AI reskilling: A solution to the worker crisis

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By 2025, the World Economic Forum estimates that 97 million new jobs may emerge as artificial intelligence (AI) changes the nature of work and influences the new division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms. Specifically in banking, a recent McKinsey survey found that AI technologies could deliver up to $1 trillion of additional value each year. AI is continuing its steady rise and starting to have a sweeping impact on the financial services industry, but its potential is still far from fully realized.

The transformative power of AI is already impacting a range of functions in financial services including risk management, personalization, fraud detection and ESG analytics. The problem is that advances in AI are slowed down by a global shortage of workers with the skills and experience in areas such as deep learning, natural language processing and robotic process automation. So with AI technology opening new opportunities, financial services workers are eager to gain the skills they need in order to leverage AI tools and advance their careers. 

Today, 87% of employees consider retraining and upskilling options at workplaces very important, and at the same time, more companies ranked upskilling their workforce as a top-5 business priority now than pre-pandemic. Companies that don’t focus on powering AI training will fall behind in a tight hiring market. Below are some key takeaways for business leaders looking to prioritize reskilling efforts at their organization.

Build data literacy with customizable learning paths

Any digital transformation requires leaders to focus their investments on two modern sources of competitive advantage: data and people. First, boosting data literacy across the organization helps line of business and domain experts (Sales, HR, Marketing, Financial Analysts, etc.) collaborate with AI and machine learning experts, which is critical to move beyond proof of concepts and experimentation.

For AI tools to be deployed at scale, those employees whose jobs involve interactions with AI systems need to understand how those systems work and what the constraints and limitations might be. Reskilling these individuals may include how to interpret the results of the AI/ML models or how to intervene with AI/ML experts when the results seem off.

A recent McKinsey study found that effective reskilling is 20% more cost-effective than a “hiring and firing” approach, and utilizing the right tools and technology can help companies accomplish their reskilling goals.

Importantly, before taking on any AI reskilling efforts, banks and financial services organizations need to first understand what outcome they’re driving towards and what skills are required. An employee self-assessment survey that focuses on necessary skills can help companies determine a customized curriculum and plan based on the existing skills gaps.  

The notion of a one-size-fits-all training program or that employees need to take significant time away from the office to attend courses is no longer relevant. Utilizing digital learning platforms like Skillsoft, Udacity, or Udemy, or integrating content into mainstream work systems can make employees’ reskilling experiences more user-friendly. Platforms like WalkMe can help employees learn complex software systems quickly, and Axonify can deliver 5- to 10-minute microlearning sessions to employees within their daily workflow. For an even more customized approach, companies may opt to build their own programs with the help of industry consultants and professors who are experts in their field. 

Turn to in-house, existing tools and groups for AI reskilling

A Deloitte survey found that 94% of employees would stay at a company if it helped them develop and learn new skills, but only 15% can access learning opportunities directly related to their jobs. AI reskilling offers an immense opportunity for both financial services companies and their employees, but it can be daunting to consider monetary and time investments needed with reskilling efforts. The good news is that businesses can often utilize existing company tools instead of purchasing all new software.

Here are three excellent sources to help accelerate AI/ML training and implementation:

  • Industry consortiums: You might also consider joining industry consortiums that support your team’s progress and encourage employee growth through collaborative groups. For example, FINOS (fintech open source consortium under Linux Foundation) helps facilitate the processing and exchange of financial data throughout the entire banking ecosystem. 
  • Cloud Service Providers (CSP) Training and Certification Programs: Many of the CSPs, such as AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft, offer ML training and certification programs for free or subsidized prices. These self-guided programs vary in topics and tracks from understanding conversational AI to machine learning for business and technical decision-makers and are designed for those looking to learn new skills or to build or switch careers.
  • Technology Enablers’ AI-powered Solution Accelerators: Additionally, many companies like IBM, AWS, PwC and Databricks offer easily deployable tools and solutions accelerators for common data analytics and machine learning use cases that organizations can utilize. Instead of enduring the weeks of development time, technical practitioners like data scientists, solutions architects and developers (from novice to experts) can leverage these accelerators to enable faster time to modernization and help talent upskilling. At Databricks, our financial services solutions accelerators help companies capitalize on the open banking paradigm, providing free code and training that helps with front-to-back-end automation. This includes free SAS to Python training to help technical and non-technical teams combine AI and rules-based fraud algorithms. 

