Will AI Takeover Humans? How The Human Workforce Can Develop Alongside AI

At recent focus groups held by Development Beyond Learning (DBL) in Sydney, London and Singapore this was the hot topic of conversation.

DBL invited business, talent, people and culture, and learning and development leaders, from diverse industries, to roundtable events on the future of work. The discussions focussed on three areas:

  • the future of work

  • future skills

  • future skills development

The burning question everyone left was;

What would be the true impact of the future on the workplace and how could we start to embrace AI?


Whether you believe it’s science fiction or not artificial intelligence is on the rise and smart machines will transform how we live and work.

It is happening now.

The World Economic Forum recently released a video listing the top 10 countries adopting AI and robotics in the workplace. In the number one spot was South Korea with the surprising statistic that 1 in every 631 workers was a robot.

At Netflix machine learning is integral to its video recommendation engine, so much so that it has valued the ROI at 1 billion GBP a year, due to its impact on customer retention.

AI is also creating new 'talent' requirements in organisations, and is likely to impact the early career talent organisations recruit more and more in coming years. Increased adoption of AI is also creating new training and development needs for organisations, as discussed in this recent article in the Australian Financial Review.

The future of business, and the future of work, is changing. The fourth industrial revolution has arrived.

Thankfully the long history of human kind suggests that we have always adapted to new ways of working from the first industrial revolution using water and steam power, to the second using electric power, and the third using electronics and information technology. Now we are at the fourth industrial revolution, the digital revolution, a fusing of physical, digital, and biological technologies.

New tools to do work have always been emerging and new jobs have always followed. AI is no different.

There are two categories of AI, weak and strong. Weak AI, also known as narrow AI is artificial intelligence that is focused on one narrow task. Strong AI, in contrast, is described as a machine with a consciousness, sentience and mind. A machine with the ability to apply intelligence to any problem, rather than just one specific problem. The AI systems that many of us have encountered up to now are mostly considered weak AI.

Weak AI will no doubt continue to innovate and replace jobs that were once performed by people. Despite this negative view of AI there are many benefits and opportunities that it can bring for organisations, their people and their customers. There is not only opportunity for new jobs to emerge with AI but also for current jobs to evolve and become more rewarding.

Across our roundtable events there was consensus that people will not be made redundant, instead roles will evolve, productivity will increase and life will never be quite the same.

Productivity office building

The OECD predicts that the level of attrition from AI entering the workplace will be less than 10%. This is because each individual job requires the completion of multiple tasks.

A recent article in The Harvard Business Review states that companies should look at AI through the lens of business capabilities rather than technologies. Taking a broad view of how AI can support business in three areas: automating processes, gaining insight through data analysis, and engaging with customers and employees.

In London, representatives from a leading financial services institute shared how graduate analysts worked long hours completing administrative tasks, leaving them little time for the more interesting and challenging parts of their role. They were considering how AI could aid in performing some of the more menial tasks, such as scheduling and handling data, freeing up the analysts to focus on interpreting and presenting the data for meaningful business outcomes.

It may seem that asking a workforce to positively embrace machines taking over their work is ambitious (especially for generations and cultures who hold strong to the notion of a career for life). Therefore preparing individuals for the possibility of a new career and to learn or retrain for a new job is just as important as the training or upskilling itself.

This is where the skill of growth mindset will be key. Growth mindset is the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.


In Singapore, we heard from talent managers in South East Asia that recruiting for the ‘right’ mindset has become a priority. Curiosity, an ability to learn and self-awareness are the capabilities and attributes they will be screening candidates for in the future. We also discovered how Singapore has been championing lifelong learning and upskilling since 2015, when the government launched the SkillsFuture scheme.

The Head of Education at a leading software company stated that there is a need for governments and schools globally to look to enable a stronger transformation of core work competencies.

Development Beyond Learning have researched, identified and shared a set of core future skills that include growth mindset as the underpinning skill for all future skills. They view future skills as the development of uniquely human, transferrable skills to help people future proof their careers and equip themselves for the future of work.

In Sydney it was interesting to see the conversations align to and validate this research. Identifying the need to focus on skills and capabilities that artificial intelligence has trouble replicating such as creativity and collaboration, presenting, influencing and interacting authentically with others. As David Autor, Professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology describes it, they will be the skills required to perform, non-routine work that require cognitive ability.

A smart machine may be able to diagnose problems and recommend actions for improvement. It will however take human beings, to communicate and lead change, spurring others into action.

In this capacity social intelligence (SI) will be a highly regarded cognitive skill of the future. Social intelligence is the ability to get along well with others, and to get them to cooperate. It includes an awareness of situations and the social dynamics that govern them, and a knowledge of interaction styles and strategies that can help a person achieve his or her objectives in dealing with others. It also involves a certain amount of self-insight and a consciousness of one's own perceptions and reaction patterns. An ability that strong AI may master but from all reports this is a long way off.

The one thing AI can’t do is tell itself how it should be used.

There is a huge need to develop leaders of the future to be creative, critical thinkers and complex problem solvers who are able to make moral, ethical and socially conscious decisions about when, where and for what AI is to be used.

The long term consequences of AI in the workplace is highly nebulous but it is important that it is not ignored.

