Guiding Trend 27 November Nov 2017 1100 27 November 2017

Finding the right skills: how not to be replaced by a robot in the workplace

Nowadays, continuous training, soft skills and lifelong learning have become the norm. Here are a few tips on how to avoid artificial intelligence stealing half our jobs.

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Work emergency? Job-stealing technology? Human-replacing robots? Fake news, if we look at the aggregate data alone. According to Eurostat, in the first quarter of 2017, 234.2 million people in Europe - of which 154.8 million in the eurozone - were in employment, the highest number on record so far.

Much ado about nothing, then? Not exactly. The great transition that takes the name of “fourth industrial revolution” - in a nutshell, the one that transforms bits into atoms and revolutionizes production processes - and the emergence from Silicon Valley of the app economy, have destabilised the labour market and hit many jobs, especially those requiring an average skill set. Those requiring the highest and lowest level of skills, instead, have grown in quantity and value.

In short, a veritable revolution. And like every revolution, there are winners and losers. California, which just over a year ago became the sixth largest economy in the world, ahead of France, is undoubtedly the most obvious winner. Italy, instead, if we are to believe the report entitled Future of Jobs published in January 2016, is the most obvious loser. The Jobs Act and reductions in social security contributions simply don’t pass muster: the latest industrial revolution, say the WEF economists, will cost Italy 48% of jobs between 2015 and 2020. Why? Because of a devastating skill disruption at the global level in sectors such as credit and finance, mobility, professional services, energy and consumption.

In this scenario, the key is to “get your skills right”. And that calls for training.

In this scenario, the key is to “get your skills right”. And that calls for training, the veritable cornerstone of a model in which career changes become the norm and learning or a learning-based approach play a crucial role in determining who will survive in this new competitive context.

But that’s nothing new. What is increasingly in need is a set of hard and soft cognitive skills. Instead, according to the OECD, physical and routine skills are becoming unnecessary, obsolete and fully replaceable by robots: the ability to write or speak in public, as well as originality and the ability to get to the root of a problem. Among the top ten skills listed by the World Economic Forum are the ability to coordinate with others and manage people, and a propensity for critical thinking, negotiations and creativity: all of which are things that a computer or robot cannot do, at least for now.

Now that we know what we have to do comes the difficult part. How do you ensure that those who have specific technical skills will not be replaced like lighting before they learn to do something else? And how do you resolve the great paradox of training, according to which, statistically, those who need less training are actually those who train more? And again, how do you direct training towards the skills most required by the labour market? Million dollar questions? Yes, but their answers are worth much, much more. Perhaps, we would do well to start looking for them.