How Companies Can Combine Intelligent Technologies and Learning Strategies To Accelerate Skills Acquisition and Be More Competitive


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Amazon’s recent announcement that it will invest US$700 million to provide “upskilling”training to 100,000 employees—or one-third of its workforce—is a clear sign the future of work is already here. The e-commerce giant has recognizedthe need to help employees adapt to new technology and automation, and is preparing them for roles in high-growth areas such as cloud computing, machine learning and robotics.

Amazon isn’t the first company to launch a massive retraining effort. Last year, AT&T announced a US$1 billion investment to retrain its workers for the future. While the discussion about the future of work is often about robots taking over, the reality is much more human. To stay competitive, companies must not only embrace new technologies but also retrain employees and cultivate future work skills.

The trouble is, today’s education and training systems aren’t keeping up with the current demand for skills, let alone tomorrow’s new requirements. That was the key finding of a 2018 study by Accenture, “It’s Learning. Just Not As We Know It,”which found that the economic promise of digital technologies is being put at risk by inadequate education and corporate training systems. The challenge is especially urgent for roles that are more vulnerable to dislocation through intelligent automation.

The report states that unless new learning approaches are adopted, the failure to close the skills gap could result in 14 of the G20 economies forgoing as much as US$11.5 trillion in GDP growth promised by investment in intelligent technologies over the next ten years. In Canada, that figure is as much as CAD$154 billion.

Given that companies are already falling behind, they will need to move quickly to close the skills gap. Accenture recommends a three-pronged approach to solving the skills crisis:


Speed up experiential learning:Deploy a range of techniques, such as design thinking in the boardroom, simulation-training tools for more technical roles, on-the-job training initiatives, and apprenticeship schemes. In schools, provide active project-based learning and team-based learning activities. Apply new technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI) to make learning more immersive, engaging and personalized.


Shift focus from institutions to individuals:Education and training targets should incentivize each individual to develop a broader blend of skills, rather than only producing absolute numbers of graduates from specific courses. This blend must include a focus on complex reasoning, creativity and socio-emotional intelligence.


Empower vulnerable learners:Older workers, the less educated, those in manual labour roles, and those in smaller businesses are more vulnerable to work dislocation and have less access to training. Targeted intervention is required to guide these learners to appropriate training and career pathways. Courses must be more modular and flexible to adapt to their life commitments. New funding models must encourage lifelong learning, such as grants to support personal training plans.


As evidenced by the Accenture report findings, companies need to prioritize new approaches to training and education. While there is a lot of focus in the recruitment world on the “war for talent,” it’s also critical to give current employees the skills and knowledge they need to be successful and drive their employers’ businesses forward.