Generative AI: The teacher that can help close the skills gap?

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The global talent gap is long-lamented and continues to grow — in the U.S. alone, there are currently 9.6 million job openings compared to 6.5 million unemployed. 

This has many calling for upskilling and re-skilling of existing workforces. However, while many business leaders recognize that need, they are hampered by a lack of time, resources and funds to develop materials on which to train their workers. 

This is another area that — like so many others — where generative AI offers transformative promise, according to Cypher Learning. The learning management system provider released a study this week exploring leaders’ challenges with upskilling, their exploration of gen AI in building training materials and the promise the technology holds in repairing the schism between the number of workers and available jobs. 

“Generative AI is already transforming employee training,” CYPHER Learning founder and CEO Graham Glass told VentureBeat. “In 2024, the focus will be on reimagining education with AI at its core.”

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Talent retention, staff-well being, upskilling top concerns

Cypher’s survey, “Generative AI in 2024: A potential lifeline amid workplace turbulence,” identified talent retention, staff well-being and upskilling as top concerns for HR and enterprise leaders in 2024. 

At the same time, more than half (65%) of respondents said that, while upskilling employees is essential to filling skills gaps, they don’t have the resources to develop relevant training or course materials. Additionally, 69% lack the necessary skills to maximize the technology’s potential in their roles. 

As a result, only half of workers have access to adequate training opportunities today.

Many leaders reported that learning and development (L&D) departments within their organizations could help upskill and cross-skill. “However, larger L&D departments bring greater costs,” the study states. 

Organizations continue to struggle to strike a balance between allocating funds for revenue-generating initiatives and developing a more skilled workforce. 

“Skills gaps make a company less able to innovate and compete,” said Glass. “So, it’s imperative that HR leaders focus on retaining their talent and provide comprehensive training to elevate employees, keep them engaged and increase job satisfaction.”

A ‘new era of turbulence’

These findings come as the World Economic Forum predicts 2024 marking the beginning of a “new era of turbulence” with a shifting job market and a growing need for a more resilient workforce. 

Such disruption is due to several factors: economic and geopolitical shifts, changes in the supply chain and mountain social and environmental pressures (among others). 

The organization further asserts that nearly 25% of jobs will change over the next five years and that nearly half of workers’ skills will be disrupted. 

Shockingly, Gartner forecasts employee turnover to be 50 to 75% higher than what companies have experienced in recent history. 

“With all those unfilled jobs, well-qualified employees often see more options to move to a greener pasture,” said Glass. “If they are feeling undervalued at their organizations, they might well jump ship.”

This not only leads to costs in recruiting new talent, but it disrupts productivity, culture and morale. 

“It’s well established that it costs more to hire new employees than to develop existing employees,” said Glass. “The study indicates that compelling learning and development programs and imparting new skills can greatly improve employees’ overall job satisfaction.”

He pointed to an earlier Cypher survey in which more than three-quarters (76%) of respondents said they were more likely to stay with an employer that prioritizes training. Another 71% agreed that “a company that doesn’t invest in training doesn’t care about its employees.” 

“Smart employers will offer better training and career growth opportunities,” said Glass. Simply put: “Employees want to stick with companies that are invested in their career growth.”

Growing generative AI adoption, but barriers remain

Gen AI can facilitate this by producing diverse learning materials incorporating text, images, videos and interactive modules and build courses “in a fraction of the time,” according to the Cypher study. AI can also pull from a wider range of sources and tailor content to learners’ specific needs. 

Still, “despite its promise, gen AI faces some formidable barriers to widespread adoption,” the report reads.

Notably, nearly half (44%) of those surveyed expressed concerns about data security and the accuracy of AI-generated outputs. Also, more than half worry about AI potentially taking their jobs, while 57% express uncertainty about how AI could benefit their roles. 

The majority (77%) said they would use AI more if they could verify the authenticity of the information given, and 87% said that if gen AI were available in a more usable way they would be more inclined to adopt it. 

But all this is not to say that enterprises are eschewing gen AI altogether: In fact, more than three-fourths (86%) of HR and business leader respondents said that either they or their team members are using the technology in their workflows. 

How? To gamify training courses; create more engaging and fun professional development; build assessments and evaluate learner progress; and to save time on course creation.

The rise of proactive, well-controlled AI

Going forward, as more enterprises adopt gen AI in building training materials, Glass emphasized that it’s not about merely repackaging traditional learning methods, “it’s about leveraging AI in measured, strategic ways to transform the educational experience.”

With time, virtual learning assistants or mentors will — with human overseers — autonomously support personalized development, he forecasted. Imagine, for instance, personalized learning journeys powered by AI agents that bring relevant topics to the user’s attention based on their interests.

“You might return from a coffee break to find the AI agent has presented intriguing new topics to explore,” he posited. 

Ultimately, he predicted: “2024 will witness the rise of proactive, but well-controlled, AI that suggests things to users rather than wait for user inputs.”

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