By 2022, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) could displace 75 million jobs, according to the World Economic Forum. At the same time, these technologies could create another 133 million new roles as companies rethink the way they divide labour between humans and machines. However, the European Commission predicts that as many as 756,000 of these jobs could go unfulfilled in Europe alone.
“We’re now in the age of data and AI, but most of the current workforce does not yet have the skills and knowledge to effectively use new and emerging technologies,” says Ed Steidl, director of workforce partnerships at Microsoft. “Although most employees won’t need to become data scientists, everyone will need to have a greater level of technical proficiency and be comfortable working with data to thrive in the future digital workplace.”
Steidl says businesses have two main strategies to close the skills gap: hiring digitally savvy employees from outside of the organisation, or upskilling and reskilling their internal workforce. Many are now choosing the latter.
“Hiring externally can be difficult because, in many cases, there simply aren’t enough people in the market with the digital skills necessary to use the types of new technologies that will soon be ubiquitous in every workplace,” he comments. “Recruiting external candidates can also be expensive, so more companies are realising that they can retrain their existing employees to develop new skillsets for a fraction of the cost. For example, they’re taking workers who manage workloads via on-premises platforms and teaching them how to do the same on the cloud.”
Microsoft is playing a key role in helping companies do this. For example, it has partnered with global education provider General Assembly to close skills gaps in the rapidly growing fields of AI, cloud, data engineering, machine learning and data science. Together, they will set standards for AI skills, develop training solutions for companies and train 15,000 employees to fill AI and machine learning roles by 2022.
“We’re piloting the AI Skills Accelerator to upskill key enterprise accounts in the area of data analytics and data science,” says Steidl. “The accelerator also includes an executive-focused workshop to help management teams develop a foundational AI strategy. The programme leverages content from both Microsoft AI Business School and General Assembly.”
Similarly, Microsoft and online learning provider OpenClassrooms are co-creating a businessto-consumer AI Engineering programme. “It’s a first-of-a-kind project for Microsoft and involves a number of other industry small and medium enterprises and key hiring partners,” says Steidl. “The modular, self-paced programme takes around 12 months to complete and leverages the Microsoft Azure cloud extensively, making it ideal for enterprise reskilling efforts. The pipeline of interested companies is growing.”
Meanwhile, online educator Springboard is co-creating an entry level Data Analytics Career Track with Microsoft. “Learners are paired with a mentor with specialised skills and a career services advisor at the start of the self-paced programme,” says Steidl. “Participants are guaranteed employment within six months of graduation (or a full refund) and Microsoft Philanthropies is exploring a pilot with Goodwill Industries in the USA to provide career pathways for underserved populations.”
Reskilling existing employees with the help of these partners will have far-reaching societal benefits, predicts Steidl. “Typically, when organisations decide to digitally transform their operations, they start by automating many of the repetitive tasks that are currently carried out by low-skilled employees,” he says. “Instead of making these employees redundant, they can now reskill and transition them into higher value roles. Not only does this give long-term job security to employees, but it also helps companies to optimise their assets to drive growth.”
Steidl expects the true value of upskilling and reskilling will be more evident as businesses contend with the socioeconomic impact of the Covid-19 virus, which rapidly spread worldwide in early 2020.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on many industries and experts predict a significant number of jobs will be lost,” he explains. “Unfortunately, some companies may never reopen, so it’s vital for people to begin learning new digital skills to ensure they’re able to quickly find new roles when normal life resumes. Microsoft is proud to be collaborating with partners like General Assembly, OpenClassrooms and Springboard to help them do just that.”
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.
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