Boosting American Innovation: Hiring American Workers And Shrinking The IT Skills Gap

May 2, 2017 at 4:49 AM | Approx. reading time 6 mins.

This is an interesting time to be a young American. You are beginning your career in the midst of a massive digital revolution, that in part, you helped accelerate by adapting so easily to the connected world we've now created for ourselves. Advancing digital technologies, like Artificial Intelligence, continue to drive this revolution, and reshape the space human beings will occupy in it - including what and how our jobs will be.

I often hear questions about how these advances might take away our jobs. And the debates are polarized between those who foresee limitless new opportunities and those that predict massive displacement of jobs. But our most likely tomorrow lies somewhere in between.

As entire industries adjust to digitization, most occupations are indeed undergoing a fundamental transformation. And some of those tried and tested jobs that were performed by earlier generations of Americans will no longer be available to you. But, in exchange, you'll find a new vista of exciting roles - many of which are still unfolding and will continue to evolve in the future - testing your uniquely human abilities, such as creative thinking, problem finding and innovation. In fact, it's estimated that some 65 percent of children entering primary schools today will likely work in roles that don't yet exist!

Now that isn't something new. It's just history repeating itself once again. Every technology revolution in the past has mechanized a large number of jobs - jobs that were repetitive, predictable, often requiring little curiosity or the ability to 'problem-find', and were therefore easily done by machines. But that didn't put people out of their jobs, because the new technologies created new roles more suited to be performed by humans than machines, and in many cases, generated additional employment. Think of the ATM or cash machine as an example; it relieved tellers of dispensing cash at bank counters, allowing them to focus on expanding the scope of their roles, and serve bigger customer needs. At the same time, it also created new jobs for technicians building and maintaining these machines, data analysts who must work to predict the usage patterns of these ATMs, security experts who must ensure these ATMs are safe to transact with and even engineers who work to predict and prevent ATMs breakdowns.

In the current digital revolution, Machine Learning, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence technologies will inevitably take on more and more roles previously performed only by humans. But that's only half the story told. The bigger picture is that these technologies will amplify human ability and achievement by performing tasks that people would rather leave to machines. (Think of the time it takes for you to read a report and the few seconds it takes Google to 'read' millions of pages to whip out answers in less than a second.) The opportunity is to then create new roles and careers for people in the adoption, management, and future innovation of AI and intelligent automation - things that no machine can do. When you step into these exciting new roles, you must be prepared to be part of an augmented workforce where collaboration between man and machine is the new order of the day.

And yet we must be watchful. Not so much of technological change - because we know we have the power and innovation to harness and direct its use as we deem fit. But we must be heedful of how equitable and accessible the opportunities it brings are. What will be absolutely pivotal is how we equip our youngsters and our colleagues to harness the power of these technologies to transform our world for the better, and move us all forward. A huge part of that preparation comes from having the right technical skills and experience in the latest, greatest digital technologies surrounding you.

Unfortunately, our educational system is not quite geared to help young Americans slip readily into a career in technology. Against the 120,000 jobs requiring a computer science degree, which are added to the job pool each year, the U.S. educational system graduates only 49,000, inflating the overall tech skills shortage by 71,000 positions every 12 months. Although the education system is doing what it can, proactive companies are pulling their weight by running intensive training programs of their own. In fact, research studies including one that Infosys commissioned recently show that about 80 percent of organizations deploying AI technologies plan to retrain and redeploy the employees who are impacted.

Which then brings us to what you can do as young professionals to make your choice of workplace mindfully. Here are some things to carefully consider: Is the company a thriving hub of activity and a rich ecosystem for new joiners? Is the firm thinking about which jobs to automate and how to augment their people potential while doing so? Do they have a demonstrated record in employee training - not just in functional and digital skills but also in personal effectiveness? Here, the infrastructure, duration, intensity and quality of training are useful indicators. Equally important is their willingness to commit resources to employee skilling, not just today, but as a lifelong investment in learning. And, is their work environment structured for openness, collaboration and innovation opportunities? Answers to some of these will serve as the compass you need to point you to the future you aspire to create for yourself.

I wish you good luck as you start to bring that future to life!