A.I. is a must for skills-based organizations that want to move at the speed of future business



I recently had the opportunity to meet one of our employees who joined us through Opportunity Onramps, our program focused on untapped talent: Pegwende Zabsore, who completed an associate’s degree in computer science while driving for a ride-sharing company. I’m happy to say that Pegwende is now a valuable contributor to Workday as an associate software application engineer. 

I bring up this example because it’s emblematic of the skills imperative: A worker making an impact and growing a career, while we, as a company, made an investment in this person to give them the opportunity and the resources to expand their abilities. 

The pace of change is only speeding up, and the only way for a company to be flexible enough to meet the future on its own terms is to take a skills-based, versus jobs-based, mindset. 

Jobs are changing, even if people aren’t changing jobs. That’s why I firmly believe that skills are now vital for a company’s success, and are in many ways the new currency of work. Skills are the fuel for career growth, enable a better employee experience, and drive competitive advantage for business—all while giving employees and organizations a new way to understand work and what it takes to succeed. 

What’s more, a skills-first approach helps to close the opportunity gap for talented individuals that may not fit the traditional candidate profile on paper, but possess the skills to excel in the role.

But it’s impossible for a company to wrap their arms around the skills their workforce has—and the skills the business will soon need—manually. To embrace skills at scale requires the help of machine learning (M.L.) and artificial intelligence (A.I.). That’s because if you’re a company and you’re trying to look at all of your employees to determine your current and future skills needs, with spreadsheets, or any other static, labor-intensive tool, that’s an impossible task. 

Technologies like A.I. and M.L. do a few things. On the one hand, they can help you better understand the individuals in your organization by what classes they’ve taken, what experiences they’ve had, what managers they’ve worked for in the past. On the other hand, these technologies can help a company understand what skills they will need more of in the near future to get the business objectives they seek.

If businesses can leverage the technology needed to understand skills, they can then make quick business changes by deploying the right skills to the right projects, and tap into (or create) new talent pools like contingent workers or caregivers returning to the workforce after a pause. This is good for creating a more agile business, and helps create a more diverse workforce.

Making the business case

Many of the company leaders I talk to are acutely aware that they’re facing a skills gap, and we know from experience that a skills-first approach helps both workers and organizations thrive. That’s why we build our tools on an A.I./M.L. foundation—to help companies mine for skills, swiftly and at scale, giving our customers the ability to meet the shifting needs of the business. 

At Workday, we encourage our employees to get involved in gigs, which are short-term opportunities that enable them to learn new skills, make new connections, and gain broader experience to help them on their career journeys. Using Career Hub, employees are notified to update their existing skills and skill interests, demonstrating how they are looking to grow, and where they can take on new projects. 

For instance, an engineer that is looking to learn a new coding language could search for gigs to build something new in one of Workday’s products. Because Career Hub leverages M.L., it is able to deliver personalized recommendations for software development gigs. Now, this employee can embark on the growth opportunities that align with their career goals and aspirations, and the product manager who created the gig can receive a new feature in production without stalling her roadmap. It’s good for everyone.

Innovating with skills

One of the early technical issues we confronted in our skills journey is that there was no universal language for talking about skills, and your “public speaking” need might be my “spokesperson” experience. Add to that the difficulty of matching huge amounts of people with an even higher number of roles, and it’s clear that understanding—let alone matching—people’s skills to business needs just isn’t possible without tools that can help us make sense of vast amounts of information. 

To help tackle this problem we built Skills Cloud, which is a universal skills ontology that uses A.I./M.L. to cleanse, understand, and relate job skills data to help organizations understand the skills that exist in their workforce, see where skills gaps exist, and relate skills as needed. Put another way, it understands how skills data worded in different ways relate to one another, bridging the gap between “public speaking” and “spokesperson.” 

That’s important to me, because unlocking this data helps organizations gain deeper insight into existing and needed skills within their workforce, which translates into more informed talent strategies that create more opportunity for skills-based hiring practices. 

Workday is the lingua franca of skills for the global workforce. We started investing in skills technology ten years ago, and skills are the data thread that ties the entire Workday platform together. 

Of course, because we are committed to building trustworthy, useful A.I. for our customers and their employees, we follow a set of principles that align with our values. Our imperatives, at a high level, are to: 

  • Amplify human potential 
  • Positively impact society
  • Champion transparency and fairness
  • Deliver on our commitment to data privacy and protection

By creating a skills-based future powered by A.I./M.L. technology, we are positive that people, and their talents, will grow and thrive—to the benefit of families, communities, business, and the world at large.

Pete Schlampp is chief marketing officer and executive vice president of corporate growth at Workday. Workday is a Fortune Live Media partner.

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