Microsoft has added a series of new AI and mixed reality services to its enterprise software product line Dynamics 365, VentureBeat reported last week, including tools based on its HoloLens augmented reality headset:
Mixed reality services from Microsoft for the workplace were first made available in preview in May and will become generally available in the coming weeks, a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat. Remote Assist allows technicians and experts within companies to see what frontline workers can see, then help them solve problems using HoloLens while they work with their hands. It’s a scenario as old as the corporate VR/AR craze itself.
Layout, another mixed reality tool, helps people visualize the placing of items in commercial or industrial settings, working with 3D models to resize, move, and quickly edit layouts with real-world scale. Companies like Chevron currently use Remote Assist today for facility inspections.
The new AI services include a program to help sales managers analyze and improve their associates’ performance, as well as new customer service and market research tools. Microsoft first began presenting the HoloLens as an enterprise tool last year, when it unveiled a second-generation design incorporating a powerful AI coprocessor. That announcement came within a week of Google unveiling the enterprise version of its own AR headset, Google Glass.
The applications for these mixed-reality devices are wide-ranging, with some companies already using them in manufacturing, shipping, and health care. One of the clearest use cases for VR and AR in the workplace is in learning, where it offers a way to immerse new employees in real-life work scenarios with drastically lower risk and expense than real-life immersion training. Walmart has been among the vanguard of large employers experimenting in this area; last year, the retailer announced plans to expand VR training to all 200 of its training centers after a successful pilot project. Now, it’s taking its commitment to VR training one step further and planning to deploy Oculus Go headsets at each of its 5,000 stores to allow for more frequent training, TechCrunch reported last week:
When we think of the “gig economy,” we usually think of platforms like Uber, Deliveroo, Fiverr, or Freelancer.com, which offer users flexible, contingent work on a piece or project basis. Taking a broader view, however, the advent of the gig economy has also had an impact on the way traditional employers think about meeting their talent needs. In our research at Gartner, over the past several years we have seen a number of organizations experiment with new models of hiring, engaging, and assigning workers, inspired by the gig economy. At our ReimagineHR event in London last week, Gartner Practice Leader Thomas Handcock walked HR leaders through several of these models and discussed how they might leverage them in their organizations as well.
Internal Career Marketplaces
Compelling career paths and opportunities to learn and grow within the organization are increasingly important aspects of the employee value proposition, particularly—though by no means exclusively—for Millennial employees. The stereotype of the Millennial job-hopper reflects the notable desire among employees of this generation for a greater variety of experiences in their careers. If your organization can’t offer employees this range of experiences and opportunities to acquire new skills, they are likely to seek them elsewhere: Lack of development opportunities is among the leading drivers of attrition for employees worldwide, Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor data show.
To address this demand for development and variety, innovative employers are making it easier for their workers to find their next job within the company rather than outside it, through internal career marketplaces. These marketplaces, which at companies like HCL Technologies operate through digital platforms, can help employees plot their career paths and understand what internal moves they need to make to reach the position they desire. This allows them to develop their careers more rapidly or grow in new directions more easily without changing employers. For the employer, these internal labor markets offer an effective way to retain and develop high-potential employees. Internal hires for new roles also require less onboarding and come with the benefit of pre-existing institutional knowledge and alignment with the organization’s culture. (Gartner Corporate Leadership Council members can learn more about HCL’s Career Connect portal in our case study.)
Organizations today are under tremendous pressure to innovate, expand their capabilities, and become more efficient and competitive. To achieve those goals, managers are called upon to play an even more active role in steering their direct reports’ professional growth and development. As coaching becomes a more critical aspect of managers’ jobs, HR functions are devoting more attention to training managers in the best ways to drive performance on their teams.
In our research at Gartner, we’ve identified four types of managers, each with a distinct approach to coaching. These include the teacher, who develops employees using their own experience and expertise; the cheerleader, who enables employees to take their development into their own hands; the connector, who introduces employees to the right people to meet their development needs, and the always-on manager, who provides continuous coaching and feedback across a broad range of skills. In an era when organizations are most concerned with constant growth and performance improvement, the always-on management style has become common, even preferred. However, our research finds that it is the least effective of the bunch; in fact, always-on managers tend to degrade employee performance rather than augmenting it. Teachers and cheerleaders improve performance to a degree, but it’s the connector manager who stands out, with a maximum impact on employee performance of 26 percent: around three times the impact of a teacher or cheerleader.
The connector manager model is not really new, Principal Executive Advisor Scott Engler pointed out in a session at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in London last Wednesday. In a sense, it represents a return to the roots of performance management theory from the 1980s, before the term became conflated with performance measurement and ratings, and coaching transformed into feedback. By becoming connectors, managers can rediscover the power of coaching and substantially increase their impact on their team members’ performance without spending time they don’t have.
The high-impact coaching connector managers do has two essential qualities: it takes an employee-centric approach and uses a broader coaching network.
Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani at ReimagineHR in London (Gartner)
Across a variety of industries, the demand for talent with digital skills continues to outstrip the supply. In recent years, many companies have realized that one way to fill this skills gap is to address the significant gender imbalance in roles like software engineering, where men outnumber women three-to-one in the US and by even larger margins in other countries like the UK and China.
