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4 ambitious government initiatives preparing the workforce for a future of AI
Governments all around the world have implemented initiatives and programs to prepare their populations for a world driven by AI. Many of them rely on their own unique approaches, from subsidized retraining courses in Singapore to personal training accounts in France. These initiatives can serve as an inspiration for other governments around the world, providing different approaches to dealing with the results of AI.
Here are four current government initiatives for preparing the workforce for a future of AI.
Singapore’s SkillsFuture Program
One nation with an effective approach to AI technology in the workplace is Singapore. In 2016, the country launched its SkillsFuture program, a national re-education model created to address concerns about the changing economy.
Since its launch, SkillsFuture has seen the participation of over 285,000 people, which is more than 10% of adult residents in Singapore. A study found that 43% of CIOs in the country believe the program helps address the skills shortage, and 56% stated that they are confident about the workforce’s ability to adapt to market changes. Like many countries, it is only a start, with 67% stating that there is still a need for more external training initiatives.
Singapore’s government, working through the program, reimburses its citizens up to SG$500 per year for retraining courses. The courses must be approved, and the government has a partnership with universities and online educational platforms. Through this partnership, citizens can sign up with their reimbursement to take classes in technology-related fields.
The program is even better for individuals over the age of 40, who can receive subsidies of up to 90% on training costs. Since July 2019, small and medium-sized businesses have been able to apply for a SkillsFuture grant to cover most of the training costs for employees.
According to the program, “Skills mastery is more than having the right paper qualifications and being good at what you do currently – it is a mindset of continually striving towards greater excellence through knowledge, application and experience.”
UK’s National Retraining Scheme
In 2018, the UK government announced the National Retraining Scheme (NRS). The path forward for the program is currently being debated, but the original funding amount was £100 million. The scheme consists of multiple initiatives that are aimed at preparing individuals for the future of work.
The first part of the scheme is called Get Help to Retrain and was tested in 6 areas across the nation, with plans for it to be expanded in 2020. This initiative is aimed at adults who are 24 years old and above, do not hold a degree and are low or medium wage. Through the use of online and in-person training, workers can improve their technical skills.
The scheme also provides qualified national careers service advisors who can offer guidance around new jobs and opportunities. The advisers are overseen by the National Retraining Partnership, which has representatives from the government, CBI, and Trades Union Congress.
The UK is set to be one of the harder hit nations with the changing economy. According to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 13.7% of workers will require moderate training of up to a year to transition to more secure jobs, compared to the world average of 10.9%.
France’s Compte Personnel de Formation (CPF)
France is a nation that does not receive as much attention as others when it comes to artificial intelligence in the workplace. However, they do have an ambitious program that is currently taking place called Compte Personnel de Formation (CPF).
Employees in France that are over the age of 16 can gain new skills through the use of personal training accounts. Individuals use the accounts to collect hours that can then be traded for training courses. While employees complete the training courses, they are guaranteed paid leave from work.
In 2016, the government approved around 500,000 filed requests to use the collected hours, 65% coming from job-seekers and 35% from employed workers. That was a 139% increase from the previous year, a very promising trend. Some of the most popular courses were preparatory courses for exams to acquire language and IT certificates.
American Workforce Policy Advisory Board
In 2019, the United States established the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board due to the need to fill 7.3 million job openings, which were largely caused by the skills gap from the evolving economy. The Advisory Board is tasked with creating more than 6.5 million education, training, and skill-building opportunities over five years.
The Advisory Board includes 25 prominent leaders in the country, including the CEOs of companies like Apple, Lockheed Martin, Siemens USA, and IBM. The initiative brings together the private sector, educational institutions, and state and local governments. By working together, the goal is to create an effective approach to addressing workforce issues in communities and businesses throughout the country.
The Advisory Board assists in developing a national campaign to promote education and training pathways, recommending a course of action for improving labor market data, identifying strategies to improve private sector investments in American students, establishing a culture of lifelong learning, and increasing transparency and outcomes of education and job training programs. This initiative is a good example of how nations should be bringing together all the different sectors of a society to address workforce issues regarding automation, AI technology, and the skills gap.
Governments all around the globe will play a key role in preparing the workforce for a world driven by AI, holding a unique position to create incentives and establish policies that protect workers. They are responsible for pushing these initiatives out to the sector of the population that is most at-risk, those who might not have the means to begin their own re-education process.
The approach taken for employed and unemployed individuals will need to be different. Governments will be most responsible for those without jobs, but it is contingent upon the private sector taking responsibility for their own workers. Many individuals will lose their jobs because their skills are in many cases completely incompatible with the new economy, as opposed to employed individuals who will be forced to build on their current skills.
In order to get those unemployed people back into the workforce, governments will need to lead big re-education programs, since the private sector has few reasons to help those outside their own companies. For this, initiatives like Singapore’s SkillsFuture program can serve as inspiration.
Governments can put money into the hands of these individuals, through reimbursements or other means like UBI, which will provide the opportunity to gain skills in the fields relevant to AI.
In the case of UBI, which is likely to become a reality in many nations, perhaps a portion of it can be sectioned off for education. Governments will save money in the long-term by avoiding serious economic hardships due to the skills gap, AI, and automation.
By establishing advisory boards similar to the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, industry leaders can advise governments on what skills are in demand. Governments can then partner with educational institutions to establish approved courses relevant to those skills.
While the private sector will hold most of the responsibility for employed individuals, governments should still have a presence. One major step they can take is to give grants and create tax incentives to encourage employer-led programs. Another option is to establish personal training accounts, as in the case of France. This can address the skills gap problem early on, allowing training hours to be collected as soon as an individual reaches the legal working age. These training hours, as well as the courses that they can be exchanged for, act as a security blanket for employed individuals. Governments should be looking at new ways like this to provide job security, during a time when it is decreasing rapidly.
In order for any of this to help avert massive unemployment due to AI technology, it needs to start immediately. In places where initiatives are already taking place, there needs to be a drastic expansion. AI technology is exponentially increasing, meaning the workforce is seeing its implementation faster as time goes on. There will not be enough time for governments to implement these massive programs when the technology reaches its peak.
Governments are up against the greatest technological revolution humans have ever experienced, which can either improve the quality of life for populations all around the globe or drastically widen the inequalities that already exist. The outcome greatly depends on the actions governments take now.
Author: Alex McFarland is a journalist who covers developments in AI