Training a Workforce for an Unknown Future

Group of workers having a discussion

by Patrick Gallen, Partner, People & Change Consulting at Grant Thornton Ireland

The world around us is changing – changing at a pace that appears to be exponential at the very least. The inception of advanced AI learning systems such as Open AI’s ‘ChatGPT’ has allowed the technology to take centre stage on the world podium, and not entirely for the right reasons. Whilst presenting itself with a wealth of benefits, such as instant data and content generation, many fear that the uncharted growth of AI may pose risks to our way of living. Irrespective of views however, one thing remains clear; the age of AI has begun, and it has already made its mark on the corporate workforce. ­

The advent of such technologies has already begun to disrupt the workforce across all areas, from day-to-day internal operations to automating tasks that once took hours of calculation. As companies begin to tread through these exciting and uncertain times, it is imperative that their employees are guided effectively through the change process.

”Leaders must shift from a ‘know it all’ to a ‘learn it all’ mind-set” – says Michelle Weise

In a recent podcast, Michelle Weise, founder of ‘Rise and Design’, outlined the main topics that prepares companies and their employees for industry changes that are, or yet to come to the fore. Firstly, it is argued that firms should create a learning ecosystem that supports employees as holistic learners with a diverse education history, allowing them to better adapt to prospective change. It is essential that leaders act as role models to their employees, allowing them to raise alternative viewpoints or by sparking debate before concluding on a decision. Sharing views across all levels and offering constructive feedback can bridge knowledge gaps and strengthen employee rapport as a whole. Leaders should also use these opportunities with their employees to seek upward feedback, allowing them to identify how they can assist their workforce more effectively.

Weise also outlines that firms should teach their employees to be “dangerous” enough to exploit emerging technologies so as to not fall behind. Take Nokia or Blackberry, two hallmark examples of companies who failed to adapt to change in time. With the emergence of advanced AI learning systems, companies and employees should challenge this technology, not fear it. Educating employees about the purpose of AI and its benefits will be critical to ensure a common ground between leader and employee. Workshops, seminars, and upskilling will be a critical component of the change process.

In addition, Weise discusses the importance of understanding your employees’ skills at a granular level. The abrupt introduction of ChatGPT has shifted the corporate mind-set from ‘what we already know’ to ‘what we need to know’. By gaining a deeper understanding of your employee’s competencies, firms can identify those who are less competent in the field of tech and AI, allowing them to assist individuals who may struggle with the change process more than others may. Firms should encourage their knowledgeable employees to take on a trainer’s role, allowing them to share their skillsets and competencies with other employees. Facilitating and promoting internal training with pre-existing employees can create a culture of continuous learning and development, further catalysing the change process.

With the rapid development of AI in the last several months, the corporate workforce has been turned on its head. The very way in which we work was transformed overnight, prompting urgent change at a global scale. Leading your workforce in a way that promotes understanding, cohesion, and growth will help firms to adapt to the ever-uncertain world of Artificial Intelligence and the unprecedented times ahead.

About the author

Patrick is the Partner leading Grant Thornton’s People and Change Consulting practice in Ireland. He has over 30 years of experience in People and Change, working right across Ireland, the UK and on a global basis. He specialises in delivering behavioural change through capability building, which can range from working on complex transformation projects right through to coaching senior Board members on a one-to-one basis. Patrick has deep cross-sectoral experience and his clients include large global banking and financial institutions, utility companies  and well-known global brands in the food and drinks sector. His clients in the public and semi-state sector include Government Departments in the UK and Ireland, including Treasury and Finance Departments, Transport, Health and Utilities.