As we hurtle toward the 2020s, there are few greater challenges than the automation of work. Roughly half the jobs out there are being significantly disrupted by technology.
The challenge is deepest amongst front-line employees – think of retail servers or call-centre operators – and the majority of those workers are women. According to a global survey by Ipsos, 54% of front-line employees are going to need some form of significant reskilling by 2022.
Despite the challenges, there is also an opportunity. With the right kind of training and reskilling, millions of Canadians could move to new and better jobs as machines take on more mundane and repetitive tasks.
At our most recent RBC Disruptors, we sat down with Carol Leaman, CEO of Waterloo-based Axonify, a micro-learning company on a mission to revolutionize the way companies retrain their front-line workers, to talk about how the disruption of learning can turn the age of automation into a positive force, and how women are set up to thrive in an automated future:
By Drawing on Skills They Already Possess
In conversations about the future of work, two words are heard often: perseverance and resilience. These are qualities that Leaman learned on the job as a 26-year-old accountant, working for a difficult boss, who one day looked at her and said, “We need $40 million, go find it.” She was terrified but stepped up and did it. “He taught me that you can do anything, you just need to decide that you can do anything.”
While Leaman recognizes that women tend to be in positions that are more susceptible to automation, women have these and other attributes that position them well to move into jobs that are growing in demand. RBC research found that 54% of the jobs at greatest risk of automation are held by women, but that women are better equipped with the generalist, digital and social skills that will be in high demand for the jobs of tomorrow.
“Women tend to have the foundational skills that we need to move into new jobs and new sectors. We are under greater threat, but in a better position for future mobility,” says Leaman.
Case in point, women are creating businesses at an unprecedented pace. “Women are extremely resourceful. I think as the workplace shifts, you’re going to see organizations take more action to support women in different career streams.”
By Learning New Skills – and Learning Them in New Ways
The impact of automation will be greatest among front-line workers – such as servers, retailers and customer service representatives – the majority of whom are women. To survive the displacement that will come about as automation gains a foothold in the services sector, significant reskilling will be required.
Leaman thinks micro-learning is the future of workplace reskilling. Platforms like Axonify’s offer bite-sized learning moments to individuals in those front-line jobs that enables them to learn and acquire new skills, while still performing at their jobs.
Axonify has taken that to the next level by working with a neuroscientist to develop an adaptive algorithm based on brain science. “Because of the amount of data we now collect, which is about 50 million data points a month across the globe, we can apply machine learning to that data, and extract provable correlations,” she says, such as how certain training leads to growth and revenue outcomes.
By Changing up the Look of Leadership
So how do you ensure your workforce is equipped for change? Encouraging female leadership is a good place to start. Female leaders, who are living, breathing and understanding the skills needed to succeed in the workplace of the future, are well equipped to navigate the evolution.
Yet, in new research from Plan International, only 10% of Canadian youth aged 14 to 24 picture a woman when they think of a CEO.
“I think the reason is that there are not enough successful role models, who reach the upper echelons of the corporate world, who have profile,” says Leaman.
More women in leadership roles will attract other women, acting as role models for the younger generation entering the workforce.
As a veteran leader, disruptor and innovator in the tech world, Carol Leaman gets it. Selected as one of the Best Workplaces for Women in Canada, Axonify has a strongly female leadership and women make up 45% of its employees, including product leaders, sales professionals and software developers – male-dominated cohorts in most tech firms.
“I think women are attracted to working with large numbers of other women because they see the possibilities.”
For more research on how women are ready for work in an automated future, download our report.
To learn more about the future of work, and the ways micro learning and inclusion play a role, listen to our latest podcast episode, recorded live at RBC Disruptors.
John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada’s leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the Office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization’s research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and sits on the boards of Queen’s University, the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and the Literary Review of Canada. His latest book, "Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future", explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don’t live here but exert their influence from afar.
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