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Wake Up Call: The Skills Crisis is Here

Recently, on a 26-hour flight from the USA to Sydney, I lay wide awake, unable to calm my racing mind, deeply engrossed in thoughts about my recent conversations with industry leaders and customers. In the last 8 days, I collaborated with business and HR leaders from diverse industries, engaging in strategic thinking to solve their challenges.  

  • Updating workforce skills for evolving business needs is essential for maintaining competitiveness.
  • Integrating new technologies effectively in business operations poses a significant challenge.
  • Digitalization in manufacturing brings both opportunities and challenges, especially in workforce adaptation.
  • The diminishing job prospects for university students due to technological advancements necessitate solutions like retraining and a focus on emerging fields.

40,000 feet in the air, I realized: We are not just heading toward a Skills Crisis; we are already in it.

Artificial Intelligence has been described by many as a force more transformative than the advent of electricity or the birth of the internet. It’s having sweeping socioeconomic impacts before people even know of its existence and the technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate. Combined with the existing challenges in our global workforce and skill shortages, this has propelled us into a full-blown crisis. We've sleep-walked our way into a new era of work all while automation has been moving at lightspeed in the background. And our collective response has been characterized more by endless discussions than by tangible changes. 

I found myself wondering about the people on this plane: How many would be affected by this unfolding Skills Crisis, and what would it mean for them and their families? 

My thoughts turned to my daughters, Tierna, age 9, and Indie, age 5. I wondered about the jobs they would do in the future, or if traditional work would even be a part of their lives. With each new generation in the workforce, we have seen an increased appetite for flexibility, non-linear careers and prolific technology adoption. Would they find their sense of purpose and fulfillment from work as much as I do? What would they study to be prepared for this new world of work?

And what were the implications of technology performing better in a role than a human?

Questions were racing through my mind. Drawing from my decades of experience as a workforce strategist, I felt sure of one thing. At this moment, we're facing a crisis for which we are utterly unprepared. In the last four years, HR and talent leaders have been thrust to the forefront of every major issue, becoming pivotal in navigating these uncharted waters. Is this our moment to lead the world through this transformation? 

And I reflected on my role as a CEO in this crisis. A spark went off. 

I see an incredible opportunity, especially in my own business, to fully embrace AI. What I also believe is that my role has become even more vital now, ensuring there's Zero Wasted Potential for every person and that we reskill the world and ensure no one is left behind.

With my unique perspective on global workforce strategy and ethical AI, I have the privilege of engaging with top leaders globally and working alongside companies while they pioneer this workforce transformation. With these insights, I can create a community of knowledge-sharing, experimenting and a safe space to troubleshoot failures and celebrate wins. 

It is the very core of what makes us most human - our connection with one another and the power of collective curiosity and ambition - that will pave our path through the Skills Crisis.

I'm going to dive into this headfirst and share the entire journey with you, warts and all. But first, let’s level set on the facts.

Are we really in a Skills Crisis?

The experts all point to a resounding “yes.”

Goldman Sachs predicts a 7% global GDP increase over the next 10 years from generative AI, but this comes with a significant caveat – the potential automation of 300 million full-time jobs. You read that right. About two-thirds of U.S. occupations are at risk of being augmented by automation, and a quarter of jobs could be replaced entirely by AI. The imperative for adaptability and reskilling is more crucial than ever.

This crisis will impact workers across all sectors, from desk-bound roles to deskless and frontline workers, creating a wave of displacement that we are not yet prepared to handle.

We've spent a decade pushing people toward careers in sectors like technology, legal, and accounting – all now vulnerable to the impacts of AI. We are underestimating the transformative power of generative AI and are not properly preparing our future workforce. A study this year revealed only 4 out of 10 college graduates said their education taught them the skills they needed for their first job. 

What if Goldman Sachs is right? How will 300 million people survive? Is a universal minimum wage a necessary step forward, and if so, who will fund it?

