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Reskilling in Digital Age: Up Your Game!
Tamilselvan Manivasagan Program and Delivery Lead, HCL America Inc. | July 2, 2020
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The industrial revolution built the leading cities of the world we live in today. In the early 1900s, the advent of mass production and assembly lines transformed the job market. The age of mass production gave birth to new skills and introduced new roles.

Factories were hiring machine operators, maintenance workers and quality controllers. Those who wanted a break from rural living migrated to thriving and enticing cities looking for new opportunities, better pay, and a new lifestyle. They also learnt new skills and built a career for themselves. After World War II, there was large-scale globalization and it created a new global demand and supply chain.

The global demand and supply chain developed the people in certain regions of the world to have particular skills. The region’s connections to the western world, languages spoken, trade policies, infrastructure and cost of labor were factors that played a vital role in the development of jobs and skills in that region. People’s lives were reshaped as countries competed for their share of the market. After the invention of internet, the world experienced a new wave of change and it also caused a boom in Information Technology (IT), business process outsourcing and consulting services.

The spread of internet and the current digital age demands storage and analysis of large sets of data from multiple sources such as paper documents, articles, pictures and video files. It also includes an enormous amount of user generated content received via social & online media channels. It is impossible for banking, telecommunications, media and technology industries to manage the vast amount of data that is generated via digital operations through just human interaction. The sheer size, frequency and complexity of the current digital interactions has led to the rise of a newer technology that has human and machine collaboration - Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI uses speech recognition, computer vision, chatbots, and machine learning (ML).

Every morning, I hear my 8-year-old saying “Alexa, set a timer for 2 minutes”, and then when the timer is done, it beeps. She says “Alexa, stop”, this helps her maintain a good brushing routine! If you are on a product website to find out about warranties, you may notice a small chat window pop up, with a chatbot assistant to help answer your questions. It is a chatbot that uses AI and ML engine in the background to respond to your queries.

If you are curious to know the name of a new flowering plant growing in your backyard, you can use PictureThis - Plant Identifier app. The app asks you to take a picture of a plant and then compares it to a larger database of plants, relying on AI technology to accurately identify the plant. Isn’t that smart and time saving? If you were to use a large printed encyclopedia of plants to find it yourself, it would have taken probably several minutes to find it and not in two seconds.

Many of us use the world’s most popular search engine Google, typing in almost anything that we could think of as a question and we get clever results or responses. The Google search engine’s results are sorted out by rank. It lists shopping recommendations, contextual advertisements and sponsored articles too. I have shown a few examples to emphasize how the digital era has touched our lives in a very tangible & meaningful way.

The human-machine interaction has reached new levels due to the developments made in the digital era. The design and application of human-machine interactions have been targeted to improve lifestyle and includes reducing effort or fatigue, creating quicker or faster ways to access information, getting timely assistance and advice to take care of our health, finances and personal goals. Not only our lives and home, but our workplaces are witnessing a paradigm shift for new skills as new digital technologies of this digital era take centerstage. Some of our past skills are outdated, other current skills we possess may not be in demand in the near future – all of which could negatively affect our careers. This is why it’s crucial for each of us to focus on retraining or reskilling ourselves, so that we are ready for the current needs and future demands that could arise.

Not only our lives and home, but our workplaces are witnessing a paradigm shift for new skills as new digital technologies of this digital era take centerstage.

Let’s start seeing the world through a new pair of glasses, we must understand that increased human-machine collaboration is not a threat to humans. It is going to be a key lever that could give us an edge when solving the complex problems of our present world. I recommend the following 3-step strategy to reskill and reimagine your workforce using AI and other technologies of the present digital era.

Step 1: Embrace the change

It is obvious that AI could make a few types of cognitive, repetitive and labor-intensive tasks redundant, but it needs us! All machines including the ones with AI were invented by humans, making us the actual brain behind all the artificial intelligence. Our ideas give birth to AI concepts. We write the product plans that include features, benefits, and a business plan. We are the ones who develop algorithms and test them rigorously. We launch products in market and are involved in the calibration/retraining to improve performance of those products.

So, did you recognize a pattern here? We – the humans, are behind the AI and we need not fear it as a threat to our existence. It provides new opportunities for us. We could start new roles such as Content or Data Analyst, Business Analyst – AI/ RPA, Developer RPA or AI technologies, Data Labeler – Computer Vision, NLP Research Assistant, Machine Learning Specialist.

We have reached a point in the digital age where we are left with no other choice but to embrace AI in our homes and workplaces. So, let’s do it by studying the benefits and possibilities the world of AI brings to us. As I am working on this blog content; I notice that my spelling mistakes are auto corrected, and some punctuation is being added. I am able to look up synonyms and use a search engine to do some quick fact checks. I am enjoying the power of Natural Language Processing and AI in this process of writing. Thanks to Microsoft Word!

Step 2: Make some investment

When we think of investment, many of us think of the money first. When we try to reskill, time is the biggest investment one needs to place on top of the list. However, in order to thrive in our journey ahead, we need to gear up and invest some time in retraining and reskilling. Before we start investing time, we need to prioritize our goals and create an achievable plan. The plan should include target roles, opportunities, certifications/ courses and time required for on-the-job training. You need to also run your plan by someone who could give you honest feedback and suggestions. It could be a mentor or a friend or a family member.

You could start by making use of the learning and development opportunities within your organization. There are similar online learning opportunities available - so I suggest you do some research about which ones would fit the role that you are interested in. With minimal investment you could learn from online learning sites such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Coursera. You could also do some learning and training free of cost from sites like W3cschools, Khan Academy, Wikihow, etc.

If your plans require you to complete a long-term program, like 12 to 24 months, you need to create a more detailed plan. This will involve a bigger investment in terms of money as you need to pay tuition and program fees. Remember, your investments of time and money are worth it! Make them in a timely manner.

Step 3: Up your game

The best way to remember anything that you learn is to apply those learnings in practice. Look for opportunities to apply your learnings, new skills within your current scope of work, workplace strategy and the client you are working for. Explore all possibilities that involve implementing your learning within your team or even your own project by sharing your plan and creating a roadmap to carry it through.

Usually, your team and management will be eager to apply relevant solutions that resolve pain points in a workflow and improve quality of deliverables. You could come up with an AI solution using your company tools/IPs or any third-party software that is authorized by your company in that you have specialized in. You have an opportunity to be a champion and set-up a pilot project. You must get necessary permissions from management and your client to test a solution. Always start with a pilot project and then plan to implement a larger project if the pilot is successful.

If there are no opportunities available within your process, you could look out for other processes and opportunities. A new skill is always demanding, so be prepared to put in extra effort to learn quickly from teething issues. Changing roles is not easy, you need to communicate properly and ensure that you negotiate the schedule and changes clearly to your management. You also need to understand the expectations of management and align with their overall vision.

Finally, I sincerely believe that the rise of human and machine collaboration is a game changer for you and those around you. Success is in your reach and I recommend you to up your game by retraining and reskilling in this digital era.

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