This hasn’t always been the case; women were the first programmers in the early days of computing, before coding was seen as a prestigious and lucrative profession. Yet the real shift toward programming being such a male-dominated profession is even more recent, Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani pointed out in a keynote address at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in London on Wednesday: In 1995, women made up almost 40 percent of the computing workforce in the US, whereas today, they make up less than 25 percent. And at a time when there are roughly 500,000 unfilled positions in computing in the US and as many as 700,000 in the UK, Saujani argued, the issue isn’t a question of gender parity for its own sake: companies need women in tech just as much as women deserve the opportunity to do these jobs.
So why are so few women taking jobs in computing? For one thing, the tech industry has developed a reputation as an unwelcoming work environment for women: Sexism and sexual harassment scandals have emerged at several major tech companies in the past two years, while women in tech say they are often pressured to cut short the leave they take when they start families, even as tech companies continue to offer world-class parental leave policies. To that end, bringing back women who left the workforce to raise children or care for aging relatives is one way companies are looking to close their tech talent gaps.
Yet a more fundamental obstacle, Saujani explained, comes much earlier in women’s lives.
McDonald’s announced plans last Wednesday to give $2 million to non-profit organizations working to build skills and improve employability among young people in Chicago, where the fast food giant is headquartered, the Chicago Tribune reported last week:
In Chicago, about $1 million for pre-employment training will be split among Phalanx Family Services, based in West Pullman neighborhood; After School Matters, situated in the Loop; Central States SER, a workforce development nonprofit in Little Village; and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, which began as a career training program through World Business Chicago with support from Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Those nonprofits, vetted and selected by the International Youth Foundation, McDonald’s partner in the initiative, will teach soft skills like communication, problem solving and anger management.
An additional $1 million will go solely to Skills for Chicagoland’s Future to support a new two-year apprenticeship program at City Colleges of Chicago that will allow students to earn associate degrees in business for restaurant management jobs, the company said. That program is intended to build careers for young people, specifically at McDonald’s.
David Fairhurst, McDonald’s executive vice president and chief people officer, told the Tribune that the company was making this investment in an effort “to be a good neighbor.” McDonald’s moved its headquarters to central Chicago’s West Town neighborhood in 2016, trading its original suburban campus in Oak Brook, Illinois for the former site of Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios.
The initiative announced last week is not the first investment McDonald’s has made this year in workforce development: In March, it expanded its Archways to Opportunity employee education program, increasing the value of the benefit and making it available to employees after just 90 days on the job. The company has committed $150 million to the program over the coming five years.
The Walt Disney Company announced this week that it is now offering to pay full tuition for its hourly workers to earn a college degree, complete a high school diploma, or learn a new skill. In a blog post on the company’s website, Jayne Parker, senior executive vice president & chief HR officer, called the “Disney Aspire” initiative “the most comprehensive program of its kind,” adding that it would cover 100 percent of tuition upfront and reimburse employees for application fees and required books and materials. The program covers a wide range of educational endeavors, she noted:
The program is designed for working adults and offers our Cast Members and employees maximum choice and flexibility with their studies, regardless of whether the program and classes they choose are tied to their current role at Disney. Disney Aspire includes a network of schools that offer a wide array of disciplines and diplomas—including college and master’s degrees, high school equivalency, English-language learning, vocational training and more.
More than 80,000 Disney employees are eligible to participate in the program, which the company is implementing in partnership with Guild Education, an online adult education platform that helps companies provide tuition assistance and other education benefits. Other US employers with large numbers of hourly workers have partnered with Guild to provide tuition benefits, including the fast food chains Chipotle and Taco Bell, the retail giant Walmart, and the home improvement retailer Lowe’s. McDonald’s expanded its education benefit, a partnership with Cengage Learning, earlier this year, while Chick-fil-A increased the number of scholarships it was awarding though its longstanding annual program.
The US Department of Labor announced last week that it was making available $100 million in “Trade and Economic Transition National Dislocated Worker Grants,” which will fund training and career services programs for workers affected by “major economic dislocations.” These grants will be disbursed to states, outlying areas, local workforce development boards, and other entities, by the department’s Employment and Training Administration, and are meant to address a variety of workforce challenges, including:
- The economic and workforce impacts associated with job loss or employer/industrial reorganization due to trade or automation;
- The loss, significant decline, or major structural change/reorganization of a primary or legacy industry, such as a manufacturing downturn due to technological advances, including impacts on the agricultural industry due to trade or other economic trends;
- Other economic transition or stagnation that may disproportionately impact mature workers, putting them at risk for extended unemployment, lower wages, and underemployment.
Applications for grants are due by September 7, and the administration plans to begin awarding funds by September 30. It will continue to fund qualifying applications in the order they are received until all of the allocated funds are spent.
This is the first major initiative from the Trump administration focused on protecting the workforce from automation-related displacement. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took criticism last year when he downplayed the potential impact of automation on job loss, arguing that technological displacement would not be an issue for another 50 years or more.