Article: Building next generation of AI powerhouses: How HR can chart the path to transform young talent

Talent Management

Building next generation of AI powerhouses: How HR can chart the path to transform young talent

While colleges provide a solid theoretical foundation, the missing link, in their opinion, is practical experience, shared HR leaders from Publicis Sapient, Quest Global, and Brillio, as they offered tips to bridge the AI talent gap.
Building next generation of AI powerhouses: How HR can chart the path to transform young talent

Back in 2017, Mark Cuban, the famous American businessman, had a serious message: " Artificial Intelligence, deep learning, machine learning — whatever you’re doing if you don’t understand it — learn it. Because otherwise, you’re going to be a dinosaur within 3 years." 

Later on, he made another bold prediction: that computer science, the highest-paying college major, might lose its importance because of AI. "In 20 years, coders might be out of a job," he said on the Recode Decode podcast. "Because it’s just math, and someone’s got to know the topic." 

Fast forward to today, Cuban's words are starting to ring true. AI's growing abilities are making many jobs, not just coding ones, disappear. This means the demand for computer science degrees is rising, as understanding AI becomes more essential. While there might not be as much need for basic technical roles that AI can handle, grasping how AI works will remain crucial. 

So, what happens when we stop denying AI's impact and start embracing it, even making it our teammates? Well, it's all about preparing the next generation. But how do we do that, and what challenges do we face along the way? 

The barriers to talent development

The current wave of talent flooding into the workforce, predominantly comprising Gen Z and subsequent generations, is characterised by individuals who are inherently tech-savvy. Known as digital natives, they effortlessly navigate technology and readily adopt new tools and platforms. 

While this quality fosters innovation, it poses a challenge for organisations striving to evolve and remain relevant, especially those entrenched in established practices that may appear outdated to this tech-savvy cohort, noted Sonia Kutty, Vice President of Global Human Resources at Quest Global.

"One significant challenge is striking a balance between traditional and modern approaches within the organisation. For those of us with a long history in the organisation, integrating new-age methods alongside traditional practices may seem like a juxtaposition. It's essential to ensure the organisation maintains a contemporary image and aligns with the preferences of this emerging workforce. This requires a continuous effort to keep pace with technological advancements and cultural shifts, fostering an environment that resonates with the preferences of the younger workforce," she emphasised.

Conversely, Jayanth Selvappullai, Global Head of the People Function at Brillio, perceives remote work as a barrier to talent development. The past 36 months, influenced by the pandemic, have revolutionised our perspectives on work, with many now viewing remote work as the new norm. 

"I see this as a significant challenge for new graduates as they miss out on valuable learning experiences from peers and social interactions if they continue working remotely. With companies embracing hybrid work models, effectively managing the onboarding of new graduates poses a significant challenge. Companies must strike the right balance between remote work options and encouraging new hires to spend more time in the office, where they can learn from their peers, mentors, and colleagues," he stated.

Strategies for bridging theory and practice

While certain beliefs and circumstances may hinder development, other factors and entities also require adjustments, such as educational curricula tailored to suit an evolving job market. Kameshwari Rao, Global Chief People Officer at Publicis Sapient, emphasised the importance of adapting educational programs to ensure graduates are future-ready. She stated, "In this environment, institutions can address skill needs by promoting a growth mindset that sets our young graduates on a path of continuous learning beyond the duration of courses."

Echoing these sentiments, Sonia Kutty highlighted the evolving landscape of education, prompting a reconsideration of the skills and qualities graduates bring to the workforce. She noted, "While colleges provide a solid theoretical foundation, the missing link, in my opinion, is practical experience." Kutty suggested areas for improvement:

  • Implementing more hands-on experiences: Colleges should offer opportunities for students to engage in real-world projects, receive advisory sessions from industry experts, and participate in mandatory internships. Practical exposure is essential for students to apply theoretical knowledge effectively and transition smoothly from academia to the professional world.
  • Strengthening soft skills development: In addition to communication skills, colleges should prioritise fostering collaboration and teamwork abilities. Given the digital nature of today's workforce, cultivating interpersonal skills is crucial. Creating opportunities for students to collaborate on projects will enhance their teamwork skills, preparing them for collaborative work environments.
  • Tailoring curricula to industry needs: Colleges can enhance graduates' readiness for the workforce by aligning curricula with industry-specific demands. By identifying and incorporating relevant tools and skill sets sought by employers across various sectors, colleges ensure that graduates possess the technical expertise and competencies valued by the industry.

The power of mentorship in shaping talent

Educational institutions may not cater to everyone's needs equally, but the balance can often be found in the professional realm. Here, individuals can discover mentors who impart invaluable wisdom about navigating job life, mastering essential skills, surviving in a competitive job market, and unlocking opportunities for growth. 

"Mentoring plays a pivotal role in shaping young talent, providing them with guidance, fostering appropriate career aspirations, and encouraging innovative thinking," highlighted Selvappullai. However, he noted that this requires dedicated time from experienced professionals, which is often scarce. 

Kameshwari Rao, Global Chief People Officer at Publicis Sapient, underscored the unprecedented pace of change in the world and the workplace, emphasising the vital role of mentors in guiding the younger generation. "Their expertise and experience, honed through overcoming challenges and seizing opportunities, create the ideal foundation for sharing knowledge and empowering others," she emphasized. As such, mentors serve as invaluable resources for nurturing talent and steering them towards success in a rapidly evolving landscape.

Embracing failure: Cultivating an entrepreneurial culture

Becoming a valuable asset also entails advancing into managerial roles, with an essential attribute being an entrepreneurial mindset. However, instilling this mindset in young tech professionals is no easy task. According to the Global Chief People Officer at Publicis Sapient, fostering an entrepreneurial mindset begins by creating an environment that embraces experimentation and learning from failure. “This means giving people the freedom to explore new ideas without fear of making mistakes and allowing them to share their insights along the way without feeling pressured to always succeed,” she explained. 

Today, with AI playing a significant role, organisations have a prime opportunity to cultivate a culture of innovation internally. AI expedites processes, allowing for the swift creation and testing of new codes, facilitating rapid iterations without excessive time investment. For organisations, this means fostering an environment where leaders are available to guide and support while promoting a culture that embraces failure as part of the learning process. The Global Chief People Officer added, “With AI, organisations are now better equipped than ever to assist young tech professionals in developing an entrepreneurial mindset effectively.”

The Vice President of Global Human Resources at Quest Global underscored the importance of nurturing a culture that encourages independent thinking, ownership of work, and recognition for innovative contributions. She emphasised, “The key lies in nurturing a culture that encourages individuals to think independently, take ownership of their work, and be recognized for innovative contributions.”

Echoing these sentiments, Jayanth Selvappullai named the need for a "safe to fail" environment, fundamental to cultivating a culture of innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset. He said, “I am a strong believer in providing a ‘safe to fail’ environment. This is fundamental to building a culture of innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset.”

While many organisations have programs and financial incentives, the real differentiator lies in integrating innovation and big-picture thinking into everyday life. Selvappullai noted that young professionals closely observe their seniors and leaders, shaping their perceptions based on how innovative ideas are encouraged, how failure is handled, how entrepreneurship is rewarded, and how the management team challenges the status quo. He added, “Young professionals keenly watch their seniors and leaders in the organization, and their perceptions are developed by what they see.”

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Topics: Talent Management, #HRTech, #HRCommunity, #IndustryInsights

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