Four Ways to Create the AI-Infused Workforce of Tomorrow and a Thriving Orange County for All

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The world economy is increasingly digitized and advancing at an accelerated speed and leading to unprecedented reliance on digital skills. The rapid emergence of AI-powered technologies is propelling a new era of automation.

The president of Microsoft, Brad Smith, in a recent article stated: Over the next five years, it is estimated that the global workforce can support around 149 million new technology-oriented jobs. Software development accounts for the largest single share of this forecast, but roles in related fields like data analysis, cybersecurity, and privacy protection are also poised to grow substantially. Digital transformation will touch virtually every corner of the global workforce — from food production (324,000 new jobs) to healthcare (2 million) and the automotive industry (6 million).

A widespread misconception is that AI systems, including advanced robotics and digital bots, will gradually replace humans in one industry after another… “That may be true for certain jobs, but what we’ve found in research is that, although AI can be deployed to automate certain functions, the technology’s greater power is in complementing and augmenting human capabilities,” says author Paul Daugherty in the book Human+Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI

These writings make the case that AI is most potent in applications “complementing and augmenting human capabilities.” In fact, AI is a unifier and growth multiplier across industry verticals. AI is predicted to be a large job creator over the next decade, and if OC proves an attractive hub for these jobs and companies, then our region has the opportunity to capture significant numbers of ancillary jobs.

In Orange County, we want to build on our unique strengths as a region, and AI is one of those strengths.

CLA-OC seeks to engage the OC community in reimagining ways to create the AI-infused workforce of tomorrow. Businesses and educators are beginning to align around the need to prepare students in OC to deal with AI applications and systems in almost any sector.  A basic understanding of AI will be a core skill for a vast majority of jobs, and higher-level AI skills are even now often a requirement for innovation jobs.  To start the conversation, we want to suggest four possible approaches:     

1. Grow and retain our talent in Orange County

OC business leaders and educators collaborate to create and offer free access to mastery learning paths and comprehensive resources to develop the skills needed for high-wage, in-demand AI-infused and emerging technology jobs. Successful participants would be offered an opportunity for apprenticeship-style employment, paired with an income sharing agreement. Additionally, CHROs agree to recognize mastery of these learning paths as equivalent to attaining levels or degrees of education.

2. Take the funnel-approach to the talent pipeline

The pandemic cast a glaring light on what was already a widening skills gap. If we view the talent recruitment process as a funnel, opportunities start out broad and inclusive, open to people from varying backgrounds with a range of skill levels. Candidates explore different departments without making any firm commitments. Over time, their focus becomes narrower as they demonstrate persistence and build their in-demand skills. A select cohort of top performers stand out and are offered apprenticeship-style opportunities including mentoring and coaching support.

3. Incentivize business

Both sides of the talent equation are looking for solutions. Almost 60% of college graduates in the US carry student debt, and about 57% of Americans regard it as a major problem, reports the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Yet many are not even confident their college educations are still the golden ticket they once were. Conversely, business and industry continue to struggle with finding qualified talent. Incentivizing business to grow our own talent to stay in Orange County could occur through tax incentives for apprenticeship-style approaches. Incentives, combined with income sharing agreements to develop, place, and retain talent in Orange County where and when they’re needed, could rebalance demand and supply for labor at a critical time.

4. Rapid skilling and reskilling

We need to develop methods to provide rapid skilling and reskilling in high-wage, in-demand AI-infused and emerging technology jobs. We need faster, cheaper, and vastly more effective solutions for getting people placed into these jobs. These solutions could include short-term, self-directed, online learning of modular mastery paths by industry cluster, pathway, and specific job-type within organizations. Mastery pathways are created by industry for industry, which is best served in thought partnerships with education providers.

Working with OC business, education, and student leaders, we can come together to explore, identify, and discover new and exciting ways to build confidence, skills, and adaptability for all youth to co-create tomorrow’s AI-infused workforce for Orange County.