Skills-based talent practices - how work will get done in the new world

Executives are focused on increasing productivity through generative AI, but research from Mercer shows it is going to take more than just AI

Skills-based talent practices - how work will get done in the new world
Christie Rall, partner of HR strategy and transformation, Mercer Canada

Canadian C-Suite executives are keen to utilize generative artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to increase productivity. However, it will take more than just AI to raise productivity, says a report by Mercer, a business of Marsh McLennan.  

The 2024 Global Talent Trends Study shows that executives are focused on increasing productivity through the use of generative AI. Thirty-six percent of Canadian executives (compared to 40 percent globally) predict AI will deliver productivity gains of more than 30 percent. Yet, three in five (61 percent) believe tech is advancing faster than their firms can retrain workers, and only one in three (33 percent) believe they can meet this year’s demand with their current talent model. 

There are challenges in finding a sustainable path to the future of work. Globally, 74 percent of executives are concerned about their talent’s ability to pivot and less than a third of HR leaders (28 percent) are very confident they can make human-machine teaming a success.  

Generative AI is just part of the equation 

Leading companies recognize that AI is just part of the equation. They are taking a holistic view to address drains on productivity and deliver greater agility through new models of human-machine teaming, says Christie Rall, partner of HR strategy and transformation with Mercer Canada.  

“Productivity is not a new challenge,” she says. “It is an age-old challenge in organizations. [What’s different now is] the context in which we're thinking about this and the amount of productivity gains we expect. Thirty-six percent of executives think they’re going to get 30 percent of productivity gains using Gen AI. This is exponentially larger than some of the productivity gains we’ve talked about in the past. So, the benefit and the risk are both that much more outstanding.  

“The challenge and the opportunity here is how do we unlock productivity with this Gen AI equation? Organizations are thinking about the transactional work and how it can get accelerated with Gen AI. But what we really need to shift into thinking about is how work gets done in this new world. What is critical here is thinking about skills-based talent practices. We need to look beyond static jobs and roles and starting to unlock talent and skills within the organization and flow talent to the work. That's not an easy thing to do, but it's certainly one of the keys to unlock that productivity equation leveraging AI. That's what agile organizations do. They're able to prioritize work, understand where the talent bases are, and flow those skills to execute the targeted priorities.” 

Agile organizations harness productivity gains 

Rall says when skills-based talent practices are used, work is less static and demand is less static. “This will enable organizations to harness those kinds of productivity gains. Then, secondly, they will start to meet the ebb and flow of demand based on skills and not just what they used to think about, which was contractor, full time employee, or part time employee. So, it's just expanding the talent model. 

“But one of the challenges with skill-based talent models is we don't know what the skills of the future are,” she says. “The tech landscape is evolving so quickly, we don’t know what skills we will need in five to 10 years.” 

As they start to unlock productivity, one of the questions for organizations will be whether the productivity gain goes back to the bottom line or back to skilling and reskilling to make sure they maintain that agile talent? “This is learning with the times ensuring they have that cyclical approach to keep their in-house talent up to speed. They will be learning as they are doing and that will be one of the critical pieces of sustainable productivity gains over the long term.” 

The future of work will depend greatly on flexibility and trust as new technologies are introduced. Rall says it is critical that talent models and programs are designed with a digital-first culture in mind. “AI can help to unlock employee potential but it’s important to be transparent about the changes it may bring and the opportunities it will create. Being proactive in this space will be key to unlocking productivity and ensuring that your business is fit for the future.” 

The 2024 Global Talent Trends Study highlights the importance of adopting a digital-first culture. This transition is not just about adopting new technologies but about rethinking how work is done, how talent is managed, and how productivity gains are achieved and shared across the organization.