Bridging the Worker Skills Gap – AI’s Emerging Role

By Bhakti Vithalini, CEO and Founder, BigSpring

Bhakti Vithalini

If we look broadly at the statistics, the United States is suffering a dramatic shortage of workers: there are 5.5 million more job openings than there are workers available to fill them.

But the statistics don’t tell the whole story.

It’s not that the U.S. has a shortage of workers; rather, it’s a shortage of skill sets.

And, no, those two are not one-and-the-same.

Don’t expect to find the right talent

Businesses today evolve at a staggering pace and people can’t keep up. Gartner expects IT spending to go up—necessitating an influx of skilled IT professionals. This means that we will have to tap into the pool of people with non-technical backgrounds and get them prepared for these jobs. If we stick to traditional ways of training and recruitment, the shortage of skilled workers will only be exacerbated. 

Even if companies find candidates with most of the requisite skills, they’ll quickly become outdated. Keeping people relevant and productive at work needs to happen on the job, it can’t happen before. 

Company leaders say that they struggle to find the right people, but they shouldn’t have that expectation to begin with. What they should be focusing on instead is to create the right people. 


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From Onboarding to Everboarding

“Get onboarded and then do your job” is an obsolete strategy, because job requirements evolve so fast. 

Just as businesses invest in continually upgrading systems and technologies, the leaders need to continually nurture employees so their skills are upgraded, as well. And just like upgrading software should require just a few clicks and be minimally disruptive to the daily flow of work, an “everboarding” approach should consider that people have a day job. 

From passive viewing to active doing

Training needs to be embedded in the job—the actual work itself.  Think of it as training-in-action. This means migrating away from the traditional way of instructor-led training, where outcomes are measured in hours of attendance, multiple choice test scores and number of (passive) views of videos. The focus should be on metrics that matter: Productivity gains.

The pathway to productivity is through relevant content, opportunities to learn by (active) doing and receiving feedback from the learning community – enabled by technology. It’s a bit like a digital apprenticeship. The timing is perfect, with the proliferation of tech into nearly everyone’s daily lives via smartphones and increasingly sophisticated AI applications.

How AI enables keeping people up to speed

Personalization: Rather than leaving people to wade through a large library of content, Artificial Intelligence can present what’s relevant to a person’s job, their job goals and the requirements of the business. This unprecedented degree of relevancy can help people quickly come up to speed in exactly the types of skills they need to excel in their jobs. In other words: equip the right people with the right skills at the right time.

Scale: AI can remove some of the traditional training constraints by serving as a multiplier. Now, a company can use one expert to demonstrate and teach skills, enabling on-the-job and continued training to the rest of the organization and beyond. Traditional learning and development is often exclusively focused on employees; in reality there is a much larger ecosystem of partners, resellers, agents, not to mention end-customers, that also need to be upgraded with the latest knowledge on product features or standard operating procedures. 

The organization can push a steady stream of the relevant updates in the form of bite-sized content, coupled with the right kind of exercises to build muscle memory. Then, AI-enabled coaching allows for individuals to receive instant feedback on their learning demonstrations, helping them to hone their skills rapidly without needing to wait for the feedback from a human coach.

Generative: AI can compare behavior across a vast population to identify and share best practices. Rather than an exclusively top-down training approach, companies can enable any ‘learner’ to become a ‘creator’, by turning the best learning demonstrations into content. For example, a junior sales person’s particularly creative and effective sales pitch video submission can be included in the subsequent batch of training content the following week. This means what’s excellent today becomes the norm for tomorrow as the group quickly internalizes and applies it.

Technology was already reshaping the workday before the pandemic and gained more traction during lockdown. It’s time for companies to exploit the full power of technology in the way they update the skills of their workforce. Only with an “everboarding” approach to create – not wait for – the right people, will companies keep up and stay ahead. 

About the Author

Bhakti Vithalini is the Founder and CEO of AI-powered work readiness platform, BigSpring, which has been selected by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a Technology Pioneer 2020, joining a select group of companies that are poised to have a significant impact on business and society.  Bhakti also serves on the Board of Governors for JA Worldwide.  Bhakti is a Computer Engineer with University Honors from Carnegie Mellon University and earned an MBA from The Wharton School as a Joseph Wharton Fellow.  https://www.bigspring.io/

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