(Hint: It’s Not AI.)
In a post-pandemic world, companies undoubtedly will turn increasingly to advanced technologies — artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and automation — to accelerate growth and improve profit margins. Such an arms race, however, will not be sustainable as even the latest technology will eventually become commoditized. Instead, the true point of differentiation will be well-educated human capital deployed dynamically to tackle challenges so complex that AI and automation will come up short.
To be clear, technology will be the foundation of digital transformation. As two experts from the World Bank wrote in Harvard Business Review, “Increases in efficiency brought about by digital technology can help businesses expand. Digital platforms can create entirely new occupations and jobs.” Yet that opportunity will not be realized unless people are well-educated, not only when it comes to job-specific technical competencies, but also in 21st century skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, as well as character traits of leadership, ethics, citizenship, and grit.
Based on conversations I’m having with business leaders across multiple industries, and even what I see in our own company, I believe the key to future success — through this decade and beyond — lies in learning engineering. Essentially, that means offering the right learning opportunities to build relevant skills and ensuring that people take advantage of learning and development (L&D). As a chief learning officer (CLO) told me recently, “The pandemic has exposed the fact that L&D is not a ‘nice to have’; it is a ‘need to have.’”