As part of Projecting Ideas, a series of talks that the IDB is organizing to reflect on issues related to innovation in the workplace, the president of the professional services firm Accenture for Argentina and Spanish-speaking South America, Sergio Kaufman, gave a presentation on how artificial intelligence is creating new jobs. In his presentation to IDB staff, Mr. Kaufman shared his vision of the future of employment and commented on some of the human resources initiatives that Accenture is implementing to improve productivity, flexibility, motivation, and diversity in the world of work.
He argued that the firm is currently going through a “brutal employment revolution” which revolves around several core issues: demographic and generational factors, social and flexibility-related matters, and understandings of diversity. “Technology is revolutionizing the way we work and the old labor model. Work is no longer just the place where you operate a machine. So, five years ago, we switched to offering a home office system to all employees twice a week. Our people are happy with the scheme: we believe that giving them flexibility is a motivating factor,” Mr. Kaufman said. “They do still have to go to the office three days a week, as face-to-face interaction is very enriching,” he added. Accenture has a global staff of 450,000 and a presence in 120 countries. In Argentina, it employs 8,400 people and plans to increase its local staff to 10,000 in 2018.
Diversity is another key factor in the future of employment. “In a world where creativity and innovation are kings, you need your teams to be diverse. We want to have different cultures in terms of gender and age. Today, our corporate culture is diametrically opposed to the vision that reigned 20 years ago, the one that I came up under. The fact that so many innovations were born in garages, not corporations, clearly indicates that a lot of successful, established corporations are not capable of processing innovation and making the most of it.” Mr. Kaufman argued that “the future of work will be diverse and flexible.” He added: “about 60% of the students at Argentinian universities are currently women; on average, they get better grades and graduate a year earlier than their male counterparts. However, women are seriously underrepresented in any decision-making situation, even in the academic world. There is no question as to where the world of work and innovation are headed, but there are conservative forces that want to counteract that trend. The more diverse the team, the better the results.”
Mr. Kaufman explained that advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are now displacing tasks that used to be performed by humans. However, the next five years will bring new jobs for different types of workers with different levels of education. “Accenture is growing even though robots are beginning to perform more and more human tasks. This week, for example, I received a request to hire 300 people to train robots that moderate social networks. In other words, even though some jobs are disappearing, new, interesting ones are emerging. You don’t always need to be an expert to do these jobs. There is no reason for someone to be a graduate to train robots to moderate social networks, for example—you just need to have enough basic common sense to be able to understand when a video or message is offensive and explain this to the robots so that it can practice and learn. There are also physical robots that need people to train and adapt them.”
Understanding and explaining new AI phenomena is another source of work. “For organizations to appreciate the advances in AI platforms, we need people who are able to explain the coming trends and interpret them. The job of explaining, providing a broader context, and interpreting what lies ahead is very important within any organization,” Mr. Kaufman argued.
Another new position that he said would come with AI is that of “sustainers.” Once robots are already operational in a given field, these people will decide where it makes sense to install a given solution when new technology comes out. “There are whole areas of employment that we need to think about and define.”
Mr. Kaufmann said that “employment as we know it today will shrink, but there will be new jobs and new career paths.” He then touched on care for the elderly. “This is a field which requires only brief training and would be hard to automate, as there is a lot of emphasis on relationships and interactions, as is the case with nursing. But we need to develop active policies to explore these ideas,” he said.
The transformation of the labor market will become increasingly complex as new applications for AI emerge. “Tasks are what will disappear, not jobs,” Mr. Kaufman argued. At Accenture Argentina, we have a robotics center to increase our efficiency. We have used robots to eliminate 500 tasks but we also have supervisors for those robots, so people whose tasks were replaced did not lose their job. What we need to be thinking about now is how we can best use these tools. Basic tasks have changed.”
Accenture’s training and human resource policies can be adapted to suit each and every employee and it seeks to promote collaboration. “We need to be unmistakably human, especially because we are such a diverse organization. We are very flexible with our training. There is a lot of training available and each employee can put together a program for themselves in line with their interests, and the content changes every six months,” he noted. At Accenture, “people feel that they are evaluated based on what they achieve.”
Mr. Kaufman explained that collaboration is another core area, “because we work with knowledge.” “There is a temptation to keep tight hold of whatever it is that each person comes up with themselves, but when you work as a group, that kind of secrecy hampers progress,” he warned. To counteract such behavior, “we constantly try to create a culture of intellectual generosity, a culture that benefits those who share, because sharing helps everyone,” he said. “We have to work on that all the time. Exponential change happens when there is interaction. You need to be generous, giving credit to others for their ideas. I reward people who share.”