Opinion

A Tech-Based Economy Needs Human Talent

Futuristic sci-fi interpretations of the American labor landscape usually portray human workers rendered obsolete by increasingly intelligent and capable machines and systems.

Artificial intelligence, automation, robotics and other new technologies are indeed turnkey components of a rapidly modernizing American economy, but, to function most effectively, organizations will still require the human component. Human capital remains essential for businesses to operate efficiently and harness the benefits of technology.

The future of a technology-focused economy is quickly arriving, however, and these innovations are advancing faster than many businesses can adapt. Clear gaps in technological readiness are a common challenge that American enterprise must address before our workforce can effectively leverage AI and other innovations. The greater Washington metropolitan area is shaping up as a proving ground for addressing this challenge.

A Noticeable Capabilities Gap

Leaders in business and government are keenly aware of the growing impact of technology. Nearly three quarters of approximately 11,000 human resources and business leaders surveyed for Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report see AI, robotics, and automation as important for their operations, and 61 percent are actively redesigning jobs around these innovations and new business models.

Government technology leaders are also eyeing opportunities for greater technological convergence, including shared services across agencies. In fact, we took a closer look at the results from the survey’s government and public sector respondents and used that data to compile a Government Perspective on Human Capital Trends. Digging into those responses by government and public sector employees showed that 63 percent of them believe AI and cognitive technology will have an impact on their workforce by 2020. The White House and Congress have demonstrated their commitment to IT modernization through the passage and signage of the Modernizing Government Technology Act to help federal government agencies invest in new technology.

Automation is a well-established fact of life in the automotive, manufacturing, oil and gas, and food and beverage sectors. Business models in these industries are built around this technology, and the workforce is trained to use it. Organizations seeking to leverage new forms of automation, AI, robotics, or other innovations must similarly ensure their labor force is trained to use them, and that the business model incorporates them effectively.

But, we aren’t there just yet. While more than 40 percent of businesses believe automation will have a major impact on jobs, fewer than one-third of Deloitte’s survey respondents say they are ready to navigate the changes that will integrate these innovations into their workflows, and this readiness gap extends to the human resources that will execute those workflows.

Now Hiring: Aspiring Tech Talent

Survey respondents also told us they’re placing an ever-higher premium on essential human skills like complex problem solving (63 percent), cognitive abilities (55 percent), and social skills (52 percent). But at the same time, fewer than half of businesses surveyed have plans to cultivate these critical skills.

Many business leaders (54 percent) have no programs in place to build the skills of the future, and while they believe that new career models and skills are important (47 percent), very few (9 percent) say they’re ready for the challenge.

We, as business leaders, must help workers develop the skills they need to thrive in a technology-driven economy. We must also adapt to demographic shifts in the workforce, to welcome diversity and encourage creativity, while not discounting existing members of the workforce who may need to develop new skills. Part of the solution is providing opportunity; another part is having leadership buy-in and collaboration to cultivate it.

Our survey also found evidence of a collaboration gap. Nearly 75 percent of respondents to the Deloitte survey said C-suite leaders rarely collaborate on projects and strategic initiatives, and more than half said their organizations aren’t ready for the level of collaboration needed to drive their enterprise in the future of work.

DC Metro a Fertile Tech Proving Ground

The federal government and its private sector partners can serve as models for establishing greater tech literacy and collaboration in the workplace. The Greater Washington metro area is a natural proving ground for improvements in workforce development, training, and tech integration. The District of Columbia is already tied for fourth for the percent of tech employment comprising the total workforce, according to IT trade group CompTIA.

Critical online retailers and tech companies considering the D.C. area for expansion sites is a proof point on how the region is rapidly developing as a technology hub. The region’s economy is already dotted by numerous private sector firms and partnerships that support the federal government, in addition to the government’s own direct workforce. Virginia Tech’s CyberX initiative in Arlington will help train the next wave of employees to fill tens of thousands of open tech jobs in the region.

Greater collaboration between agency directors and their technology leaders, with workforce-driven insights, can lead to greater efficiency and more easily identified skill development opportunities. The White House recently enhanced the authority of federal CIOs to make technology and hiring decisions policies to support their agency missions.

Such commitment and collaboration by government and private companies in the Washington metropolitan area could lead the way for simultaneous development of the modern, model American economy and workforce.

Tamika Tremaglio is Deloitte’s Greater Washington managing principal and Dan Helfrich is Deloitte’s Government & Public Services leader.

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