This is how AI can unlock hidden talent in the workplace

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • The consumer industries workforce is facing a ‘double disruption’ from automation and the economic impact of COVID-19.
  • The Consumer Industries of the World Economic Forum has collaborated with Unilever, Walmart, Accenture and SkyHive on a pilot study that uses AI to map workers’ skills and match them to emerging job roles.
  • The pilot found people have an inherent bias which makes them underestimate their skill sets.
  • It would only take six months for people to be reskilled for new roles in completely different functions.
  • Companies have a responsibility to upskill workers to keep them employable in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

If you were to write a list of your skills, you would probably come up with around 11. But if artificial intelligence assessed them, that figure would more than treble to 34 – and it could open up new career pathways you had never considered.

This underestimation of our own skill set due to inherent bias was one of the surprising findings from a new pilot study catalysed by the Consumer Industries of the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Unilever, Walmart, Accenture and SkyHive (a start-up that uses AI to map skills and match workers to opportunities). The pilot aimed to close skills gaps by giving a truer picture of just how talented workers are and how they could transition into emerging job roles.

Through initiation of the Forum’s Consumer Industries Future of Work task force, which was launched as early as 2018, Unilever (which has committed to upskilling its global workforce by 2025) and Walmart (whose focus on upskilling began in 2014) joined forces with SkyHive and Accenture on the Future Skills pilot, to close the skills gap and transition workers from low-growth to high-growth jobs.

Why upskilling is crucial for the future of work

One in five workers are employed by consumer industries that produce, sell and distribute goods and services for billions of consumers worldwide.

But the workforce is facing a ‘double disruption’ from automation and the economic impact of COVID-19, which were catalysts for the pilot.

By 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by machines, according to the Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020, but 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.

For workers set to remain in their roles, the share of core skills that will change in the next five years is 40%, and 50% of all employees will need reskilling.

“In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it’s imperative that companies upskill workers. With one in five workers being employed by the Consumer industries, organizations are uniquely positioned to shape a prosperous future for both business and society,” says Zara Ingilizian, Head of Consumer Industries and Future of Consumption Platform at the World Economic Forum.

AI can open up unexpected job opportunities.
AI can open up unexpected job opportunities. Image: WEF/Accenture

AI-driven skills assessment

The Future Skills pilot launched set out to answer three key questions:

1. Is it possible to identify and unlock hidden skills?

2. Are there more innovative ways to prepare people for the future of work?

3. Do viable pathways exist for people to move between organizations?

Unilever and Walmart identified roles in 11 representative cities in the US, Europe and Latin America, which were then broken down by Accenture and SkyHive into a collection of clearly defined skills.

Not only did SkyHive find people vastly underestimate their own skills, but that in some cases, a person would only need to pick up a few additional skills to switch careers entirely. Jobs

What is the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit?

The World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit brings together leaders from business, government, civil society, media and the broader public to shape a new agenda for growth, jobs, skills and equity.

The two-day virtual event, being held on 1-2 June 2021, will address the most critical areas of debate, articulate pathways for action, and mobilize the most influential leaders and organizations to work together to accelerate progress.

The Summit will develop new frameworks, shape innovative solutions and accelerate action on four thematic pillars: Economic Growth, Revival and Transformation; Work, Wages and Job Creation; Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning; and Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice.

A learning pathway from IT Manager to Product Manager.
A learning pathway from IT Manager to Product Manager. Image: WEF/Accenture

“Every individual conversation needs to be had,” says Leena Nair, Chief Human Resources Officer at Unilever.

“That opens the aperture of possibilities for people. They have more chance of seeing something that’s in line with their passions, rather than just, ‘You’re in manufacturing, so here’s this set of roles you can do’. We’ve been working for a number of years on how we transition people into other jobs, but with pilots like this, we’re learning how we can do it even better.”

5 lessons for the future of work

While the pilot answered all three of its questions, there were five key lessons that emerged.

1. Skilling is just smart business

Skilling people for new roles, even externally, is one of the smartest things a business can do, because of the impact organizations have on communities. Patrick Hull, VP of the Future of Work, Unilever says: “No longer will we look at someone in manufacturing as only able to fulfill a manufacturing job. Now we can look at how to match their purpose, passions and skills with roles in a variety of sectors, from healthcare to R&D to clean energy.”

2. The HR function must enable individual talent mobility

Data- and AI-driven insights empower people to make personal choices about their careers based on strengths, interests and other individual criteria. The HR function can support that decision-making process by providing career path options and learning opportunities.

3. AI is essential for eliminating bias

AI opens possibilities that people can’t see due to inherent biases. There is widespread evidence that women and people of colour under-represent their skills. It’s likely that responsible AI will help people shed more biases, create more equitable processes and more job pathways.

4. A culture change is required

A mindset shift among management is needed to foster a culture that recognizes the relationship between growing career opportunities for people and growing business. Amy Goldfinger, SVP, Global Talent at Walmart says: “You have to structure yourself as a company and as an enterprise to think about upskilling as a competitive advantage or as a business imperative, [rather than] doing it later when you have time to get to it.”

