AI will teach you people skills now

Talespin, a VR/AR/AI company is bringing soft skills training to organizations using VR and AI. Call it a Choose Your Own Virtual Reality Management Adventure, these training tools help managers and leadership develop the soft skills they need to perform in complex organizations.

Employers are in a desperate search for employees with soft skills. As we retreat more into our digital spaces we are collectively losing the ability to have conversations with one another. The result is that our relationships, collaboration, and creativity suffer in the workplace. Soft skills are all about people: how to work with, talk to, learn from, give feedback to, negotiate with, listen to, create with, people.

Enter more tech to solve the problem.

My first reaction was this: shouldn’t people learn people skills through interaction with… people? Why are we outsourcing people skills to the virtual machines? How do fake humans teach humans how to be more human?

Also this tech is an indirect threat to my own work. I teach people and organizations how to build soft skills. From relationship building to negotiation to how to have curious conversations, I help people build their soft skills. So yeah, maybe I felt a bit threatened when I first saw it.

Then I stepped back. And I looked closer. And I saw the truly wild stuff going on with this tech. From the article:

“The great thing about VR is you can do something that’s rare in nature, and give people extra repetitions,” Bailenson says. “The cool part of using computer graphics for this, virtual humans, is you can go through as the manager and have this difficult conversation—then you can relive the experience from the point of view of the employee, get to hear your voice coming out of an avatar you’ve chosen to look like you. Now that you’ve got this newly emotionally understood information from being on the receiving end of this bad news, you get to repeat it and do it again.” – Boss Acting Nicer Recently? You May Have VR to Thank

Honestly, I can think of at least five managers who could have used training like this. A lot of HR Tech companies are developing AI that will make your manager worse. Talespin is using AI and VR to make them better.

People still need to practice building soft skills outside of a VR experience, so my work isn’t going away any time soon. But it’s wild to see this type of training applied using new technology. In the future I’d love to see resesarch on how the emotional impact from virtual reality scenarios creates changes in managers for the better.

Now I’m curious about this field. I’m curious who writes the scripts, how they work with designers, how the characters are modeled. After all, it’s real human who build the fake humans who teach humans how to be more human.

I’m also curious what type of employees they hire. What skills and backgrounds make up their teams? What type of employees succeed at their company? (Update: it looks like men. More than 90% of their 40+ employees on LinkedIn are men… that’s a problem, especially when it comes to scenarios navigating inclusion in the workplace)

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I’m also stoked for all the potential types of jobs this creates. As a creative who runs in HR circles (and worked in HR), I find the industry borderline stifling for creative types. Seeing a creative HR product that aims to improve the lives of employees is a treat.

Could machine learning replace career coaches?

Buried at the bottom of an an HBR post titled 8 Ways Machine Learning is Improving Company Processes, is a little nugget about the ways machine learning might soon affect career planning. Machine learning could help employees in navigate their career development by providing:

Recommendations (that) could help employees choose career paths that lead to high performance, satisfaction, and retention. If a person with an engineering degree wishes to run the division someday, what additional education and work experience should they obtain, and in what order?

Could this be a career coach in the future of work? It’s a fascinating idea and I’d love to see it in practice. We’ve already seen machine learning technology take over some parts of a career advisors job. There’s even a chatbot in development that’s trying to be a career coach (let’s hope they’re better than LinkedIn’s mediocre job recommendation algorithm.) IBM uses AI to guide job seekers through their search.

A good career coach will listen to you, help you work out ideas, guide you through an ambiguous process, support you emotionally, and reflect your own words back to you. Machine learning technology can’t do this yet, in answer to my clickbait title.

But there aren’t enough good career coaches to go around. And few people can even afford a good career coach. Moreover, not every organization offers career coaching that helps employees navigate their next steps. Tools that help people navigate a world full of increasingly ambiguous career paths are mighty helpful.

