A Human Approach to Reskilling in the Age of AI

A Human Approach to Reskilling in the Age of AI

Investing in learning agility and core capabilities is as important for the individual worker as it is for the decision-making executive. Thinking openly can get us there.

The age of AI is upon us. Emerging technologies give humans some relief from routine tasks and allow us to get back to the creative, adaptable creatures many of us prefer being.

So a shift to developing human skills in the workplace should be a critical focus for organizations. In this part of my series on learning agility, we’ll take a look at some reasons for a sense of urgency over reskilling our workforce and reconnecting to our humanness.

The clock is ticking

If you don’t believe AI conversations affect you, then I suggest reviewing this 2018 McKinsey Report on reskilling in the age of automation, which provides some interesting statistics. Here are a few applicable nuggets:

  • 62% of executives believe they need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce by 2023 due to advancing digitization
  • The US and Europe face a larger threat on reskilling than the rest of the world
  • 70% of execs in companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue state this will affect more than 25% of their employees

No matter where you fall on an organizational chart, automation (and digitalization more generally) is an important topic for you—because the need for reskilling that it introduces will most likely affect you.

But what does this reskilling conversation have to do with core capability development?

To answer that question, let’s take a look at a few statistics curated in a 2019 LinkedIn Global Talent Report.

When surveyed on the topic of soft skills core human capabilities, global companies had this to say:

  • 92% agree that they matter as much or more than “hard skills”
  • 80% said these skills are increasingly important to company success
  • Only 41% have a formal process to identify these skills

Before panicking at the thought of what these stats could mean to you or your company, let’s actually dig into these core capabilities that you already have but may need to brush up on and strengthen.

Core human capabilities

What the heck does all this have to do with learning agility, you may be asking, and why should I care?

I recommend catching up with this introduction to learning agility. There, I define learning agility as “the capacity for adapting to situations and applying knowledge from prior experience—even when you don’t know what to do […], a willingness to learn from all your experiences and then apply that knowledge to tackle new challenges in new situations.” In that piece, we also discussed reasons why characteristics associated with learning agility are among the most sought after skills on the planet today.

Too often, these skills go by the name “soft skills.” Explanations usually go something like this: “hard skills” are more like engineering- or science-based skills and, well, “non-peopley” related things. But what many call “soft skills” are really human skills—core capabilities anyone can cultivate. As leaders, we need to continue to change the narrative concerning these core capabilities (for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the distinction frequently re-entrenches a gender bias, as if skills somehow fit on a spectrum from “soft to hard.”)

For two decades, I’ve heard decision makers choose not to invest in people or leadership development because “there isn’t money in soft skills” and “there’s no way to track the ROI” on developing them. Fortunately, we’re moving out of this tragic mindset, as leaders recognize how digital transformation has reshaped how we connect, build community, and organize for work. Perhaps this has something to do with increasingly pervasive reports (and blowups) we see across ecosystems regarding toxic work culture or broken leadership styles. Top consulting firms doing global talent surveys continue to identify crucial breakdowns in talent development pointing right back to our topic at hand.

We all have access to these capabilities, but often we’ve lacked examples to learn by or have had little training on how to put them to work. Let’s look at the list of the most-needed human skills right now, shall we?

Topping the leaderboard moving into 2020:

  • Communication
  • Relationship building
  • Emotional intelligence (EQ)
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving (CQ)
  • Learning agility and adaptability quotient (AQ)
  • Creativity

If we were to take the items on this list and generalize them into three categories of importance for the future of work, it would look like:

  1. Emotional Quotient
  2. Adaptability Quotient
  3. Creativity Quotient

Some of us have been conditioned to think we’re “not creative” because the term “creativity” refers only to things like art, design, or music. However, in this case, “creativity” means the ability to combine ideas, things, techniques, or approaches in new ways—and it’s crucial to innovation. Solving problems in new ways is the most important skill companies look for when trying to solve their skill-gap problems. (Spoiler alert: This is learning agility!) Obviously, our generalized list ignores many nuances (not to mention additional skills we might develop in our people and organizations as contexts shift); however, this is a really great place to start.

Where do we go from here?

In order to accommodate the demands of tomorrow’s organizations, we must:

  • look at retraining and reskilling from early education models to organizational talent development programs, and
  • adjust our organizational culture and internal frameworks to support being human and innovative.

This means exploring open principles, agile methodologies, collaborative work models, and continuous states of learning across all aspects of your organization. Digital transformation and reskilling on core capabilities leaves no one—and no department—behind.

In our next installment, we’ll begin digging into these core capabilities and examine the five dimensions of learning agility with simple ways to apply them.

This article series was originally published on opensource.com.

Part One: A Brief Introduction to Learning Agility

Read now

Jen Kelchner

Jen Kelchner

I am a creative, a thinker, an analyst, a dot connector, a weaver of communities, a leader, a technologist, an entrepreneur, an innovator, a writer, an international speaker, and a Master of Change who is dedicated to building a better world.  

I intuitively understand the multidimensional transformation process, the technology of people and advise high-level leaders in the private and public sectors from around the world on transformation in leadership and culture.

A Brief Introduction to Learning Agility

A Brief Introduction to Learning Agility

The ability to learn and adapt quickly isn’t something our hiring algorithms typically identify. But by ignoring it, we’re overlooking insightful and innovative job candidates.

