Nathaniel Meyer worked in the AT&T Network Reliability Center outside Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. Meyer worked in the same facility where he started, when he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the company at the age of 19, as a technician. After working with the telecom giant for more than a decade, Meyer found that his work revolved around the same basic technologies that he had started out with. His responsibilities involved the monitoring of massive switches that ran an old fashioned telephone network across more than 20 states. He had to test new equipment remotely and update databases with any changes.
He was beginning to feel that he was in a dead-end job because the truth was that, it was.
At the AT&T headquarters in downtown Dallas, the firm’s leaders were realizing that they had a lot of people like Meyer, who worked with old technologies that were quickly becoming outdated.
“It became clear that our people did not possess the skill set required to run a massively scaled software infrastructure” said CEO Randall Stephenson. “We were facing a massive people issue”.
The company embarked on a massive project called Workforce 2020 that will train their employees with a suite of new programs, new facilities and a major push towards worker reeducation. This might be the most ambitious reskilling program in the history of corporate America. The workers loved it and for the first time, AT&T got onto the list of Fortune’s List of the 100 Best Companies to work for.
A trend that is seen in the past few years is that technology has taken the place of human beings for repetitive and administrative tasks, dramatically changing the dynamics of the workforce. With basic tasks now being taken care of, workers will be able to focus on innovative, creative and value-driven activities. With the rise of automation and the use of sophisticated analytics, countless new roles will be created and employers will now seek a digital-savvy workforce to master these technologies. Besides Automation and Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Cognitive Tools are both disrupting and reinventing jobs and roles.
In spite of tasks being automated, core business skills of problem solving, communication, strategic and creative thinking, customer orientation, emotional and cognitive intelligence and decision making will never go out of business and will only augment automation and digital work.
A “growth mindset” needs to be adopted in order to be able to deal with new technologies. This will increase flexibility to deal with continuous improvement, agile development and rapid deployment of technology.
Organizations need to develop a design strategy, have a learning blueprint for digital skills and ask themselves the following questions.
- What will the human value-add in automation initiatives be?
- What will the new roles be that will manage both machines and data?
- How can we speed up reskilling efforts?
- How can the workplace be redesigned to be more digital and collaborative?
This is design thinking and journey mapping at its best. Organizations need to have a vision, an assessment of the amount of work to be automated, the range of talent and technologies that can be used and designing competence and skill maps.