Workforces Struggle to ‘Keep Up’ in New Economy
Technology and InnovationTransformation InnovationTechnology, Data, and Digital
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March 02, 2020
Technology and InnovationTransformation InnovationTechnology, Data, and Digital
The Agenda article, “Workforces Struggle to ‘Keep Up’ in New Economy,” quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Tuck Rickards on the growing skills gap and its implications. The article is excerpted below. 


The world’s third-largest company, Royal Dutch Shell, has kicked off a program to make employees savvy about artificial intelligence. It’s part of the plan for the oil giant to become the world’s largest electric power company by the early 2030s. 


Officers at Shell, which has installations all over the globe, say they’re inviting workers to learn AI skills that will foster higher corporate revenues and more efficient operations. Among tangible benefits, according to Dan Jeavons, Shell’s general manager of data science, is that AI-trained employees could better predict when equipment is about to fail, identify where refineries could emit carbon or map out underground rock formations more quickly.


Two thousand chemists, geophysicists and petroleum engineers at Shell have already said they want to sign up for the online classes, which cost Shell about $400 per person, according to The Wall Street Journal. Individuals would learn at their own pace. The new AI training program is an expanded version of a pilot program that was tried out at Shell’s facility last year in Mountain View, Calif. It’s now being offered to the company’s global workforce of 82,000. 


The program at Shell is noteworthy. Because disruptive technologies and competitors are attacking businesses at such unprecedented speed, academics and governance experts say that most corporate leaders have not figured out the new skills that the bulk of their employees need to adapt. The result: Workers are not being retrained adequately for their companies to win in today’s marketplace. 

Tuck Rickards, senior member of the CEO and board practice at search firm Russell Reynolds and co-leader of its technology officers’ practice, says that continuous education within companies has been a big topic for the last 10 years. What’s new is the magnitude and pace at which the skills gap is growing. 


Rickards says that companies may invest heavily in new capabilities such as Big Data or to transform their businesses. “But the reality is still that to the middle of the company — the big 60% to 80% of the employees — this is all new language and new terms, and they’re not sure how to deal with this.” As a result, he’s seeing a range of new companies specifically being created to provide corporate training for new skill sets, especially modern technologies. 


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