Driving talent strategies in an increasingly autonomous world

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By Alexandra Cutean, Senior Director of Research & Policy.

From autonomous air taxis to a psychedelic ride immersing users into the Google universe, the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show hosted by the Consumer Technology Association in sunny Las Vegas is the stuff of every tech nerd’s dreams.

With over 4,500 exhibitors from more than 150 countries, CES 2019 spanned 3 days where catching even a short glimpse of the thousands of amazing exhibitions was more than enough to fill a typical 9-5 schedule. The showrooms themselves were broken up according to 24 different themes, with notable ones included AR/VR, vehicle technology, artificial intelligence and robotics, wearables, and even smart cities.

Donning a pair of VR goggles at the show could have you playing tennis, grabbing a workout, or even catching an epic ride on a rollercoaster. A few steps in a different direction could have you throwing on a smart suit that provides the sensation of lifting weights. Using haptic feedback, motion capture and biometric feedback systems, the Tesla suit can give you the illusion of working out your biceps simply by moving your arm up and down.

Strolling further down the line you can find no shortage of autonomous trucks, connected cars that can influence your emotions, and even a human-ridable drone. These are just a few examples of CES gadgetry, many of which will reach their peak performance with the rollout of a high-speed connected ecosystem to be brought forward by 5G. Not only will this critical technology form the backbone of innovation across our economy – from healthcare to agriculture, and ultimately, across all sectors – but it will also be a key driver of jobs and economic output. In a recent report, ICTC forecasted that a rollout of 5G in 2019 would generate up to 120,000 jobs and $35 billion in GDP for the Canadian economy by 2030.

Taking a break from the sights and sounds of the exhibit floors, participants had the ability to attend keynote speeches with global powerhouses like Verizon’s Hans Vestberg, or IBM’s Ginni Rometty and interact with market leaders and industry experts in panel discussions. On the second day of CES, I sat in on the panel discussion entitled Finding New Collar Workers in a Tight Market. Given ICTC’s labour market research on the digital economy – including understanding talent needs in tight markets – this discussion was a natural point of interest for me. Joining this session, my goal was to find out more about what other thought leaders in this realm found crucial l when it comes to training our workers today to meet the needs of tomorrow. Two main themes from this discussion resonated with me: first, the need for tech employers to expand their scope of candidate selection; and second, the requirement to embrace upskilling and retraining as a new norm.

Panellists collectively agreed that filling the shortage for skilled digital talent in the US necessitated looking beyond traditional supply streams; that is, not limiting your search to the computer science graduate with 5 years of experience, meeting 90% of the requirements of the job posting. In a tight labour market, expanding the scope of eligible candidates to fill in-demand roles is no longer just a smart practice, but a necessary one. David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc provided a real-life example of this new need when he stated that even the jurisdictions that they had been historically outsourcing work to were themselves facing a talent crunch.

The race for digitally-skilled talent is increasingly becoming a global one; and at ICTC, we know that this shortage is nothing new to Canada. In 2016, we found that by 2021 Canada would see a demand for 216,000 digital workers. However, with tech scaling at a rate fast enough that the next few years may usher in the development of autonomous Uber-equipped air taxis, this may now be a conservative estimate. As a result, all businesses – around the world – will need to look at leveraging various supply streams to meet the demands of our quickly growing digital economy. You may not always be able to get the candidate that meets 90% of the requirements on your job postings – they may initially meet only 50%, but the rest of those skills can be trained for.

Herein ushered the discussion on a new and interesting trend in education: the rise of the micro-credential. While panellists all agreed that the likelihood of the college or university degree being eclipsed by short programs is low, many businesses around the world are beginning to understand their value and view them as viable credentials. Moreover, employers are also beginning to work with training institutions to develop, refine and validate these programs – acting as the essential bridge that can overcome the block of the college degree for workers who are traditionally underrepresented in the tech sector.

This is a crucial discussion. While estimates on the pace and degree of disruption range, the core of the argument remains the same: technology is and will remain a disruptor, with the impact of its disruption increasingly felt across all industries. It will usher in amazing new developments like a solar panel that can transform sunlight and humidity into clean drinking water. And in so doing, it will change our industries, our jobs, and even the way we work. Ensuring that employers are aware of these changes ahead of time and broaden their perception of appropriate supply streams to fill these new demands is key. Driving the development of short-duration training programs to help these new tech workers get the skills they for today’s most in-demand digital jobs is the next step.

Whether your goal is to engineer the world’s greatest ping-pong opponent, relax with an at-home shiatsu-massage, or brew your own beer at the flip of a switch, one thing is clear: the demand for the jobs that will drive these technologies forward shows no signs of slow-down, and our ability to fill them rests with our openness to new supply streams, new and different skill sets, and new methods of learning and training.

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