Ed’s note: In the age of AI, are we forgetting the humans?


IBM released a report in September about which I have such mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel excited about the possibilities, and on the other, I am alarmed and trying to understand the implications.

But let’s take a step back…

According to IBM, up to 120 million workers across 12 of the largest economies in the world will need to be retrained or deskilled due to the integration of AI or intelligent automation. This statistic in itself is somewhat alarming, but it is compounded by the fact that only 41% of the CEOs surveyed by IBM says they have the people, skills or resources in place in order to execute their business strategies.

We have all read the stories which outline that jobs will be lost – and gained – as we move to a world in which menial or repetitive tasks are automated.  For manufacturing, reception, courier and even some sales jobs, it has been predicted that automation and AI could impact job availability, with couriers being replaced by drones (DHL has already received permission to start trailing deliveries utilising drones), receptionists being replaced by automated call and scheduling services and some retail sales functions becoming completely self-service.

Automation is great for companies – it can cut down on wage bills, boost productivity and increase profits – but in some regions of the world where much of the work done is still manual – the impact will likely be devastating.  While there is much to be said about the potential downside of the shift, I’d like to focus specifically on the positive impacts these changes could have for utilities – if managed appropriately.

The impact on the utility sector could be very exciting. It is an oft used example that engineers spend more time sanitising data than actually using it to draw conclusions and make data-driven decisions. Imagine if many of the more routine tasks could be handled by artificial intelligence and staff could focus on other, more impactful actions?

At French energy company, Total, for instance, teams are working with Google to enable reserve geologists, geophysicists and engineers and members of “Google Cloud’s machine-learning team to refine the process for interpreting images from below the ground and the automation of analysis of technical documents.” Ultimately, the “geoscience engineers will have an AI personal assistant that frees them to focus on the other critical tasks of their profession.”

Whatever your immediate feeling about AI and its impact on jobs – one thing is undeniable – jobs are changing. And there is a global need to adapt how employees are trained, how universities and organisations work together to develop the skills sets that will prepare the future workforce for the reality of this changing environment, and how incumbent employees are re-skilled and motivated to learn.

The challenge and demand for skills is not going to change – what needs to change is the way in which the challenge is approached.

This is going to form part of the discussion we will be having during the webinar Re-energising the utility talent pipeline. Taking place on 23 October, we are hosting the webinar in conjunction with the team at European Utility Week and Initiate!

We’ll be asking a number of fundamental questions, such as:

  • What needs to be done to encourage and harness young talent in an energy company environment?
  • What are the new skills that are going to be required in the sector in the next decade and how do we go about ensuring these skills are available when we need them?
  • Is regulation keeping pace with the speed of development?
  • How do we ensure the next-generation talent chooses the energy sector?
  • How can start-ups and energy companies work together to enhance and support each other’s work from a cultural and next-generation mindset perspective?

Do you have an example of how your organisation is managing the challenge of reskilling, upskilling or even identifying critical skills? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us at editorial@smart-energy.com and share your perspective with us.

Wishing you a day in which you learn at least one new thing!