Recognize the cultural benefits of offering AI reskilling opportunities

Investing in employees’ skills and knowledge can build a positive company culture and reduce turnover by boosting employees’ confidence and productivity, and it creates a more well-rounded workforce that increases teams’ effectiveness.

AI reskilling efforts can also help financial services organizations make better progress on their diversity, equity and inclusion methods by making learning more accessible to individuals who have faced barriers to higher education. To address this and the skills gap, banks including Bank of America, BBVA, Capital One, CIBC and JPMorgan Chase have invested in job training and reskilling efforts for their employees.

Bank of America’s career tools and resources have helped more than 21,000 employees find new roles at the company. Consistent training of new technologies and certifications are an investment in shaping the workforce of the future and will help to ensure that employees stay ahead of current trends and industry demands. 

Look to data and employee metrics 

As a leader at an organization focused on data and AI, we always look to the data to show what we should prioritize internally – and this includes what we should focus on in our AI reskilling efforts. When measuring the success of reskilling programs and initiatives, a recent LinkedIn study found that today’s measures assessing the impact of training programs relied primarily on soft metrics, including completion rates, satisfaction scores and employee feedback. 

This is a missed opportunity as company leaders can – and should – consider utilizing harder metrics that measure business value including increases in employee retention, productivity or revenue, to gain the most helpful insights from their reskilling initiatives. If it’s not working well, companies can consider bringing in new technologies or tools, or adjusting their program and overall experience to make it successful in the future, and by doing so, continue to stay ahead in the competitive war for talent.  

Future-proofing starts now

In Jamie Dimon’s latest shareholder letter to JPMorgan investors, he points out: “Our most important asset — far more important than capital — is the quality of our people.” He continues, “technology always drives change, but now the waves of technological innovation come in faster and faster.”

Since companies that reskill their employees are more productive, produce positive economic returns and see increased employee satisfaction, there’s no better time to start than now. 

Junta Nakai, RVP and global industry leader of financial services at Databricks.


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Worker engagement and communication platform Sense raises $16M

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Sense, an AI-powered worker engagement and communication platform backed by Alphabet’s venture capital arm GV, has raised $16 million in a series C round of funding.

The raise comes as the San Francisco-based company reports demand for its platform has “doubled” over the past year, with businesses rethinking their hiring and engagement philosophies to stand out among the competition.

“Traditionally, companies in the highly skilled, knowledge worker sectors used to face challenges in finding the right candidates,” Sense cofounder and CEO Anil Dharni told VentureBeat. “Today, there is a famine of candidates, regardless of the sector. Sectors such as retail, hospitality, and health care are struggling to attract and engage with candidates.”

Working capital

Founded in 2015, Sense helps recruiters and staffing agencies broadcast messages to workers, providing key information on new assignments or requesting feedback. According to Dharni, Sense can reduce the time to hire by 40% to 80%, thus lowering the cost and “improving the quality of candidate experience” for businesses of all sizes.

Through its message studio, HR can send messages and reminders, dispatch surveys, and automate all of this by setting up filters and triggers around key events, such as the day before a worker is scheduled to begin a new job. An integrated chatbot allows employers to engage with workers before, during, and after a gig has finished, providing key information, fielding questions, and even scheduling interviews.

Above: Sense: Chatbot and interview scheduling

A core component of the Sense platform is its analytics, which enables businesses to track worker engagement and satisfaction, with stats around message delivery and open rates, chatbot metrics, link clicks, and more.

Above: Sense: Analytics

The Amazon factor

While Sense was once focused exclusively on contractors, it has extended into the broader full-time workforce by targeting industries such as retail, hospitality, logistics, and warehousing. This means that as well as having worked with big-name staffing agencies such as Adecco and Apex Systems, Sense now claims retail heavyweights like Amazon and Sears among its client base.

