As the buzz about generative AI has increased in both velocity and volume, many find themselves wavering between being awe-inspired by its possibilities and being concerned about its risks.
But two things are certain: it will influence how we work, and it will impact what we need to learn. One area ripe for exploration is how this technology can be used to help attract, engage, and retain employees, particularly as it relates to meeting their expectations for learning and career growth.
A study by Workplace Intelligence, a research organization that focuses on the evolving world of work, examined attitudes about skill development among Millennials and Gen Z, finding them to be intensely focused on skillset development.
Of the 3,000 participating U.S. employees, reflecting a range of industries and companies, a resounding 78% were concerned they lack the skills—and 71% the education—to meet demands of the future of work. Many attributed the pandemic, with its isolation, remote work and learning, and lost experiences, with motivating them to focus more on improving their skills.
No doubt the dizzying pace of today’s technological developments is also contributing to these workers’ growing concern about their ability to stay current and meet changing job requirements.
While every generation is focused on gaining skills to help succeed in the workplace, a similar study of Gen X or Baby Boomers in their early working years likely would not have yielded the same results.
When these predecessor generations graduated from high school or university, most were probably confident that formal education had prepared them for the general knowledge and basic skillsets on which to build experiences and succeed.
The past 20 years, however, have seen two powerful and dynamic forces—globalization and technological transformation— infiltrating every aspect of civilized life and reshaping traditional ways of thinking, interacting, learning, and working.
And the pace of these influences, particularly regarding technology, is accelerating. It should come as no surprise that even digital natives feel the pressure to upskill.
Finding purpose and fulfillment – from learning
Employees want to be empowered to not only keep up, but to achieve their full potential.
For Millennials and Gen Z workers, however, ongoing skills training, mentoring, and professional development are not only table stakes for a successful career, but core to retaining and engaging these talented individuals.
For these reasons, the survey shows that Millennials and Gen Z seek employers who provide opportunities for continuous learning across an expanding menu of in-person, virtual, and digital options. Eight out of 10 in the Workplace Intelligence study say it’s important for their employers to offer training and networking opportunities as well as help with college tuition.
In fact, 74% of Gen Z and Millennials said they are prepared to jump ship if they don’t get the skill development support they expect from their current employer.
In a labor market that continues to experience challenging shifts for employers, statistics such as these are driving action. According to a study by Training Magazine, training expenditure per employee across US organizations of all sizes increased to $1,207 in 2022, compared to $1,071 in 2021.
The study noted that the larger the organization, the greater the expenditure increase; those with more than 10,000 employees, for example, increased their investment by 134%. For the US as a whole training programs now represent a $100 billion industry.
These findings underscore that learning cannot be a once-and-done life experience. It might best be described today as a continuous thread that winds its way through our lives in periods of greater or lesser intensity. And with five generations now in many workplaces, we also see Boomers and Gen Xers accessing training as a means of staying current with apps, programs, and hardware that weren’t even a glimmer in an innovator’s eye when they started their careers.
Gaining exposure and developing trust in new technologies is essential to the productivity and success of older workers at all levels.
New tech tools support learning innovation and efficiency
How will organizations keep pace, especially as they also must hold the line on costs? The answer could lie in using new technologies for the greater good of educating humanity.
This spring, the online tutoring nonprofit Khan Academy demonstrated how it is leveraging recent, more sophisticated options for tech-enabled learning. The organization’s new GPT-powered tool called Khanmigo, for example, works as a personal AI tutor, guiding children through the learning process using a tablet that literally interacts in a customized way with each of its assigned students.
As new generative AI developments emerge, it’s time to think about how to assemble a few such tools into one, holistic experience – and expand the concept beyond the classroom and into the business setting.
Imagine, for example, bringing together virtual reality, the metaverse, and AI elements like ChatGPT and Replika, to work in tandem—as a personalized, high-tech ‘team’. In the rarefied environment this team creates, learners would absorb information through the usual sight and hearing plus all the other senses and in three dimensions.
Use of Replika-like technology could add value as an interactive coach and mentor, that gets to know each learner’s capabilities, goals, and areas for improvement. Collectively, these emerging technologies could provide valuable support in maximizing each learner’s ability to satisfy their needs for greater levels of knowledge and know-how.
This ‘AI team’ could ostensibly provide the learning environment educators would like to provide: a dedicated teacher for every learner. An AI-supported learning environment could even deliver a new twist on an ancient concept—similar in approach to the one-on-one instruction provided by thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle.
By pulling together portions of these combined tech capabilities, a whole new technology-enabled environment for employee learning and training would emerge, going beyond what most organizations could ever afford to do using only human mentoring and virtual learning programs.
The ‘tutor’ would be available 24/7, allowing for learn-at-your-own-pace options and in timeframes that best suit the employee’s work and personal time requirements.
An important side benefit would be the virtual teacher’s ability to encourage uniquely human ways of thinking about problem solving or relationship building to resemble real-life interactions. Through the virtual guide’s prompting, employees could learn about empathy, the art of negotiation, and analytical reasoning, for example, which are hard to teach in typical remote learning courses.
Additionally, combining AI, metaverse and VR tools would literally bring the learning process to life—by allowing the user to join interactive conversations, move around to explore virtual reality scenes, and be introduced to relevant images or how-to videos that further promote the learning process in a memorable way. Upon completion of key milestones, learners could then connect with real-life managers to discuss any questions or challenges and to be given assignments to test their mastery of course materials.
Innovation and disruption are literally all around us. Rather than be confounded by them, let’s figure out how to control and direct these changes in ways that provide valuable benefits to all of humanity.
We could start by employing technology’s strongest points to help all of us get smarter, faster. As that original Greek tutor once wrote, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” No doubt some imaginative innovator is working on that virtual tutor concept right now.
The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP (EY) or any other member firm of the global EY organization.
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