Adjusting for the Future of Work: Equal Parts Human and Technology

The future of work and its potential are improved by the challenges of automation, not doomed by them. While the efficiencies of AI are praised, we should never lose sight of the human touch. Rather, work's future should borrow equal parts from human and technology. But, that comes with a caveat—in order to meet the demands of an increasingly digital future, we must refocus our skills and learning through a digital lens.

By 2024, it’s predicted that roles requiring digital skills will grow by 12 percent. So, how do we address the how-tos and what-to-dos? How do we close the digital skills and competencies gap before it widens? Look no farther than Silicon Valley.

Advancing workforce development (and closing the digital skills gap)

High-rise office building shows the future of work and workplace learning with advancements in artificial intelligence and edtech.

In the past year, we’ve seen the increasing trend of Silicon Valley tech giants—such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook—inching their way into the education space at both a community and national level. Like it or not, these companies are cultural idols, with the capital and reach to match. And, with Google’s latest Grow with Google microsite, they might just be on to something.

The Grow with Google program takes Google’s expertise and parts of existing programs and combines them into a platform at the public’s disposal. This means access to the wealth of Google’s digital skills and literacy certifications and other education programs—everything from Google Developers Training for up-and-coming coders to Be Internet Awesome for teachers teaching digital citizenship.

Although a large focus of the Grow with Google platform centers on small business owners or budding entrepreneurs, there are several programs under it—such as those mentioned above—that apply to a wider audience, including job seekers, teachers, students of any age and prospective IT support professionals.

Similar to Grow with Google, other Silicon Valley initiatives include Facebook’s Community Boost, Facebook’s Learn with Facebook, Apple’s Education hub and Amazon’s AWS Educate. These all share the same theme: providing accessible (free) resources to build digital skills and competencies across the lifespan.

That doesn’t mean that any impending skills gaps are sealed just yet. The impact of such programs—as well as broader continued learning initiatives—depends on employers. In terms of workforce development, we need buy-in from the workforce itself.

In Deloitte’s 2018 Human Capital Trends, 61 percent of respondents (over 6,710 business and HR leaders out of 11,000 surveyed) reported that they are actively redesigning jobs around AI, robotics and new business models. While it’s refreshing to hear that the majority of institutions are acknowledging the changing landscape, only 46 percent reported that they actually have programs in place to build “skills of the future.” Companies and organizations redesigning roles around technology should simultaneously incorporate programs to build skills of the future. No question. 

As the workforce progresses, it’s increasingly important that businesses and organizations spend time to grow their own workforce.The shifting 21st century career depends on an organization’s willingness to enable a culture of learning and personal development. Programs such as Grow with Google, integrated alongside a future-facing workforce development strategy, can help ease the growing pains.

Grounding technological advancements by a moral code

The devil is in the details. And, as the technology advances, the details should probably become a bit more explicit.

To keep ourselves grounded—and to avoid the plot to iRobot or Terminator—tech companies must develop better ways to hold themselves accountable, as well as provide ways for the public to hold them accountable. That’s why Google, in the recent wake of backlash for their involvement in a drone surveillance project for the US military, published a list of 7 AI Principles.

  1. Be socially beneficial
  2. Avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias
  3. Be built and tested for safety
  4. Be accountable to people
  5. Incorporate privacy design principles
  6. Uphold high standards of scientific excellence
  7. Be made available for uses that accord with these principles

Although these principles are specific to Google AI, we can easily generalize them to other areas of development—specifically, the education sector and EdTech space. Just as it was important for a panel of experts to review history textbooks in the 20th century to control for biases or inaccuracies, principles similar to those listed above can help keep EdTech practices on track—enhancing the future of education and the future of work, without building tech just-for-tech-sake or misguiding learners along the way.

As automation increases, we should continue to adapt workforce development to include programs focused on building the skills of the future, with a particular focus on the individual learner. With the right tools, strategies and guidelines in place, tech companies, educators, organizations and businesses, alike, can celebrate the future of work and the renaissance of a new industrial revolution.