5. Cross-industry collaboration is an accelerator

Only so much can be accomplished if companies go it alone, rather than collaborating with other organizations to prepare people in their communities for the future of work. “Only jobs should be made redundant,” says Hull. “Not people.”

The Forum’s Ingilizian and Ghosh hope to scale up the pilot and bring other organizations on board.

“Together over the last years, we have defined our vision as an industry which puts people first and supports a culture of lifelong learning and personal growth to ensure workers remain productive and employable,” says Ingilizian. “We need to do it urgently and at scale.”

“We now have a proof of concept that our approach works,” says Ghosh. “The ambition is to scale the AI-driven pilot within Consumer Industries as well as cross-industry to create an ecosystem for both retention and redeployment in adjacent emerging jobs.”

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Coronavirus: European roadmap shows path towards common lifting of containment measures

MasterCard @ MWC14: Innovation in times of regulatory uncertainty

Ending the era of dirty textiles

Big data is coming to agriculture. Farmers must set its course

A reality check on inclusive innovation

Trump’s Russophiles under investigation, Europe remains ‘en garde’

How a trade war would impact global growth

This Japanese experiment shows how easily coronavirus can spread – and what you can do about it

UNESCO lists wrestling, reggae and raiho-shin rituals as global treasures to be preserved

Eurozone’s sovereign debt not a problem anymore?

Does the EU want GMOs and meat with hormones from the US?

Why your next work meeting should be a ‘walk-and-talk’

Meet Alice, the battery-powered plane that could herald the age of electric air travel

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “You just don’t know if the oil price will be 20$ or 100$ in the next 2-3 years!” top Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff underscores from Davos

Mobile health technology: Advances, Facilitations and Promotion of Autonomy

A Sting Exclusive: “Cybersecurity Act for safer European Industries and Consumers against cyberthreats”, by MEP Niebler

Why collective action is the key to saving our forests

Commission’s Youth Initiative fails first hurdle by not sufficiently consulting young people

With potential to boost profits by up to 20 per cent, a woman’s place is at work, says UN labour agency

Environmental liability rules need revamping

Lack of involvement, or lack of opportunities?

A roadmap for destination management in the digital economy

ECB: Euro area should smooth out the consumption and income shocks of its members

Coronavirus Global Response: the Commission’s contribution to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX)

Why protesters disrupted London Fashion Week

‘Think beyond farm jobs’ to reach sustainable development, UN agriculture chief advises African youth

Top officials say UN will support Bahamas’ rescue, relief efforts as Hurricane Dorian churns in Atlantic

From underestimation to valorization: how mobile technology is transforming global health

All sides in Yemen conflict could be guilty of war crimes, UN experts find

MWC 2016 LIVE: Verizon boasts momentum for IoT platform

“At the Environment Assembly citizens expect clean, not hot air”, the Head of UN Environment in Europe underscores in a Sting Exclusive

Mobile Technology Saving Lives: Changing healthcare systems with simple technological solutions

Stop the waste: UN food agencies call for action to reduce global hunger

Don’t dismiss start-ups founded by millennials. This is how they succeed

Myanmar: Departing UN rights expert still hopeful for democratic transition

Will the end of QE come along with ECB’s inflation target?

Permafrost is thawing so fast it’s gouging holes in the Arctic

Brexit mission impossible: Theresa May was so desperate that had to appoint Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary

European Super League: Why more football is an imperfect solution to sport’s business model problem

Texting is a daily source of stress for 1/3 of people – are you one of them?

ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly: strengthening the partnership

Everybody against Japan over yen’s devaluation

Nicaragua: MEPs demand an end to repression of political opponents

COVID-19 vaccine development is more global than you might think

What little Cameron got in Brussels seems enough to keep Britain in the EU

It ain’t over until Google says it’s over

Azeri natural gas will keep the EU warm soon

From Policy to Reality: Discrepancies in Universal Health Care Systems across the EU

Is there a de facto impossibility for the Brexit to kick-start?

Militias force nearly 2,000 to leave Libyan capital’s largest shelter for internally-displaced: UNHCR

Visa liberalisation: Commission reports on fulfilment of visa-free requirements by Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries

UN chief calls for ‘enlightened self-interest’ from world leaders to save ‘the whole planet’ from climate change

A Europe that Protects: Commission calls for more efforts to ensure adoption of security proposals

World is ‘on notice’ as major UN report shows one million species face extinction

New York City has a plan to fight fast fashion waste. Here’s how it works

Changing world of work needs new jobs strategy

How LA plans to be 1.6°C cooler by 2050

VP McGuinness on women’s rights: “Not an option, but a duty”

Security Union: Commission welcomes political agreement on removing terrorist content online

Discussions kick off among MEPs and national MPs on economic governance

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s