From Data Literacy to AI Skills: The Essential Traits You Need in Today’s Workforce


The data is presented in a graph. [Getty Images]

What should managers know about employees as they chart a course for success in the decades to come? MIT Sloan experts look at five traits of the emerging workforce.

They master the data

Data-driven businesses benefit from increased revenue, improved customer service, unparalleled operational efficiency and increased profitability. “In a world of more data, the companies with the most data-savvy people are the ones that are going to win,” said Miro Kazakoff, a lecturer at MIT Sloan who teaches courses on communication and persuasion with the data.

This requires the democratization of data, the idea that data should be in the hands of every employee. “Everyone will play a role and be responsible for moving [firms] moving forward in new ways of working that include data,” said Barbara Wixom, senior researcher at MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research. “Data is a team sport, and the whole organization is the team.”

At the corporate level, data should be viewed as an organizational asset, not the property of the individual departments that created or collected the data, said Michelle K. Lee, ’88, SM ’89, former director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. who spoke at the EmTech Digital conference earlier this year.

Harnessing this data requires collaboration, said Cindi Howson, chief data strategist at analytics platform provider ThoughtSpot. Some companies will need to reorganize around data and analytics, Howson said during a presentation at an MIT data symposium last August. This could mean combining business people with technical employees and coders. The most successful companies have data and analytics built into every business unit, with some degree of centralization, Howson said.

Comfortable working with AI and robots

Most experts agree that the future of artificial intelligence is the future of work. And robotics technology is set to continue to expand, with a global robotics market worth $260 billion by 2030, according to one estimate. It is not a guarantee that the growth will be good. MIT economist Daron Acemoglu found that for every robot added per 1,000 workers in the United States, wages fall by 0.42% and the employment-to-population ratio falls by 0.2 percentage points. If we don’t focus on the right kind of AI, Acemoglu said, there are “potentially disastrous consequences for income inequality and social cohesion.”

Although there have been concerns that AI is replacing humans in factories and warehouses, savvy employers will deploy artificial intelligence where it can complement humans instead of replacing them – in areas such as education, health care and training. In manufacturing, collaborative robots, or cobots, are poised to augment human labor. With cobots, human workers can offload easier tasks onto robots and focus on more ambiguous and difficult tasks, improving worker productivity and well-being, according to MIT professor and roboticist Julie Shah.

Either way, employers should deploy smart technologies carefully, keeping in mind that there can be friction between tech-savvy junior employees and senior managers that upend traditional power hierarchies. One way to address this challenge is to create a peer-training program that rotates senior and junior employees in the role of trainer, suggested Kate Kellogg, professor of work and organizational studies at MIT Sloan.

Collaboration with developers is also essential: machine learning developers need to talk to end users to keep the iteration process alive. “They need to engage in a back-and-forth process with users to create, evaluate, and refine the tools, so the tools are useful in practice,” Kellogg said.

The emerging workforce is empowered

According to a study by Thomas Kochan, MIT Sloan Professor and Director of MIT’s Institute for Labor and Employment Research, workers report experiencing a significant “voice gap” at work, that is, say a discrepancy between how much voice or influence they feel they should have and how much they actually have – on topics such as wages, working conditions and fair treatment.

It won’t last: Across the country, low-wage workers are finding their voice and finding purpose, and employers are ignoring them at their peril, said Paul Osterman, professor of human resources and management at MIT Sloan.

“The high levels of anger we’re seeing and the resulting political instability are likely linked to the extent of economic inequality today. … I would say the business community had better be concerned about these issues,” Osterman said.

Kochan urges employers and employees to commit to a new social contract that delivers high rates of return for investors while supporting high-quality careers.

The principles of such a contract include: Careful selection of employees with strong technical and behavioral skills; Continuous investment in staff training and development; Respect for workers’ rights; Opportunities for workers to adapt to changing technologies and work demands.

Fair and transparent compensation systems that ensure that employee earnings grow with the performance of the business and the overall economy. A voice for workers in the critical business decisions that will shape their future.

They understand the value of good jobs

Today’s employees have standards: that means good compensation and benefits, a stable and predictable schedule, a career path, safety and security, and a fair and equitable work environment. As such, employers need to go beyond offering job training or higher wages for low-wage jobs. It’s also important for companies to improve the quality of the jobs they offer, an issue that affects about a quarter of American adults, Osterman said.

Otherwise? Underinvestment in people leads to operational and customer service issues, which lead to lower sales, which lead to reduced budgets, said Zeynep Ton, an operations management professor at MIT Sloan and author of “The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees”. to reduce costs and increase profits.

“This vicious circle is costly for investors. It hurts customers. It’s downright brutal for the workers, from their wages to their hours, to their treatment and their dignity. Everyone is a loser,” she said.

In their book “Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It,” MIT Sloan Professor Erin Kelly and University of Minnesota Sociology Professor Phyllis Moen call for a rethinking of dual agenda work, an action plan that links the well-being of employees – knowing and knowing the priorities and objectives of a company.

The duo studied a company that had undertaken a work redesign initiative that included options such as working from home or implementing a hybrid schedule. They found that employees who underwent the job redesign had a 40% lower turnover rate over a three-year period.

Committed to equity advances

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 83% of tech executives are white. At Apple, 6% of the tech workforce last year was black. At Google, just under a quarter of interns were black and Latinx, and 5.5% of new hires were black.

To bridge the tech divide, cultivating diversity in the emerging workforce is key, according to Malia Lazu, former executive vice president of Berkshire Bank and current MIT Sloan lecturer who focuses on inclusion in the workforce. innovation economy.

Actions include exposing all children to STEM at an early age; making higher education more affordable and equitable; hiring based on skill set rather than degree; and assess and diversify professional networks.

Last year, Associate Dean for Innovation and Inclusion Fiona Murray and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ray Reagans detailed how MIT Sloan is changing institutional culture, a plan that they hope other organizations can adopt.

“We are tackling the school’s traditional reliance on our existing networks to recruit staff, faculty and students,” they write. “To change this, we have engaged specialist recruitment firms to tap into wider and more diverse networks when hiring staff.”

Fairness extends beyond the hiring process, according to Emilio Castilla, MIT Sloan professor of management, who recommends organizations approach promotions and raises through an unbiased, data-driven lens. More broadly, research by Assistant Professor of Labor and Organizational Studies Jackson Lu found that leaders with multicultural experiences are better communicators and are particularly effective when leading multinational teams.

For young employees, the idea of ​​fairness also extends to issues of governance and the environment. The Cone Communications Millennial Employee Study found that 64% of millennials will not take a job without a strong corporate social responsibility policy, and 83% would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues.

Over the past 15 or 20 years, a shift from reactionary to proactive environmental practices has become the norm, with a company’s sustainability performance now tied to its success, said Bethany Patten, speaker and senior associate director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan. “The tides have changed in terms of organizational design,” Patten said.

In setting environmental priorities, many companies take an “inside-out” approach, which considers input from employees and other stakeholders, said Jason Jay, lecturer and co-director of the Sustainability Initiative. .

Companies often separate their environmental progress from diversity, equity, inclusion and justice efforts. They should not. “Climate change is necessarily a matter of justice,” Jay said.

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