Humans and intelligent machines working together is no longer a futuristic vision—it is a reality. Today, leading businesses are successfully using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve productivity and drive efficiencies. But in order for US companies to fully capitalize on new digital technologies, humans and machines need to collaborate and work together to create differentiated customer experiences and entirely new products, services and markets.
In our recent global study of workers and employers, Accenture estimates that if companies invest in human-machine collaboration at the rate of top performing businesses, they could boost revenues by 38 percent in the next five years and lift global profits by a total of US$4.8 trillion. For the average S&P 500 company that could equate to a US$7.5 billion revenue boost and a 10 percent increase in employment.1
As companies adopt intelligent technologies that can sense, communicate and learn, they also need to invest in developing their people to elevate human capabilities and unlock new sources of business value. Almost two thirds (64 percent) of the 3,500 workers Accenture surveyed in the U.S. agree that it is important for them to develop skills to work with intelligent machines.2
Even though almost half (46 percent) of the U.S. business leaders in our survey identify skills shortages as a key challenge, only eight percent say their organization plans to increase investment in training programs significantly in the next three years.3 That’s a problem—especially because when U.S. workers were asked to self-rate their skill and willingness levels to learn to work with AI, more than half (57 percent) had a positive attitude toward AI and saw themselves as having high skill/high willingness to learn new capabilities.4 The opportunity to train existing workers to collaborate with intelligent machines is tremendous.
Business leaders need to understand what type of work exists in this new digital age and the skills that are required. We’re talking about skills that are needed for jobs and roles that didn’t even exist several years ago. For example, product owners, data visualization experts, and all the new roles that have emerged to help train intelligent machines. New skills and positions will continue to emerge and evolve as technology advances. Companies that can create a culture of learning agility that supports continuous development of new skills will have a significant competitive advantage. In an effort to rapidly pivot over 160,000 of its employees to be conversant in new IT skills and more than 100,000 to be job ready in less than two years, Accenture developed a “New Skilling” framework to guide its ambition based on a progression of skills from awareness to expert, while relying on a suite of innovative learning methods grounded in neuroscience research.5
So what steps can your company take to scale up new skilling?
Recognize the new skills you need to compete in this evolving landscape. Among the most valuable human skills required to collaborate with AI will be the judgment skills needed to intervene and make or correct decisions when machines struggle to make them. Also critical will be the ability to interrogate systems to gain maximum insight. We’ve worked with clients to create independent review committees made up of AI architects that are constantly looking at the results of their AI programs and tweaking the guardrails to eliminate inherent bias that can crop up unintentionally.
Devise a plan to acquire those skills – whether by retraining existing workers or hiring from outside the company. Even if your plan includes hiring, every company needs “new skilling” programs that are agile, rapid, tailored and large-scaled to maximize the value of humans and machines working together. And digital learning methods, such as virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, can provide realistic simulations to help workers master new manual tasks so they can work with smart machinery.
Consider creating an apprenticeship program – a strategy that is gaining renewed focus as companies work to narrow the skills gap. Apprenticeships offer students and adults the opportunity to gain hands-on experience, and allows companies to develop new sources of talent. In the U.S., Accenture initiated technology-based apprenticeship programs in San Antonio and Chicago, which are providing new job opportunities while bringing needed skills to Accenture’s business in these markets.6
Enable continuous learning and improvement. Skilling up is not a one and done. The landscape will continue to change, with new tools and technologies emerging. The organizations that are succeeding have a multi-year plan to educate leaders and employees, identify the new skills needed (because they’re changing and growing every year), reinforce the learning culture and advance recruitment efforts. By making it a priority to stay ahead of the curve, companies will increase competitive advantage.
1Accenture Strategy, Ellyn Shook and Mark Knickrehm, “Reworking the Revolution”, 2018
2Accenture Future Workforce employee survey 2017
3Accenture Future Workforce C-suite survey 2017
4Accenture Future Workforce employee survey 2017
5Accenture Strategy, Ellyn Shook and Mark Knickrehm, “Reworking the Revolution”, 2018
6Accenture news release, “New Report Identifies Best Practices for Creating and Sustaining Apprenticeship Programs”, October 12, 2017