When I started working in the early 1980s, offices clattered with typewriters and papers were physically moved from one table to another. It was the pre-digital era. Desktops with floppy drives were just arriving. In fact, millennials would find offices that their parents worked in a weird place, where bosses dictated letters to secretaries and a copy meant a "carbon copy"!
Why is technology making such a big impact? Because it works as a multiplier. Efficiency, productivity, growth, profit - they all grow many times over on the back of technology. In the 1980s and 90s, salespersons booked orders in a notebook and reporting entailed manual collation of data. Today, in Diageo India, salesforce automation prompts what and how much to sell right down to the store level. Digital analysis of photographs determines brand presence, including share of shelf. With this, time is spent analysing data for insights and actions rather than just putting it together. And technology is only getting better. Recently, Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google, demonstrated the future role of automation at work beautifully - an AI assistant bot made an appointment with a hair salon over the phone. The salon did not even realise that a bot was making the call!
Smart tech is also changing the face of manufacturing. While the third industrial revolution was about mass production, the fourth - referred to as Industry 4.0 (that we are in the midst of) - is focused on mass customisation and efficiency. Industry 4.0 is seeing further and faster integration of automation into everyday work through IoT (Internet of Things), AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning. What's more, many experts say we are already staring at Industry 5.0, with mass personalisation or customisation, driven by close collaboration between human intelligence and cognitive computing. Fashion and apparel are examples of sectors that will see a sea change with Industry 5.0. Everything that a customer wears will be to his or her exact specification - even before production commences.
Anticipate Tomorrow's Skill Sets
Let's face it: roles are evolving, business processes and designs are changing and hence "how we operate" must evolve. Clearly, smart technology is changing businesses and the way we work, and this pace of change is rapidly accelerating. But how many of us are keeping pace with the new skills that will be required?
Not many, as a recent Deloitte report reveals. "Despite the opportunity presented by intelligent automation to increase productivity, 44 per cent organisations have not yet calculated how their workforce's roles and tasks, and the way tasks are performed, will change. Also, 38 per cent organisations are not yet retraining employees whose roles have changed." Their 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report goes on to state that every job will change. Jobs will be more digital, multidisciplinary and data/information-driven.
To address this, companies will have to adopt a dual approach. One, to manage the transition for those employees whose jobs will change, or for those who will step into new roles, some of which did not even exist before. The second, to actively look for, adopt and customise technologies that help business. This means sharply focusing on "Learning" as a strategic tool to build the right skills required for tomorrow, today.
Learning an Investment, Not Expense
Successful companies will be those who anticipate tech-led trends and are able to skilfully weave it into training and reskilling within. Managements will have to (re)train and invest in new skill development. Companies that don't help employees re-learn, run the risk of losing out to the ones who do.
Routine and repetitive jobs will be automated. New jobs will be created for which people do not have the skills. Companies will have to hire new talent at higher cost, or help existing staff build proficiency in new skills.
Learning is today receiving more attention in boardrooms than ever before. Why is that? Because new skills are not developed overnight, nor are they easy to find. In my discussions with other CEOs, many are concerned about the rising skill-gap and for several this is the one thing that keeps them up at night - the lack of expertise required to effectively harness smart tech-led changes.
Companies will need a fighting-fit army deployable for jobs of the future. Timely investment in learning and development will ensure that this becomes a reality.
Learning is no longer seen as a periodic intervention where one attends a classroom session over a few days. Today's employees want learning to be relevant, collaborative, integrated within work, and a click away. Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari reflects on this. "The last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information. They already have far too much of it. Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, and above all, to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world."
Interestingly, according to a 2019 Harvard Business Review survey, 70 per cent of employees report that they don't have the mastery of skills needed to do their jobs.
The answer is Byte-sized learning. These are information nuggets divided into many bite-sized chunks. Essentially, these are on-demand, snackable learning programmes powered by AI that offer ongoing and customised modules in as little as 5-10 minutes. Training is delivered through simple tutorials with multiple device and language access. These modules are tailored to employees' needs and preference. Interactive dashboards and real-time reports help measure the impact.
Consider how Google's Bolo, a learning app, is teaching children how to read English, in short crisp modules. Unilever has launched an "online talent marketplace" that helps employees acquire skills for the future. Employees build a profile of their current skills and the programme matches opportunities in the company that require specific additional skills. My Learning Hub, Diageo's AI-powered platform, offers Byte sized learning across internal and external knowledge sources, coupled with cross-geographical employee collaboration. In this way, content is easily retained and used in daily work with enhanced engagement and continuous learning, enabling employees to keep pace with evolving business needs.
Another key aspect of Byte learning incorporates Virtual Reality (VR)-augmented training, especially for activities that entail some form of physical risk. Airline pilots undergo haptically (touch-based) enabled VR-based simulator training and certification that keep us all safe. Imagine if they had to do this in real planes. Mixed Reality (MR) immersive systems - a collaboration of the real and virtual world - is expected to move e-learning to s-learning (simulation-based learning), which will be interactive and experiential.
Truly, Byte tech is getting integrated more than ever and will transform learning in ways we probably cannot even begin to imagine.
Education to Employability
The workplace of tomorrow will require a talent pool with new-age skill sets. Quality education that ensures a continuous flow of "employable" talent; one that is future-ready for the new skills that industry will demand. It is especially critical in a country like India which aims to become a $5-trillion economy with a young population who require jobs.
According to the World Economic Forum, 65 per cent of children entering primary schools today will end up in jobs that do not exist yet. Imparting "future-ready" skills to India's youth should hence be a top priority for policymakers and corporates alike.
A radical overhaul of India's educational system is needed, where we move from theory- based "rote" learning to one that incorporates Byte learning. Industry can partner by collaborating with academia around curriculum (re)design like IIT Madras' Research Park that facilitates institute and corporate partnerships.
Integrating Byte learning into the curriculum helps build synergies that offer practical real-world knowledge to students, thereby making them employable in the workplace of tomorrow.
We have entered an era that necessitates lifelong training and re-skilling in order to keep abreast of opportunities and threats, catalysed by technology. For businesses as well as employees, the only way to survive and flourish in this new world is to enable continuous 'Byte' learning.
While the march of technology is driving these changes, it is important that humans continue to do what they do best - connect at a personal and emotional level. That requires physical contact which will not happen with successive generations spending more and more of their time in front of screens. As Ginni Rometty, CEO, IBM said: "Ultimately, our challenge as a society is not about AI replacing jobs - it is about people and skills."
Anand Kripalu is MD & CEO of Diageo India