The purpose of automation is to reduce the amount of human effort needed to do a task. But we need more human effort than ever to build and maintain those automated systems.
That’s the paradox of technology, and now that parts of the world are emerging on the other side of the Covid crisis (hopefully), the job market is heating up again, and companies are hungry for human talent who can alleviate their need to hire human talent. Amazon — which turned many labor markets on their heads by accelerating e-commerce and on-site automation — recognizes this shift, providing free cloud computing training to 29 million people around the world by 2025, in addition to committing more than $700 million to upskill 100,000 of its own employees in that time.
Cognizant released its quarterly Jobs of the Future Index, predicting a “strong recovery” for the US jobs market this coming year, especially those involving technology. The technology market, which saw lower rates of hiring six to eight months ago, but is primed for strong recovery as organizations accelerate their adoption of cloud strategies and AI solutions, the survey shows. Of all the jobs tracked in the Cognizant report, AI, algorithm and automation jobs saw a 28% gain over the last quarter, with “robotics engineer” and “video game designer” being two of the fastest-growing jobs – with 73% and 54% growth in jobs postings for these positions in the last three months. Algorithms, automation, and AI, the largest family in the index, realized a 28% gain over the quarter.
Ardine Williams, VP of workforce development at Amazon, believes the past year was one of revitalization and reinvention for many people as they reconsider their career options. “The scale of the disruption was staggering and so was the pace of adaptation,” she says. “Many used this disruption as an opportunity to revitalize or to reinvent their skills. Last year we saw unprecedented participation in cloud skills training during the lockdown. This interest came from learners on both ends of the spectrum – from those who were completely new to the cloud and looking to understand the fundamentals, to seasoned professionals who were looking to take advanced courses in areas like machine learning.”
This interest was reflected in AWS’s array of cloud courses. The number of learners taking the vendor’s free, fundamental cloud courses — AWS Training and Certification — in May 2020 versus May 2019 jumped 152%, Williams shares. “We’re seeing the cloud support accelerated growth across industries, and this has been especially true during the pandemic,” Williams says. “When we look back, we’ll see that the pandemic accelerated cloud adoption.”
The impending shortage of STEM skills poses the greatest risk to post-Covid growth, Williams says. “There is a shortage of talent with the necessary cloud skills that is leaving many technical roles unfilled and hampering businesses’ digital transformation objectives.” There is no way around this — it’s incumbent for enterprises to invest in training their own talent to tackle this skills shortage, she adds. Amazon’s own investment in close to $1 billion illustrates its efforts to address potential skill shortages.
Along with sharpening technology skills, the drive to re-invent extends to business innovation. “What we’ve seen over the past year is a wellspring of creativity and reinvention, driven by necessity,” says Williams. “The greatest barrier to reinvention is often how difficult it can be to take apart something you’ve worked hard to build. The pandemic forced the issue for many. A key feature of businesses that survived and flourished was innovation.”
Williams sees “tremendous opportunity to integrate that innovation into the culture of organizations. Looking forward, leaders need to be intentional about creating and nurturing an environment that places employee skills, learning, and experimentation at the forefront.”
She adds that “it’s hard to think of an industry that is not evolving, and the pace of innovation seems to be accelerating. The area that has been very interesting to watch and experience is the restaurant industry. Integrated technology solutions helped businesses get their restaurants online, connect with delivery services, and run outdoor operations with minimal staff via QR code menus, contactless payments, and the scale of the cloud.”
As the world re-opens, “these changes are helping restaurants cope with limited labor availability and with their bottom line,” says Williams. “I suspect that like the profound changes we saw in oil-field staffing models after the Great Recession, many of these shifts in restaurant business models are here to stay. That means that a lot of workers from the food service industry will need to upskill.”