How to Train and Develop Employees in the Age of Automation

Learning and Development (L&D) leaders need to ensure the benefits of intelligence technology are properly communicated across the entire organization to avoid a perception of fear and instill engagement.

The modern workforce is experiencing a massive transformation as the role of technology grows and businesses increasingly take advantage of automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented reality (AR). This transformation is resulting in a need for new skills and jobs, affecting both employees and employers. However, according to research from PwC, only 18 percent of global organizations have made significant progress in establishing upskilling programs that develop employees’ technical skills in the era of advanced technologies.

Recently, CGS conducted a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers that explored this transformation further to better understand the roles of employers and employees in preparing for automation. The research examined employees’ preferences on training and development, including their views on the value of college, confidence in their current skill sets, and their expectations for employer-led education. As employers look to recruit, retain, and train employees for the workforce of the future, they should consider the key findings the research uncovered.

Be Transparent and Educate Employees About How AI, AR, and Automation Will Help Them

While television shows such as the Twilight Zone examined the rise of machines and the human-less workplace as early as the 1960s, in an episode where a manufacturing company introduced a new automation machine that eliminated 61,000 jobs, these types of dystopian plot lines haven’t negatively impacted most individuals’ perceptions of technology. According to the CGS survey, more than 60 percent of respondents are already aware of or feel they are ready for AI, AR, and automation at work. Beyond this, many employees say they are already seeing the benefits of these solutions firsthand. For example, technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA) are taking on back-office repetitive tasks that require a great deal of time, such as data entry or administrative reporting. With RPA’s ability to handle these types of processes, employees can focus on strategic, creative tasks.

Although some employees are already experiencing the values of intelligent technology, it’s up to Learning and Development (L&D) leaders to ensure these benefits are properly communicated across the entire organization to avoid a perception of fear and instill engagement. More importantly, companies also must communicate how they will train employees and develop their skills alongside these technologies. One way to get employees comfortable and on board early in the transformation process is simple: Invite them to join the brainstorm and engage them in exploratory discussions about new technology rollouts and where the technology can have the most benefit. By making transformation initiatives inclusive, employees will clearly understand that their opinion is valued and their needs are being met and will help promote initiatives internally.

Prioritize Reskilling for Talent Acquisition and Retention

If workers could pull off a Marty McFly and go back in time, a majority of survey respondents admit they would highly reconsider their college and career decisions. Nearly half of survey respondents attribute this to the ever-changing skills that are currently required in today’s workforce. But without the ability to time travel, the responsibility to ease these concerns falls on L&D teams. By offering reskilling training and development, companies can more easily quell employee fears and instill confidence that they have the knowledge they need to succeed. For Millennial and Gen Z employees who are just beginning their careers, having an employer that invests in them and offers training opportunities is non-negotiable.

That’s why companies such as Barclays and IBM are offering apprenticeships that provide real-world, on-the-job training. For example, Barclays allows apprentices to shadow managers as part of the learning process. The bank even trains them on technical programs, such as open-source operating system Linux. Similarly, IBM offers on-the-job training for more than 20 positions, including administration of mainframe computing. With nearly 60 percent of employees citing they gained soft skills in college, such as problem solving and critical thinking, more companies need to adjust their training programs to focus on filling the technical skills gap.

Build On-Demand Training Formats to Meet the Needs of Today’s Workers

For some organizations, the need for real-world training is not simply about the content, but rather the format in which it is delivered. As it becomes more common for employees to work remotely or on a flexible schedule, mobile tools and devices (e.g., tablets and smartphones) can provide workers with the on-demand training they need.

To engage younger workers in particular, training for technical roles is best delivered in small, easily consumed ways. L&D leaders should consider including technologies such as AR to provide knowledge at the exact time it is needed and in the way this generation prefers. This not only equips employees with more knowledge, but also increases their productivity and satisfaction with the company. According to IDC, business leaders using AR are already experiencing greater efficiency and improved knowledge transfer among employees.

While every workforce has unique needs, all organizations have one major thing in common: They are navigating the era of AI, AR, and automation and finding out what it means for business at the same time. The winning organizations will be those that effectively communicate the role of advanced technologies in their business and provide L&D programs that equip employees with the skills needed to succeed.

Doug Stephen is president of the Learning Division at CGS, which delivers business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services to customers in 45 countries around the globe.