Like many jobs, career coaches won’t be fully replaced by robots or artificial intelligence anytime soon. There will always be people who prefer working with people over machines. But the role of career coaches will change as new tools and technology emerge. Career coaches need to be aware of these changes. The workplace and available roles are shifting rapidly. Career coaches need to be able to coach their clients through these changes. They need to rethink outdated career advice, especially given that our job search is becoming less human. University career departments in particular need to upskill.

Today’s post is brought to you by my half way mark to 50K words for #NaNoWritMo. I’m deep into a chapter on the future of work for my book and still finding a ton of good content to write about. The challenge of course is to write about it and not just read about it. Reading is not writing, I have to remind myself a bajillion times a day.

If you’re into this type of stuff, subscribe and I’ll send you things about careers, future of work, and probably a bunch of gifs.

Where’s the discussion about employee privacy in the future of work?

In the age of big data, a measure-everything mindset is emerging. Julia Ticona, a sociologist and researcher with the Data and Society think tank in New York, says that the same types of apps that track and keep tabs on restaurant workers or delivery people 24/7 are now migrating to white-collar jobs.

But while service and manufacturing industry workers are more used to overt productivity measurements, such systems are often sold to office workers as opportunities to maximize their own productivity, she explains. “For lower wage folks, it’s about scheduling and hours,” says Ticona. “For the white collar folks, it’s about being the ‘best you.’” The inevitable future of Slack is your boss using it to spy on you

There’s so much in this article about all the ways your employer uses new technology and invasive data collection techniques to spy on you at work.  There’s even an example of a company that tracks their employees outside of work hours. Your workplace is creeping ever closer to the Circle.

So much of the future of work is focused on robots taking our jobs. But that discussion overlooks much of what’s happening outside of robots, mainly the erosion of employee privacy. The idea that companies should have the rights to all data an employee produces in the course of their workday is absurd. Employee surveillance shouldn’t be normalized. Moreover, we need more discussion about the people making decisions about what constitutes worker productivity. Who are they and how are they qualified to make these decisions? You can bet the executives and upper management aren’t being tracked like this.

I disagree that this is all inevitable. We have the power to say no to it. We have the power to teach emerging leaders how to not to use this technology or point out the potential for abuse. Employee privacy shouldn’t be a trade off for a paycheck. Employees have the power to ask questions: How are you using my personal data? What data are you monitoring? What assumptions are you making about my work when you build productivity measuring algorithms?” 

Future employees have the power to ask the right questions during their job interviews. Let’s start teaching people the right questions to ask in an interview for a white collar role. How do you measure success in this role? How do you track worker productivity? How much data do you collect on your employees and what do you use it for?

We’re in the middle of a massive transition to a quantified workplace where leadership wants to measure everything in the pursuit of pure productivity. The people who are impacted most under this system must participate in shaping this transformation and pushing back.

employee privacy

The algorithm will manage you now

“Workers increasingly see assignments and wages doled out by artificial systems rather than human managers, and have to rely on AI, not HR, when things go wrong. According to tech experts, the rise of algorithms is changing not only how we earn a living, but who gets access to jobs and other opportunities — if their data checks out — or not.” – Forbes, Algorithms And ‘Uberland’ Are Driving Us Into Technocratic Serfdom

I rarely link to Forbes pieces because their ad game is excessive (even with my ad blocker) but the quote above captures the workplace transformation quite succinctly. From spying on workers, to replacing managers with AI, to using questionable data and AI insights to determine who gets hired, the world of work is changing in ways that need examining fast.

The Forbes article was referencing the book UBERLAND: How Algorithms Are Rewriting The Rules Of Work, which has just rocketed to the top of my reading list. Until then, I’m definitely looking out for the author on the podcast circuit.

 

Employee data collection and monitoring: Creepy or nah?

How much employee data collection is too much? Because it seems our employers – or at least the big corporate ones – want every single piece of your personal data. Is there any option for pushing back on your employer’s personal data grab?

From Axios:

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual review of employer-based insurance shows that 21% of large employers collect health information from employees’ mobile apps or wearable devices, as part of their wellness programs — up from 14% last year.

