I recently had the privilege of attending the 7x24 Exchange Intl.’s 2019 Fall Conference in Phoenix (check out the full story at http://bit.ly/2Oh6mKI). Throughout the course of the event, there were a lot of topics I heard repeatedly: cybersecurity, speed, 5G, microgrids, renewables, infrastructure, and cloud and edge computing. That’s to be expected, though, right? But the two subjects that really seemed to find their way into every single discussion somehow, someway — well, that would be artificial intelligence (AI) and workforce development.

Shaun Selha, global quality assurance/quality control program manager for Facebook, spoke to attendees on employee relations. It was during his presentation, “Building a Zero Deficiency Culture in Construction,” that it struck me … could AI be part of the formula we need to use in order to solve the labor shortage problem?

At the end of Selha’s session, I posed a question: “In a world where people are debating whether or not AI is here to take away jobs or create jobs, how do you embrace it as part of your company culture — as a team member rather than a machine that is replacing the team?”

Though I did get an answer, it wasn’t really the answer that I was looking for, and here’s why: I can remember when I was first introduced to AI. I am sure it was around in different forms long before this. But, one of the first examples I can recall is the self-checkout. I don’t know how the people in your life felt about it, but the people in my world were freaking out!

“They’re starting with cashiers, but, pretty soon, robots will be doing all of our jobs.”

That’s what they’d say.

“It’s going to end in war. Us against the machines. Just like in the movies.”

Now, self-checkout has been around for a while, and we still have cashiers, stockers, merchandisers, store managers, etc. But I’d bet that probably 90% of the people who were working in grocery stores when self-checkouts first came out feared losing their jobs. Some probably even looked for a new one, and maybe some of them did switch industries. The ones who weren’t scared probably just didn’t care.

But imagine the fear a high school kid might feel right now if he or she were to voice their desire to seek a career in the mission critical/data center industry? When I was that age, it seemed like every adult had a different opinion of what was best for me. But one thing everyone agreed on was to choose a career that would stand the test of time — one that wouldn’t be outsourced or ever be obsolete.

In the age of AI, it seems hard to believe that a computer won’t be able to run itself in the future. And while that may be true already, that doesn’t mean the industry isn’t always going to need people behind that intelligence.

It’s time to start embracing AI as part of what we do and who we are. People are typically afraid of what they don’t understand. Let’s show the emerging workforce that AI is here to make our connections stronger, not to come between them.

It’s not easy to choose what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. Not the first time, second time, or third time, for that matter. But it’s especially hard the first time.

I say, if you want to attract more young talent to the industry, it’s time to think like them. They don’t want to hear what they should do or shouldn’t do. Remember being a teenager? They want to listen to people who listen to them. So do that — listen to the kids … listen to what they say and what they don’t say. Then show them how the mission critical industry can give them what they want, and remind them that AI is here to replicate, not to replace. Equip the youth of today with enough knowledge about the mission critical industry and the career paths it offers that they feel they can explore the opportunities fearlessly on their own. I’m confident that if you do that, more of them will find their way.  n


Amy Al-Katib