We have the ability to prepare, plan and implement strategies that will enable humans to transform and succeed in their careers. Organisations can do this by:

  • Recruiting for mindset as much as technical ability

  • Challenging and redefining traditional talent and leadership pipelines

  • Assessing workforce skills and capability gaps against those required for the future

  • Preparing people for learning, retraining and upskilling prior to rolling out training Implementing strategies and programs that develop future skills and mindsets

Organisations must look to enable and create a balance between artificial and social intelligence in the workplace, to enable both together to transform businesses, products and services, engage with and solve problems that allow us all to not only survive but thrive in the digital age.

By Saskia Spaan, Development Beyond Learning
DBL would like to thank all the leaders who participated in and contributed to the Future Skills roundtables in Sydney, London and Singapore held in May 2018. A special thankyou to SEAAGE, Gemstar and the Australian Institute of Company Directors for hosting DBL.

Reorientation: the early career talent industry skill that organisations need to master

Every year, the early career talent industry reorients millions of students and graduates from education to the professional world with stunning speed and efficiency.

Young people are inducted to the organisation through orientation programs, re-orienting them from education to work. Many are reoriented several times more as they move between different roles and environments on rotations throughout their first one to two years.

From 13 years helping the industry to achieve this in multiple sectors across 16 countries, our recent and on-going research in to the future of work – not to mention that this millennial audience will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020 – it is very clear to me the industry has mastered a skill organisations now need for the future of work: The reorientation of people.

reorientation NOUN

  1. The development of behaviours and mind-sets that help people achieve smooth transition in to new, or back in to roles, environments, occupations or organisations, quickly, more often.

A recent PwC survey reported that 60% of respondents believed that few people would have stable, long-term employment in the future. According to McKinsey, in several of the world’s largest economies, up to 50% of the workforce may need to switch occupations by 2030 due to rapid automation.

Research is showing that there is a growing shift is underway in our thinking about skills and knowledge – from a qualification lasting a lifetime, to needing to retrain for new skills every few years, move roles and occupations, and continually update soft skills in areas like collaboration, critical thinking and complex problem solving.

Quickly adapting to new roles, environments and contexts is not a new thing. However the need for more people to do so, and more regularly, is. Equipping sections of the workforce to understand the art of ‘Reorientation’ and then navigate their own reorientation with the behavioural science and skills necessary to do so, regularly, is now key.

The Reorientation of people is the development of behaviours and mind-sets that help people achieve smooth transition into new, or back in to roles, environments, occupations or organisations, quickly, more often.

More and more people want and need to reorient and move between roles, jobs and businesses, more often.

Three lenses from which to view the reorientation of people are:

  • Moving in (or back into) - people beginning or recommencing a career

  • Moving around - people developing within their career

  • Moving on - people leaving to evolve their career

When organisations become more comfortable with this new reality of career movement there will be a stronger strategic focus on assisting workforces to re-orientate – transitioning into, adapting to or find new career opportunities.

Moving in (or back into)

Moving in could include at least five different workforce audiences:

  • Students and graduates transitioning from school or higher education to the workplace

  • New employees being inducted and on boarded into organisations

  • Parents returning to work from maternity or paternity leave

  • Retirees coming back into the workforce

  • People returning from career breaks or sabbaticals

It is crucial to get this transition phase right. For experienced professionals coming back to the workplace after a period of absence, the ability to reorientate is just as important. Roles and environments they return to are often very different from when they left. They must adjust to new teams, structures, systems and processes, typically with little or no support or retraining. And particularly without training and support in the future skills needed to really succeed.

Moving around

Moving around could include (at least!) two different categories or audiences: 

  • Early career talent

  • Tenured staff

Both audiences are seen to have an increased need to continuously and proactively look for new challenges and roles in new environments. Particularly those that provide opportunities to learn new things and up skill in new areas, growing in line with organisational transformation driven by the future of work.

Moving on

Moving on is possibly where the biggest need for reorientation exists as a result of the future of work. And historically it has not been well explored in terms of development. Moving on could be viewed in terms of:

  • Individuals – where many people are not forward thinking enough and may only consider developing for their next role once their current role has almost expired.

  • Organisations – where the value of spending time and resources developing people who are going to leave has not been understood nor realised.

As the average tenure of permanent employee shortens and flexible, mobile workforces increase, more switched on individuals and progressive organisations are taking a new stance on these issues.  

If you acknowledge that most people you hire will only stay for a couple of years, then the level of ‘moving on’ development support you provide becomes a powerful talent attraction and retention strategy. And a powerful tool to future proof the business, and careers of people.  

Once people have ‘moved on’ they begin the cycle of reorientation again arriving back at the moving in (or back into) stage. Here they are once again faced with the challenges and opportunities this presents.

There is no doubt that more and more people, more often, will want and need to move in (or back into), around and move on from roles and organisations. As organisations become more comfortable with this, a higher level of acceptance, willingness and investment to help people to reorient will follow.

We believe organisations can help people move through all three stages with training and development – particularly by equipping them with relevant future skills, identifying strengths and coaching them through the change process.

We also believe that for organisations, thriving in the future of work and winning the war on talent is about reinventing recruitment, orientation, and development to future proof their business and the careers of their people.