Artificial Intelligence could be key to overcoming post-COVID skills gap, says G20 think tank


by Genna Ash-Brown

Each country must work to identify and implement a solution that works for them, or they risk economic suffering in the long-term…

A task force of the G20 research and advice policy network, Think20 (T20), believes that Artificial Intelligence (AI)-centred educational technologies could be key to future-proofing the workforce of tomorrow.

As the UK slips into the worst recession on record and the global economy experiences its most dramatic dip since WWII, T20’s research shows that it’s not only those transitioning from education to work who require investment, but also those already in employment whose skills simply simply are not up to par in this increasingly digital world.

Recommendations laid out within 12 research-based T20 Policy Briefs outline how G20 member countries can address their individual challenges, supporting their economic recovery and long-term economic growth as the growing impact of AI transforms the digitally-enabled workplace.

Proposing a viable solution to the rising generational skills gap, Task Force 6 (TF6) suggests four key recommendations for how G20 members can embrace the heightened uptake of AI-based learning, including:

  1. Embracing and regulating industry micro-credentials;
  2. Government funding for workplace learning in traditional sectors, as well as those working within the platform and gig economies;
  3. The promotion of immersive, interactive AI for skills development as a learning aid and not a replacement for teachers;
  4. The promotion of innovative technical and vocational education training institutions with the backing of quality control and licensing bodies.

On the topic of reforms, Heidi Alaskary, visiting senior research fellow of KFCRIS and lead co-chair of TF6, commented: “The policies TF6 has chosen to focus on will have a direct impact on how we, as an international community, shape our immediate future.

“It is evident we are on the cusp of a significant global change and areas of reform, such as the reliance on AI, have shifted from being interesting concepts to becoming critical conversations that require urgent attention,” she added. “COVID-19 has accelerated those issues that were already prevalent, revealing the varying skill gaps across all generations. The older, missing generation of over 35s would traditionally gain skills in one speciality area, with many people remaining on the same career path for life. It is this generation that must develop the agility to diversify their knowledge base and embrace data analysis if we are to ensure no one is left behind.”

Alaskary continued: “The youth generation, on the other hand, will have, on average, 12 discreet job roles throughout their lifetime. While they are technically-savvy and well-versed in many of the skills future economies will require, they often lack the required resilience and soft skills the older generations have. It is now the responsibility of governments, industries and citizens to collaborate to humanise the technological process and bring balance to the future way of working.”

Paul Grainger, co-director for the Centre for Education and Work, and co-chair of TF6, agreed, saying: “The rapid technological migration businesses have been forced to undertake during 2020 has highlighted the skill gap among over 35s and the need to balance education reform between the youth population and the missing generation of adults whose jobs are being replaced by technology.

“Pre-COVID-19, the fourth industrial revolution was already rebalancing employment away from repetitive manual work, in favour of automated, AI-supported roles. Examples of this include robots replacing hospital porters, self-checkout systems in supermarkets and the high street, and online delivery reducing the demand for shop assistants, ultimately resulting in job losses.”

OECD estimates say that global unemployment stood at 8.4% in May, and have the potential to reach 9.4% by the end of 2020 in the fallout of the pandemic. On top of this, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says the virus could cause the equivalent of 196 million job losses.

T20 forecasts that service industry economies – including those heavily-reliant on retail and wholesale, tourism, food, business services, and manufacturing – which support 37.5% of jobs worldwide, will be most negatively impacted.

The ILO also warned that agriculture – the largest sector in most developing countries – is under threat due to containment measures and issues relating to food insecurity.

TF6 has put forward a range of AI-learning tools to bridge the skills gap across demographics. Passive, program-based learning – while the most cost-effective – has been named by TF6 as the least effective method to help learners excel. Instead, educators and businesses alike should adopt a hybrid or blended approach, incorporating bespoke digital platforms alongside human interaction, which TF6 has ranked as the richest and most impactful educational experience.

“Adapting in a society where human proximity is dangerous but where social interaction is still the preferred method of training and learning, is a universal challenge,” Grainger commented.

“However, each country must work to identify and implement a solution that works for them, or they risk economic suffering in the long-term.

“Whether skills are taught directly, funded by the government, or indirectly funded by the sectors themselves, would vary. For many, a blended approach is likely to be the way forward. For example, migrating university lectures online while still conducting seminars in-person, to ensure students are receiving the social interaction they require during the learning process, reduces the danger of COVID-19 transmission by 50%.”

Grainger also warned that if countries don’t address the growing skills gap now, they risk falling behind in global growth figures, potentially to the point of no return.

TF6 went on to stress that while cost implications could restrict success as countries attempt to recover from COVID-19, the only way to drive lasting change is through universal collaboration on minimum standards within technical and vocational training.

Genna Ash-Brown is a UK-based Writer, and Editor of Education Technology. She tweets under @Genna_Ash.

Article first published on EdTechnology.Co.UK. Featured Image credits:

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