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IBM’s response to the European Commission report “AI. The Future of Work? Work of the Future!”

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We are in the midst of a digital revolution that is having an unprecedented impact on our economy and society. Ensuring that our digitized society is inclusive and does not leave people behind is a priority for IBM. For example, later this month at President Emmanuel Macron’s Tech for Good summit in Paris, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty will present recommendations and actions from CEO discussions she has led over the past year on education, skills and technology.

In a bid to address this issue, the European Commission has just issued a report on the impact of digitalization and AI on labor markets in Europe. Written by Mr. Michel Servoz, Senior Policy Advisor to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the report provides a comprehensive analysis of the changes, current and future, in the labor market and gives 20 recommendations for a successful digital transition. It reflects a thorough understanding of a labor market in flux and combines ambition with pragmatism. It aligns with IBM’s Principles for Trust and Transparency – in which we commit to Artificial Intelligence that will bring benefits to many, not just a few.

At its outset, the European Commission report says “Automation outcomes are not pre-determined but are shaped by the policies and choices we make.” With this strong and pertinent statement in mind, there are several subjects in the report that I’d like to reflect on.

Regarding the education of young people, the report says that what’s important is not so much technical knowledge but the capacity to acquire it. We couldn’t agree more. For too long, technology qualifications have been synonymous with (at least) a four-year degree. Alternatives must be considered – such as short and stackable educational pathways that provide recognized certifications.

One such pathway is P-TECH. Seven years ago, IBM created a new kind of school model, P-TECH, that provides young people – the majority from disadvantaged communities – with the qualifications and professional skills they need to be ready for the modern workforce. P-TECH has recently launched in Ireland and in the UK with plans for expansion in other countries.

Adult education should be better geared to managing transitions, as recommended in the report. Allocating resources to improve the chances of a successful transition will mean less breakage and reduce the social costs of unemployment and other negative outcomes.
Another area for action is the certification of skills learned on the job. Digital Badges are an important component of IBM’s employee learning. A Digital Badge is a cross-industry digital recognition of technical skills. Moreover, work-based learning opportunities should be added to existing academic pathways including internships and apprenticeships.

There are other key components for reskilling and enabling people to have a successful transition to a new job. New technologies themselves play their role in job-to-job transition. The report refers to IBM’s use of AI to identify the most relevant training for employees. IBM’s job-2-job transition approach is based on a shared responsibility between the employer and employee to work on skills and careers. It aims to assist the employee with career moves inside the company or IBM ecosystem, in another company or to train for a new career or start a business

While not referenced in the Commission’s report, a more structured approach to developing job transition pathways would be useful. One potential solution would be for employers and Public Employment Services to collaborate in identifying employees at risk from technology and other looming disruptions. Those employees can have a transparent explanation of the outlook for their jobs and be given option of entering into a transition process that might include skills assessment, reskilling, job search and other professional services to better enable them to move directly to a new job with a current or new employer. Funding could come jointly from employers and from governments.

For AI to be truly inclusive, it must be understood by people from all backgrounds and education levels. The Commission’s report emphasizes the fundamental necessity of developing understandable AI systems. IBM is fully committed to this. The rationale behind recommendations made by an AI algorithm must be explainable – and explanations must be tailored to suit the audience. If a hospital uses an AI system to support medical professionals in their diagnosis of an illness, the system should be able to provide appropriate explanations for the doctor and for the patient.

IBM commends the European Commission for its report and Michel Servoz for his insights. The issues raised in the report are at the top of IBM’s agenda: not only are we a pioneer in AI – including significant AI research in Europe – we are a long-term investor and employer in Europe, and we place a priority on skills and learning for our employees. We are ready to support and participate in the deployment of the report’s key recommendations. We also recommend alignment with the recommendations of the EU High Level Expert Group on AI, of which IBM is a member, and whose recent guidelines on Trustworthy AI are also aimed at ensuring inclusive AI.

-David Barnes, Vice President, Global Workforce Policy

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