THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT

One of the world’s biggest firms is spending $450 million to solve a world problem created by robots

Obsession
Future of Work
Obsession
Future of Work

The number one risk of greatest concern for executives in 2018? Workers being displaced by robots.

For the past few years, the World Economic Forum has brought together the globe’s most powerful company leaders and government officials to discuss how technology can shepherd in a new era of efficiency and innovation—but also how to make sure millions of workers around the world don’t find themselves unemployed.

Last year, the WEF warned that while “the fourth industrial revolution” will transform labor markets, it will also lead to a net loss of over 5 million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies by 2020. This year, the WEF is forcing world leaders to address the second wave of issues: reskilling and upskilling.

A WEF report this week said the global economy faces a reskilling crisis (pdf) with 1.4 million jobs in the US alone under threat. In other words, while there will be opportunities for displaced workers to find another job created by the tech revolution, they will need to retrain, since the estimated 2.1 million new jobs, according to WEF, will be in specialized areas such as computing, math, architecture, and engineering.

“You must’ve been reading my mind,” says Lynne Doughtie, KPMG US Chairman and CEO, when I called her in Davos to ask how the conversation evolved from worrying about technology causing job losses, to actually doing something about it. “I was just talking about this with a group of people [in Davos], reflecting on the dialogue from the past two years. Initially, a lot of conversations on AI and automation were led by organizations like Microsoft and IBM but now businesses are trying to find a tangible way to stop a skills gap from forming.”

Much of WEF is spent debating how businesses and governments can make sure people are being trained quickly enough to keep up with the evolving workforce in the age of globalization fueled by digitization. Within the debate, some large companies like KPMG, a professional services firm with a workforce of near-200,000, seem to be taking matters in their own hands.

“Change in industry is already happening and you have to prepare yourself with new platforms to enable continuous learning for when you need to switch up your workforce,” said Doughtie.

Doughtie told Quartz how KPMG is spending $450 million on a 55-acre learning, development, and innovation center in Lake Nona, a master-planned community in Orlando, Florida. It can accommodate 1,000 people at a time and has 800 single-occupancy rooms. It also has a four-star environment which includes multiple dining options, a coffee and wine bar, and a pub-like venue as well as “total wellness” amenities such as a sizable fitness facility and hiking and biking paths.

kpmg campus1
The future of learning? (KPMG)

“I don’t know about you but when I’ve been sitting in a conference room for eight to 10 hours a day, my learning capacity deteriorates and I’m not absorbing the contents of the meeting as much,” Doughtie tells Quartz. “So here we like to find new ways to instill knowledge. [The facility and the surrounding environment] will allow our workforce and clients to collaborate and learn while also looking after their health and wellness.”

At the facility’s core, which in theory makes this facility a model solution that others could copy, is a huge curriculum that includes programs to retrain and upskill employees across every unit of the company. It’s not just for KPMG staff; clients and other companies can send a few or even hundreds of their staff members to the campus. It even has an innovation lab that clients and KPMG can work together on projects.

“We’re developing a very structured curriculum and what we refer to as milestone training. It’s pretty complicated as we’re trying to build it out for so many skills sets, which will range from management and accounting, to very technical training for the cyber team. It will be very comprehensive,” says Doughtie.

Many studies have shown that the days of training once for a single career path are over. For workers to remain flexible in a world where some of the most prominent future jobs have not been invented yet, they must constant go back to the classroom. This calls into question whether traditional curriculums and modes of higher education are as valuable as they were 50 years ago.

This facility, expected to be completed in late 2019 and fully operational in the first quarter of 2020, offers a vision of how huge companies can lead the way in preparing workers for automation and AI. If all goes to plan, it could also show how companies might take on universities and more traditional paths for learning.


Read more: In the automated future of work, women could gain—or lose—the most

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