Interestingly, the jobs that may be most protected from automation are those we have historically undervalued, such as nursing and teaching – those that require advanced human skills, like empathy, and interpersonal communication, and foundational education. As we navigate this shift, a supply-demand gap for these skills will require us to reassess how we value these roles financially. 

These are real problems, steamrolling ahead as I type this, and we are not implementing solutions fast enough or widespread enough. And in fact, they are impacting the most vulnerable populations at a disproportionate rate.

The Skills Crisis’ Impact on People, Business and Society?

The Skills Crisis is touching nearly everything we know about modern life. 

For People:

  • Wages: The rise of automation will impact lower-wage jobs. Without safeguards like a universal minimum wage, low-income workers’ standard of living will suffer. 
  • Technical Skills: Not everyone has equitable access to education for the technical skills they need for now and for the future – in school and on the job. 
  • Human Skills: In an era where AI and technology are ubiquitous, we must each embrace and learn soft skills that will help us in an increasingly automated world such as adaptability, creativity, critical thinking, etc. We must also nurture the skills that cannot yet be successfully automated and therefore may be in short supply in the future.
  • Careers of the future: Transparency in career trajectories is more vital than ever. We must guide individuals towards roles that will be in demand, ensuring they have the knowledge and skills to navigate the changing job market successfully.

For Businesses:

  • Workforce planning: Companies must deeply understand the composition of their work, analyzing the various elements and tasks that make up their operations. This knowledge is crucial for effectively diagnosing where and how AI can be adopted and embraced to enhance overall performance and drive innovation.
  • Competitive advantage: Companies that don’t embrace AI are at risk of falling behind, as their AI-integrating competitors could potentially increase production or lower prices, thus gaining a larger share of the market. They must also adjust their pay scales to attract and retain top talent and critical skills. 
  • Workforce DNA: Businesses must be able to integrate a diverse mix of fixed employees, flex workers, and AI-assisted Digital workers, which can help to bridge skill gaps and adapt to the changing needs of the workplace.
  • Reskilling and upskilling employees: The rapid evolution of job requirements demands a proactive approach to employee learning and skill development that are both engaging and relevant to future demands.
  • Corporate social responsibility: With the implementation of AI, companies face the challenge of avoiding biased decision-making, especially in areas like hiring and promotions or managing change across their workforce DNA. It's important for businesses to actively ensure fairness and integrity in these AI-driven processes and ensure the use of Ethical AI. 

For Society:

  • Global cooperation: Like the Climate Crisis, the impact of the Skills Crisis is already bigger than any one entity. To create momentous change, we need collective unity across communities around the world.
  • Education: It’s imperative to foster a collaborative effort among educational institutions, governments, and industries to realign educational goals with emerging career trends.
  • Equality and Poverty: A universal basic income holds promise in ensuring that no one is left behind. However, there are important questions about funding that need to be addressed. This could be our opportunity to eliminate poverty; or, if ignored, could make for the most inequitable class system we’ve seen in our lifetime.

So, what's the plan from here?

This blog isn’t about me handing out all the answers. I’m taking a moment to wrap my head around what is happening in the world. Let's be honest, even the smartest folks out there have overlooked the most necessary skills we needed to be developing for the last decade. So, I'm not going to pretend I have all of the solutions.

But I am here to activate a movement and solve the problem, together. 

My Ask?

Please share this with your network – HR and business leaders, academics, industry experts, students, people who are brand new to the workforce or those retiring after decades of experience – and let’s change the world! 

I’ll be sharing insights from my journey with Reejig and from any of the businesses and organizations out there that are ready to help this community find answers

Here's to a future filled with innovation, equity, and boundless opportunities. Let's join forces to build a world of Zero Wasted Potential – where every individual's talents are valued and harnessed to the fullest. 

Siobhan ❤️


Siobhan Savage is a renowned workforce futurist and AI expert, leading the development of the world's first Ethical Talent AI™. Recognized as a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer and a Forbes Cloud 100 Rising Star, she co-founded Reejig, a global workforce intelligence platform. Her work focuses on revolutionizing workforce transformation, unlocking business potential, and creating meaningful careers at scale.


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