“Over time, we have discovered that the problems of finding great people and retaining them exists both [on] the contractor/temp worker front as well as in full-time workers,” Dharni said. “On the general employees side, Sense focuses on companies that have high-volume hiring and have a large number of full-time hourly workers. Similar to temporary workers, talent in these industries has high candidate drop-off rates and worker attrition.”

Sense had previously raised around $23.5 million, including its GV-led series B funding round two years ago. With its latest cash injection, which saw GV return alongside Avataar Venture Partners and Accel, the company is now well-financed to serve its growing array of enterprise customers.

“Enterprises are realizing that there aren’t enough workers for them to attract and are having to rethink the way they hire,” Dharni  said. “Speed to hire, while lowering the cost of acquisition, has become the No. 1 priority for all enterprises.”


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4 better ways to boost worker wellness than Amazon’s ridiculous ZenBooth

Corporate giant Amazon is taking heat over reports of its WorkingWell initiative, a physical and mental health programme intended to improve employee health in the retail giant’s fulfilment centres.

A leaked pamphlet, which Amazon has claimed was created in error and is not being circulated, encourages workers to invest in their own fitness and become “industrial athletes”. One aspect attracting particular attention is a plan for “AmaZen Booths”. Also called Mindful Practice Rooms, these kiosks are intended for employees to take breaks from work, experience periods of calm, and access mental health resources. Amazon deleted a social media post about the booths after being mocked on Twitter.

The details paint an unflattering picture of the company in light of its unprecedented rise in revenues, profits and stock value during the pandemic. Critics of Amazon say the company’s unparalleled financial success is on the backs of its 1.3 million employees who are subject to precarious employment contracts – issues that came to a head after an unsuccessful campaign among some US-based Amazon workers to gain trade union recognition.

Commentators are also saying that these workers experience higher than average rates of workplace injuries and are treated like “galley slaves”. In such conditions, it is argued, a wellbeing initiative is beside the point.

These programmes are gaining in popularity: COVID-19 has raised “wellness” up the agendas of corporations like never before – and not always in a good way. Many companies have introduced exercise classes, fruit and other sticking-plaster solutions rather than measures which assess risk, focus on prevention and prioritise “decent work” as a driver of both wellbeing and productivity.

Having been a judge for the Global Healthy Workplace Awards since 2014, I have run a critical eye over many corporate wellness programmes. Like other big companies, Amazon faces the challenging balance of promoting employee wellbeing without being accused of tokenism.

In trying to improve worker wellness, companies often miss the mark. Here are some things they should keep in mind:

1. Health and productivity can and must coexist

To imply that there should be a binary choice between health and productivity is facile and misleading. One of the more breathtaking things I heard from a senior executive of a large UK organisation during the pandemic was this:

Frankly, I think that job stress is a more effective driver of productivity for us than wellbeing programmes.

Far from being a niche or outdated opinion, this thinking is representative of a significant proportion of business leaders around the world. As it happens, this large organisation is also very keen to tell anyone who will listen that “employee health, safety and wellbeing is their biggest priority” – though when I checked their latest report to shareholders and prospective investors, the words “revenue” and “profits” outnumbered mentions of “safety” by a ratio of 25 to 1.

2. Lifestyle evangelism is no substitute for decent work

The former chief medical officer of UK telecoms giant BT, Dr Paul Litchfield, famously derided what he called the “fruit and pilates” approach to workplace wellbeing. He argued that no amount of healthy snacks in canteens, “step challenges” or company fun runs can compensate for jobs with impossible deadlines or targets, or the stress of reporting to a manager who is a bully.

One of the founding fathers of modern motivation theory, Frederick Herzberg, once said: “if you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do.” Wellness programmes that ignore this simple idea are unlikely to have an enduring impact.

3. Context is everything

The AmaZen Booths are no more than a contemporary take on many successful community and workplace mental health programmes such as the “Men’s Shed” movement, which originated among working men in Australia in the 1990s. It targeted older men, who can often find being open about mental health very difficult, by offering resources and support which encouraged reflection and “help-seeking”.

Similar booths have been used successfully by some UK employers. Electricity supplier E.ON created a “Head Shed” to encourage employees to find out more about mental wellbeing, for instance.