I think everyone can agree that the workplace has changed dramatically in the last decade—or is in the process of changing, depending on where you’re currently working. The landscape has evolved. Distributed leadership, project-based work models, and cross-functional solution building are commonplace. In essence, the world is going open.

And yet our talent acquisition strategies, development models, and internal systems have shifted little (if at all) to meet the demands these shifts in our external work have created.

In this three-part series, let’s take a look at what is perhaps the game-changing key to acquisition, retention, engagement, innovation, problem-solving, and leadership in this emerging future: learning agility. We’ll discuss not only what learning agility is, but how your organization’s leaders can create space for agile learning on teams and in departments.

Algorithmed out of opportunities

For the last decade, I’ve freelanced as an independent consultant. Occasionally, when the stress of entrepreneurial, project-based work gets heavy, I search out full-time positions. As I’m sure you know, job searching requires hours of research—and often concludes in dead-ends. On a rare occasion, you find a great fit (the culture looks right and you have every skill the role could need and more!), except for one small thing: a specific educational degree.

More times than I can count, I’ve gotten “algorithmed out” of even an initial conversation about a new position. What do I mean by that exactly?

If your specific degree—or, in my case, lack thereof—doesn’t meet the one listed, the algorithmically driven job portal spits me back out. I’ve received a “no thank you” email within thirty seconds of hitting submit.

So why is calling this out so important?

Hiring practices have changed very little in both closed and open organizations. Sticking with these outdated practices puts us in danger of overlooking amazing candidates capable of accelerating innovation and becoming amazing leaders in our organizations.

Developing more inclusive and open hiring processes will require work. For starters, it’ll require focus on a key competency so often overlooked as part of more traditional, “closed” processes: Learning agility.

Just another buzzword or key performance indicator?

While “learning agility” is not a new term, it’s one that organizations clearly still need help taking into account. Even in open organizations, we tend to overlook this element by focusing too rigidly on a candidate’s degree history or current role when we should be taking a more holistic view of the individual.

One crucial element of adaptability is learning agility. It is the capacity for adapting to situations and applying knowledge from prior experience—even when you don’t know what to do. In short, it’s a willingness to learn from all your experiences and then apply that knowledge to tackle new challenges in new situations.

Every experience we encounter in life can teach us something if we pay attention to it. All of these experiences are educational and useful in organizational life. In fact, as Colin Willis notes in his recent article on informal learning, 70%‒80% of all job-related knowledge isn’t learned in formal training programs. And yet we’re conditioned to think that only what you were paid to do in a formal role or the degree you once earned speaks solely to your potential value or fit for a particular role.

Likewise, in extensive research conducted over years, Korn Ferry has shown that learning agility is also a predictor of long-term performance and leadership potential. In an article on leadership, Korn Ferry notes that “individuals exhibiting high levels of learning agility can adapt quickly in unfamiliar situations and even thrive amid chaos.” Chaos—there’s a word I think we would all use to describe the world we live in today.

Organizations continue to overlook this critical skill (too few U.S. companies consider candidates without college degrees), even though it’s a proven component of success in a volatile, complex, ambiguous world? Why?

And as adaptability and collaboration—two key open principles—sit at the top of the list of job skills needed in 2019, perhaps talent acquisition conversations should stop focusing on how to measure adaptability and shift to sourcing learning agile people so problems can get solved faster.

Learning agility has dimensions

A key to unlocking our adaptability during rapid change is learning agility. Agile people are great at integrating information from their experiences and then using that information to navigate unfamiliar situations. This complex set of skills allows us to draw patterns from one context and apply them to another context.

So when you’re looking for an agile person to join your team, what exactly are you looking for?

Start with getting to know someone beyond a resume, because learning-agile people have more lessons, more tools, and more solutions in their history that can be valuable when your organization is facing new challenges.

Next, understand the five dimensions of learning agility, according to Korn Ferry’s research.

Mental Agility: This looks like thinking critically to decipher complex problems and expanding possibilities by seeing new connections.

People Agility: This looks like understanding and relating to other people to empower collective performance.

Change Agility: This looks like experimentation, being curious, and effectively dealing with uncertainty.

Results Agility: This looks like delivering results in first-time situations by inspiring teams and exhibiting a presence that builds confidence in themselves and others.

Self-Awareness: This looks like the ability to reflect on oneself, knowing oneself well, and understanding how one’s behaviors impact others.

While finding someone with all these traits may seem like sourcing a unicorn, you’ll find learning agility is more common than you think. In fact, your organization is likely already full of agile people, but your culture and systems don’t support agile learning.

In the next part of this series, we’ll explore how you can tap into this crucial skill and create space for agile learning every day. Until then, do what you can to become more aware of the lessons you encounter today that will help you solve problems tomorrow.

This article was originally published at opensource.com.

Part Two: A Human Approach to Reskilling in the Age of AI

Read Now

Jen Kelchner

Jen Kelchner

I am a creative, a thinker, an analyst, a dot connector, a weaver of communities, a leader, a technologist, an entrepreneur, an innovator, a writer, an international speaker, and a Master of Change who is dedicated to building a better world.  

I intuitively understand the multidimensional transformation process, the technology of people and advise high-level leaders in the private and public sectors from around the world on transformation in leadership and culture.

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