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Ian Goldin: How to prepare your workforce for the future

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At last month’s Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) 2018 conference, Ian Goldin, professor of globalisation and development at the University of Oxford, touched on how artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are changing the workforce of the future.

While the conference is very much focused on how the education industry can prepare the future workforce, in this day and age where change is constant, we have to recognise that learning has to be lifelong, and employers have a part to play.

To find out more about how employers can prepare their workforce for this change, Human Resources spoke to professor Goldin on the sidelines of APAIE 2018. See what he has to say.

Q You mentioned a bit in your presentation about AI and the workforce. How do you think organisations can help prepare their workforce for this change?

I think employers can prepare their workforce for change by firstly understanding the changes themselves and being competitive.

I believe both short-term profitability and long term focus are necessary. The problem is that some firms are very good at one, but not the other. Some are too focused on the long-term and go bankrupt, and some are too focused on the short-term and are not really developing.

Developing diverse talent – not only gender diversity, but also encouraging foreigners and people from different backgrounds is vital. At the same time, ensuring that the incentive systems and performance management systems lend themselves to learning.

The problem in most organisations is people only talk about success, they brag about successes and then they get their promotion. People don’t like talking about failure and bad experiences. But of course, what we know from all innovation is that we learn from failure and how not to repeat it.

The best thing employees can do is talk about failure and make sure no one repeats their mistakes. That’s how firms evolve rapidly. But that requires an incentive of a culture that is both secure so that people don’t get victimised if they fail, as well as a confidence both on the part of the individuals and the firm that they can genuinely learn.

That learning ability – the ability to share experiences and talk honestly about how to improve (improvement implies you’re not perfect as an individual) – is something that many cultures don’t allow because people don’t like to talk about weaknesses.

Also, I think diversity in terms of ideas is very important. For that, we need to challenge (ideas) – but most CEOs are not comfortable with being challenged. Having very hierarchical organisations is a problem, because the CEO can’t monopolise the ideas and you certainly can’t give a strategy department a monopoly on strategy. You have to draw on the full talent pool and use all your staff as a resource to learn about what is happening elsewhere – and if possible, move people around. The bulk of management literature show that innovation accelerates and learning accelerates when you have diverse teams and when you listen to a diverse range of people within the team.

In my own experience, a secretary could have a very important idea that would change the nature of doing something. But because of the hierarchy, how often do we ask the secretary for information about process change?

What we should do is empower people to feel confident and participate, and create a learning culture requires a lot of participation. And the basic thing in learning cultures is that you have to change your mind more often – if you don’t change your mind more often, you’re not learning. That’s a big challenge for CEOs.

Q You mentioned a lot about culture and culture is something that is very difficult to change in an organisation as well as in society. So what are the three crucial steps towards changing this culture?

I think it needs to start from the top depending on the corporate governance structure. The board, the chairperson, the CEO need to allow ideas to flow up and down. You have to set the tone from the top of the organisation.

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