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June 22, 2018

Digital Transformation Artificial Intelligence and the Workforce

By Maria Roat, CIO of the Small Business Administration and Chair of the CIO Council's Innovation Committee


In the late 1800’s, nearly 50% of the American workforce was employed through agriculture. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that figure dropped to less than 2% by 2008 [1]. This major restructuring of the economy happened over a period of decades, leading to the emergence of new occupations, fundamental shifts in how the workforce was deployed and inherent changes to the social fabric of the country.

With the rise of the digital economy over the last couple of decades, we are facing a similar revolution in our workforce. According to annual census data, approximately 18% of American households used the internet in 1997. This figure quadrupled in less than two decades rising to 73% by 2015. With the rapid speed of technological advancement, we are in the midst of another massive economic shift [2].

The adoption and integration of artificial intelligence is happening even faster. As artificial intelligence becomes ubiquitous within the next ten years, many jobs will be transformed. Simultaneously, this major technological shift will create demand for new jobs and skill sets that are yet to be defined. Skills and qualifications needed to perform these jobs will be fundamentally different than what we see in the workforce today, and new educational curriculum for grades K-12 as well as higher education is lagging. The skills gap will create economic, social, and security challenges cross-cutting all segments of the population and industry sectors – including the Federal Government.

The CIO Council hosted an Emerging Technologies Roundtable on June 11 to discuss preparing the workforce for a future with artificial intelligence. The event was attended by tech leaders from industry and government who came together to discuss practical applications of artificial intelligence and workforce automation in the Federal Government.

Areas in which humans have a leading edge are creativity and empathy. Participants of the roundtable noted that while the exact shapes and titles of new job positions are evolving, demand is increasing for expertise in areas including ethnography, sociology, and systems thinking design. Not only will the skillsets required significantly shift, but also the way in which professionals acquire them. Several thought leaders suggest lifelong learning will become more important for professionals to stay relevant. Learning formats will shift to competency-based models, and community colleges will likely play an increasingly important role in professional development and continuing education.

The impending explosion of artificial intelligence and automation will affect people and organizations alike. One expert highlighted that 52% of Fortune 500 companies have disappeared since the year 2000 and every two weeks, a company falls off of the S&P 500, never to come back again. Regardless of how big or established a company is, no one is immune to disruption. Culture is key to survival. Organizations that reward a willingness to learn new skills and understand that failure is a part of experimentation will fare better.

When considering how Federal Government agencies can proactively prepare public servants for the future landscape, participants in the Emerging Technologies Roundtable agreed that partnering with industry and hosting bootcamps for federal employees to prepare them for the future is the best starting point. Framing jobs in the Federal Government as short-term “tours of duty” similar to the model implement by US Digital Services, Presidential Innovation Fellows, and 18F is also necessary to attract top notch talent with forward thinking, fresh ideas to the public sector.

Providing services to the American people might even be something that private tech companies consider including as desired experience on candidate resumes. Similarly, the CIO Council is supporting the 21st Century Workforce Cross-Agency Priority Goal, which focuses on the need to recruit, retain, and develop a modern, digital workforce who can maximize the benefits of these technological advancements.

  1. Bureau of Labor
  2. Census

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