastes less time on irrelevant material, and allows teachers and instructors to bolster topics where knowledge may be lacking. By providing transparency into employee learning, we are able to evolve how people learn and meet the need for effective, long-term training.

To prepare people to succeed in an increasingly automated, AI-driven world, we need to start with education. Career paths of the future will undoubtedly be fluid, as the reliance on humans shift, so we need to create flexible learners able to deftly adapt. Firstly, let’s mold life-long learners, not crammers. With a focus on testing and grades, it’s a difficult argument to make, but learning with the intention of long-term memory allows students (and future workers) to build on their skill sets for years to come. This doesn’t just look like facts and figures. Instead, it’s becoming more imperative to teach soft skills, like critical thinking and empathy. These skills instill the flexibility humans need in the shifting workplace and cannot be outsourced to technology.

It’s inevitable that automation and technology will cause substantial shifts to the workplacethere’s nothing we can change about that. What we can do is improve the way we learn, to ensure people have access to the right tools to develop the skills needed to keep up. The future allows for open career paths, unlimited learning, and targeted training, and for that, we welcome technology.

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Paul Mumma is the CEO of Cerego. Connect with Paul on LinkedIn.

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