The HR function plays a critical role in helping its workforce accomplish more with technology. But as intelligent automation (IA) looms, baby steps aren’t enough. It’s time for a new paradigm.

A few years ago, telecom giant AT&T found itself at a crossroads. As more people “cut the cord” in favor of online streaming services, mobile usage sent data traffic soaring. In addition to acquiring businesses like DirecTV, AT&T leadership launched Workforce 2020—an audacious program aimed at reskilling 140,000 staffers—in order to fill positions requiring cloud-based computing, coding and data science expertise. Within four months, participating employees had filled half of all technology management roles in the organization and received 47 percent of all promotions. The initiative landed AT&T on Fortune’s list of 100 best companies to work for.

We can draw plenty of analogies to the challenges facing insurers. Developments like blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and the platform economy are forcing insurers to make material changes to how they go to market, make decisions—and crucially, how they attract, train and retain talent.

“If you think this is an HR issue, think again. Insurance leaders must ask tough questions to steer their organizations toward the workforce of the future.”

The 2017 Accenture Technology Vision for Insurance study found that 75 percent of executives believe that AI will transform or significantly change insurance by 2020. Furthermore, 83 percent agreed that AI will accelerate technology adoption through their organization, and that this in turn will apply additional pressure on insurers.

How can insurers prepare for a looming future where humans work alongside machines? To codify the impact of automation on labor productivity, Accenture partnered with Gallup to conduct a cross-industry, global survey of more than 10,000 workers. In an Accenture Strategy report, my colleagues Ellyn Shook and Mark Knickrehm share their three main takeaways from the study: 

  • Accelerate reskilling people—enterprise-wide. The need to reskill applies equally to the C-suite and entry-level positions. Technology skills, complex problem solving and analytical thinking are key competencies in a digital economy. The main enablers include fostering a mindset of lifelong learning and tapping into digital tools like online certifications and massive open online courses (MOOCs).
  • Redesign work to unlock human potential. Increasingly, workers seek flexibility and collaborative work. Notably, 76 percent of millennials are interested in working for themselves or freelancing, and in less than a decade will comprise 75 percent of the workforce. Meanwhile, the first wave of Gen Z (born in 1995 and later) is starting to enter today’s workforce. As true digital natives, these younger workers expect technology to be as pervasive in the workforce as it is in their personal lives. By pairing them with older workers, insurers can ease cultural clashes and engage near-retirement workers as valuable coaches.
  • Strengthen the talent pipeline from its source. In 2015, a joint study by Accenture and Girls Who Code found that 500,000 computing jobs existed—but fewer than 40,000 computer science graduates were available to fill them. Of course, insurers aren’t the only ones chasing these skilled workers. To attract them before they graduate, insurers should foster national industry programs, collaborate with academia and form advocacy groups. 

As Intelligent Automation (IA) becomes more prevalent, the HR function is uniquely positioned to help business leaders identify the roles and skills that the future workforce needs to be successful. But if you think this is just an HR issue, think again. Insurance leaders must ask tough questions to steer their organizations toward the workforce of the future.

Finally, it’s not simply about how or where to incorporate new technology. A multi-speed talent strategy, technology-supported performance management practices and a strategy for intelligent automation are key enablers. Join me over the next few weeks as I explore these ideas in more detail.

Learn more about the future of work by downloading Harnessing Revolution: Creating the future workforce. Or, email me to discuss how Accenture can help your HR function prepare your organization for the digital future. 

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