Talking to a human is going to be a luxury in the future

Alexa might be checking you into your next hotel room:

David Autor, an economist at M.I.T., says it is plausible to foresee a future in which — as airlines have done — hotels deploy humans to tend to elite guests and automated systems for everybody else. Workers generate costs well beyond their hourly wage, Professor Autor argued. They get sick and take vacations and require managers. “People are messy,” he noted. “Machines are straightforward.”

 

These are the jobs of the future and they’re already here

What are the jobs of the future and when will they get here? The answer is now.  Mya Systems makes a chatbot that conducts interviews. They work at the cutting edge of Natural Language Processing and are making waves in HR Tech spaces. (full disclosure: I contract with them to design chatbots). They’re also hiring for cutting edge jobs like this one: Language Annotator. It’s a contract role for a current student, ideally someone in the liberal arts!  They’re looking for a student with literature or philosophy background with strong communication skills and an understanding of machine learning. Bonus if they’ve got foreign language skills. This post touches my machine-learning-obsessed-and-liberal-arts-loving soul.

The job:

The jobs of the future are hybrid jobs. Hybrid jobs combine soft skills with digital skills. You’ll find hybrid jobs through out the job listings; popular hybrid jobs right now are product managers and data translators.

These are the jobs we need to train students and alumni for in order to prepare them for an automated workforce. The future of work is already here.

jobs of the future

Your employer is probably spying on you

FAQ from Teramind, a software that records, logs, and monitors employees.

Corporate America enjoys spying on its workers. According to Wired, “94 percent of organizations currently monitor workers in some way.” Even worse, you likely can’t escape it. From The Creative Ways Your Boss is Spying on You:

Try to hide from this all-seeing eye of corporate America—and you might make matters worse. Even the cleverest spoofing hacks can backfire. “The more workers try to be invisible, the more managers have a hard time figuring out what’s happening, and that justifies more surveillance,” says Michel Anteby, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Boston University. He calls it the “cycle of coercive surveillance.” Translation: lose/lose.

Last year I wrote a post called, AI is going to make your asshole manager even worse. Nothing I’ve read since then has convinced me otherwise.

Is it appropriate now to inquire during the interview stage ask what technology the company uses to spy on workers? If not now, when will it be appropriate?

Also, who monitors the executives? Who monitors the monitors?

Employees who are already living the future of work

Curious about how AI technology might change your job? The NYT offers a glimpse at how algorithms are changing traditional roles. In retail, fashion buyers who are normally tasked with making purchasing decisions, are increasingly using algorithms to do the task. These algorithms make fashion decisions and predict the next big trend, a task normally associated creative geniuses. With so much consumer data, predicting trends and stock levels is left to the machines, no intuition needed.

“Retailers adept at using algorithms and big data tend to employ fewer buyers and assign each a wider range of categories, partly because they rely less on intuition.

At Le Tote, an online rental and retail service for women’s clothing that does hundreds of millions of dollars in business each year, a six-person team handles buying for all branded apparel — dresses, tops, pants, jackets.”

The result is two-fold: the industry is using fewer buyers in the decision-making process and retailers are increasingly hiring people who can “stand between machines and customers.” The article notes that there are plenty of areas where automation can’t do the job. Negotiating with suppliers, assessing fabric transparency, and styling all need a human touch.

Instead of replacing all the humans, algorithms are changing how we work.  As a result, future roles (and managers) will demand employees who understand understand how to use algorithms to make decisions that improve the final product, while also understanding the limitations of the technology.

In the future of work (which is already here and we need a better phrase), we’re going to need a lot more of these employees.

The potential strike in Vegas is about robots taking hospitality jobs

From Gizmodo:

“I voted yes to go on strike to ensure my job isn’t outsourced to a robot,” said Chad Neanover, a prep cook at the Margaritaville, said.“We know technology is coming, but workers shouldn’t be pushed out or left behind. Casino companies should ensure that technology is harnessed to improve the quality and safety in the workplace, not as a way to completely eliminate our jobs.”

The article also cites a survey from Cognizant that reported “three-fourths of hotel operators said AI-based systems would become mainstream by 2025.”