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The need to put people at the heart of AI strategy

Upskilling is an integral part of automation in workplaces, delivering excellent operational benefits while also boosting employee morale and productivity

Claudia Crummenerl
|Nov 15|magazine12 min read

Technological progress is changing the world we live in and, with it, the very nature of how we work. Entangled in automation’s numerous pioneering benefits are societal challenges and concerns around job security and competence. With automation becoming more adept at routine tasks, the workforce is being augmented. However, human work is far from becoming obsolete. In fact, organizations who make the mistake of thinking so are likely to lose their competitive edge. Our research into this area has found that the most successful organizations are those who can strike the delicate balance between technology and people. These organizations tend to report higher than average levels of productivity.

Organizations must manage not only their digital transformation with the adoption of automation, but also the upskilling and re-skilling of their workforce. Indeed, the very concern about automation should not be about jobs being lost, but rather the new jobs that are being created – and having the right people, with the right skills, to fulfil them. 

The relationship between automation and upskilling

The benefits of upskilling are numerous for an organization: from increased productivity to cost savings and better efficiency. Upskilling enables employees to better understand and leverage automation tools. More significantly, though, upskilling allows employees to tackle more high-value, strategic tasks, thus improving enterprise output. Essentially, while automation reduces manual tasks, upskilling encourages and permits employees to nurture their soft skills – creativity, critical thinking and negotiation, for example – and use these to perform value-add activities. 

It can also be said that upskilling improves employee loyalty and trust in an organization. This kind of training program reassures employees that their jobs – and futures – are secure. This also has a knock-on effect, in that employees will embrace automation and reject fear mongering around it, as they no longer feel that AI will “steal” their jobs. All of this is excellent for enterprise productivity. 

As automation adoption continues to change job responsibilities and increases demands for new skills to be developed, companies face an urgent need to upskill their workforce. However, our research found that just 16% of organizations have undertaken the automation and upskilling transition of their current workforce.

Success factors for striking the balance between automation and upskilling

To help organizations understand how to create a viable upskilling program, below are four key success factors, utilized by successful organizations.

Be visionary: Many organizations get caught up in establishing a quantifiable business case for an upskilling program, leading to delays on the very important, first step. Comparatively, true leaders in this space are forward thinking and visionary about automation’s impact on the workforce. Rather than trying to prove a business case, they are proactive in predicting the impact of automation as they recognize that understanding future scenarios is critical to developing an appropriate upskilling program.

Understand the skills you need and the workforce you have: Once the impact of automation has been visualized, organizations must then devise their upskilling strategy. It is recommended they do this at three levels, based on skills clusters. These are 

  • Core skills that underpin the organization’s core competencies and long-term strategy, including core skills that exist today as well as core skills that will be required in the future to execute on the long-term plans
  • Skills that are required for non-core tasks, but where the skill may become more essential and core in the future 
  • Those people with skills for handling non-core tasks that are likely to remain non-core 

78% of businesses that are successful with upskilling, succeed at equipping employees with the competencies they need to stay relevant in an automated world. Creating these pathways for your workforce means reviewing your approach to learning and career paths, as well as having a good understanding of your employees’ interests, capabilities and preferences.  

Aim for a win-win scenario: Upskilling programs only work if employees are on board and willing to learn. Creating a program that is seen as relevant and exciting is essential to make an impact in the upskilling of the workforce. Leaders must ensure that training is targeted, manageable and, ultimately, helpful. Moreover, training should be embedded into the organization’s culture – continuous learning will be key in the fast-moving age of automation. Organizations that have succeeded in scaling up their skilling programs also show greater unity of purpose in their leadership teams. Their programs are run by cross-functional teams comprising business and HR leaders, drawn from top and middle management.

Enable leaders to communicate effectively and manage change: Communication is critical for any successful change management initiative. Leading organizations realize this and enable their leadership to effectively communicate with the workforce. These organizations place a lot of focus on timely communication, communicating frequently and via a range of channels, such as mailers, internal collaboration platforms, and webinars.

Ultimately, it is clear that upskilling is an integral part of automation in workplaces, delivering excellent operational benefits while also boosting employee morale and productivity. For success, organizations must understand that upskilling programs are not just bolt-on initiatives. They require deep cultural change, support at the executive level, and need to be underpinned by strategic, big-picture thinking.   

By Claudia Crummenerl, Managing Director, People and Organization at Capgemini Invent

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