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Firms need to support workers threatened by automation

07 Feb 2018

Employees have to be retrained for a business world driven by artificial intelligence 

 

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Businesses, governments and educators are not ready for an automated working world where people who fail to retrain throughout their careers face job insecurity and instability. 

That was one of the big talking points at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF), according to Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School and Steward of the WEF Council on Work, Education and Gender. 

“This transition [to automated jobs] will create enormous flux that we’re not prepared for, so the need for action is crucial,” she said in her blog Davos 2018: the imperatives for job reskilling

“Employees must have greater clarity on how the job market will shift, the new and valuable skills they will need and where the support will come from to help them make the transition. Governments, educators and corporations must step up.” 

Most people Professor Gratton spoke to at Davos believe automation will significantly impact work, by replacing tasks and creating new jobs based on human capabilities such as creativity, innovation or interaction. 

But governments, education providers and businesses are unsure about how to tackle the challenges caused by automation. “There was a clear agreement that no one stakeholder can solve the challenge of job losses,” Professor Gratton said. 

“Who should support employees to make the shift to the new working world? Can governments step in with financial support? Should corporations be nudged to help them more, or do we look to educators to provide lifelong learning? Should employees assume responsibility for retraining throughout their lives?”

The gravity of the situation has sparked some companies into action. Firms in Germany and Singapore are investing in apprenticeships that will give people the skills to take on new roles. Meanwhile, businesses in Denmark are creating ‘roadmaps’, showing employees how their jobs will evolve and ways to make the transition – an approach that businesses in other countries have adopted. 

“Westpac, Tata Consulting Services and AT&T are trying to bridge the gap by creating a map of the future and putting significant resources aside to motivate, guide and support employees,” Professor Gratton said. “Then you have companies like LEGO that are focusing on educating parents to help them better understand what the future of work will look like for their children.”

Other companies and governments not already taking action will need to move quickly to overcome this challenge. Professor Gratton said: “There is a clear need for rapid and immediate action.”

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