The real test of Amazon’s version is whether it is part of a genuinely coherent programme of initiatives which assess and reduce exposure to risk, and convince employees that the company really is prioritising their wellbeing over the long term. Having a well-branded initiative on wellbeing is never enough by itself, especially if many employees’ everyday experience of work is that it is intense, strenuous and toxic.

4. Employers: beware of ‘fool’s gold’

Employers need to be more critical consumers of wellbeing “miracle cures” offered by commercial providers. I have seen too many employers divert resources from unglamorous but evidence-based interventions (like having access to a good occupational health nurse) towards those meant to “showcase” their commitment to health and wellbeing.

Used by themselves, laughter coaches and head massages are really no more than perks, with little or no direct impact on health or productivity. Even very popular initiatives such as Mental Health First Aid have very little strong evidence of any long-term benefit.

Sadly, in the drive for more productivity, the health and wellbeing of employees can be among the first casualties. Reports of Amazon’s WorkingWell programme have, so far, not been flattering. Its challenge – like many other corporations – is to sweep aside the cynicism and demonstrate that its efforts will have tangible benefits for all of its employees and are not just PR spin.

This article by Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research Development, Institute for Employment Studies, Lancaster University is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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ProGlove promotes worker well-being with human digital twin technology

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ProGlove, the company behind an ergonomic barcode scanner, has developed new tools for analyzing human processes to build a human digital twin.

“We have always been driven to have our devices narrate the story of what is really happening on the shop floor, so we added process analytics capabilities that allow for time-motion studies, visualization of the shop floor, and more,” ProGlove CEO Andreas Koenig told VentureBeat.

The company’s newest process analytics tools can complement the typical top-down perspective of applications by adding a process-as-seen view to the conventional process-as-wanted view. Most importantly, it can also provide insights that improve well-being.

Koenig said, “We are building an ecosystem that empowers the human worker to make their businesses stronger.”

ProGlove CEO Andreas Koenig

Above: ProGlove CEO Andreas Koenig

Image Credit: ProGlove

The market for barcode scanning is still going strong and is often taken for granted, given how old it is. “You have technologies like RFID that have been celebrated for being the next big thing, and yet their impact thus far hasn’t been anywhere near where most pundits expected it,” Koenig said.

Companies like Zebra, Honeywell, and Datalogic have lasted for decades by building out an ecosystem of tools to address industry needs. “What sets us apart is that we looked beyond the obvious and started with the human worker in mind,” Koenig said.

Not only is the company providing a form factor designed to meet requirements for rugged tools, this shift to analytics could further promote efficiency, quality, and ergonomics on the shop floor.

How a human digital twin works

ProGlove’s cofounders participated in Intel’s Make It Wearable Challenge, with the idea of designing a smart glove for industries. Today, ProGlove’s MARK scanner can collect six-axis motion data, including pitch, yaw, roll, and acceleration, along with timestamps, a step count, and camera data (such as barcode reading speed and the scanner ID).

Koenig’s vision goes beyond selling a product to establish the right balance between businesses’ need for profits and their obligation to ensure worker well-being. Koenig estimates that human hands deliver 70% of added value in factories and on warehouse floors. “There is no doubt that they are your most valuable resource that needs protection. Even more so since we are way more likely to experience a shortage of human workers in the warehouses across the world than having them replaced by robots, automation, or AI.”

ProGlove Insight contextualizes the collected data and lets users compare workstations and measure the workload and effort necessary to complete the tasks. Users can also visualize their shop floor, look at heatmaps, and identify best practices or efficiency blockers. After a recent smart factory lab experiment with users, DPD and Asics realized efficiency gains by as much as 20%, Koenig said.

ProGlove’s vision of the human digital twin is built on three pillars: a digital representation of onsite workers, a visualization of the shop floor, and an industrial process engineer. “The human digital twin is all about striking the right balance between businesses’ needs for profitability, efficiency, and worker well-being,” Koenig said. At the same time, it is important that the human digital twin complies with data privacy regulations and provides transparency to frontline workers around what data is being transmitted.


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