This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on April 29, 2019.
A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco showed that the U.S. labor market is “at or beyond its full potential.” While that might be good news for the economy, it’s not for the tech companies still out there, searching desperately for qualified talent.
Research firm Korn Ferry predicted that companies in technology, media and telecom will face a talent shortage of 1.1 million by 2020. By 2030, that number will grow to 4.3 million, the report said; and the result will be intense competition for a dwindling pool of tech professionals. The same survey showed that insufficient staff is already holding back digital transformation at 54 percent of companies surveyed.
Skilled coders, of course, won’t materialize out of thin air. So, instead of hoping that traditional recruiting tactics will solve their mounting talent shortage, companies should consider a new approach — one that looks for alternatives to the human talent companies will always need but may have to struggle mightily to find. That approach: artificial intelligence.
When AI is a human equivalent
I’ve seen the effects of talent shortages firsthand during my career in app development. It’s something my own company has struggled with, in fact. Unfortunately, I think the outlook is even worse than the numbers imply.
The university pipeline is not graduating nearly enough knowledge workers to fill even the present demand. Last year, there were more than a half million unfilled computer-related jobs, and relying on foreign-born workers has not been the best option due to tougher immigration restrictions.
What if instead of trying to recruit a recent graduate who commands a six-figure salary, you could rely on technology to do the job? Artificial intelligence has advanced to the point that it can emulate the output of knowledge workers, not just perform repetitive manual labor.
Already, we are seeing AI that can handle coding on its own. You identify an objective, and the program then autonomously develops a framework, generates code and finds the ideal mixture of APIs and SDKs. AI might not be able to replace a human coder entirely, but it can already increase his or her productivity.
As the talent pool dwindles, AI can pick up the slack and replace the talent that could not otherwise be replaced. It’s not a panacea for all staffing problems, but it just may help you boost your efficiency and productivity, cut time to market and improve product quality — all without your having to make new hires.
AI and the future of work
Tech is not the only industry figuring out how to use AI to remain relevant and productive moving forward. Self-driving trucks, for example, promise to eliminate hazards from the road, delays from delivery schedules and the challenges companies experience in finding qualified drivers. That said, even industries that were not formerly considered technology-based are becoming just that.
Fast food is such an example of industries now adopting new technology. Turnover in that food industry is high, but robots in the kitchen will never choose to leave. For example, I work with a company that is developing a robotic arm and sensor system that can cook the perfect burger with complete consistency. Robotic cooks mean smaller kitchens, lower labor costs and more affordable food prices for everyone. Because of this, these robotic cooks can support human ones without eliminating them.
While we shouldn’t expect to see robots walking through the office any time soon, we should embrace AI in all of its forms throughout the workforce. Remember, technology isn’t displacing workers — it’s stepping in where labor is needed.
Are you ready to employ AI?
Employers should be cautiously optimistic about AI. It may well have a big impact in many places, but that doesn’t mean every workflow is ready to be automated. Use these strategies to employ AI where it’s most effective in your company:
1. Identify your biggest pain points.
Know your most persistent problems and how they might be exacerbated by talent shortages. Each department is led by someone who can give insight into what that department needs and where it’s hurting. Talk to these employees. Their knowledge and these conversations can serve as the basis for organizational charts, to help your company identify its greatest deficiencies and see how AI systems might cover your biggest unmet needs.
An example? Illustrating the possibilities that come from identifying areas in which a company has room to grow, the Associated Press began automating its reporting on earnings rather than having people do that task manually.
The result: The press service was able to write 12 times more stories.
2. Analyze job postings to see where you could fill the void.
Look at your company’s open job postings to see where AI might be able to fill roles for which you can’t find qualified candidates.
There are more than seven million unfilled positions in the United States right now, which means that a growing company — or even a stable one — will naturally need to replace employees who are bouncing to different jobs or those who retire. That said, growing companies are in dire need of more human capital in their offices to stay on a steady path to growth.
AI can assist in areas where candidates aren’t available. For example, the App Association’s 2018 State of the App Economy report revealed that there is just one computer science graduate for every eight available computing jobs. Yikes: Don’t suffer shortages like that where you don’t have to.
By analyzing which roles you have open and which you’re struggling to fill, you’ll find areas for AI to step in and fill your need.
3. Let AI consultants help you see how automated solutions can fill the gaps.
In our case, we went to academics who were actually writing algorithms, white papers, and dissertations on this subject. In academia, people have more time to drill down on research and development for their theories and aren’t constrained by the need to please stockholders or attain commercial success. They can, therefore, be key players as you acquire knowledge and eventually adopt AI for your workplace.
For example, around 50 people from Carnegie Mellon’s robotics lab joined Uber to help that company build self-driving cars. Some of the university’s top talent made the move to be a part of the project, providing expertise and insights to the ride-hailing company as it embarked on a new journey with AI.
Overall, there will likely be two types of companies in the future: those that adopt AI and use it to become more efficient, and those that choose not to use it, leaving the real possibility they will be left behind. My money is on the prior group, whose people will also have to be adaptive and willing to integrate technology into their workflows.
In other words, AI solves talent shortages, but that’s just the start. This technology is poised to disrupt entrenched industries, redefine consumer expectations and optimize everything you do. It’s more than your solution for the future — AI has already begun ushering in a completely new paradigm.
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