As we wrap up Workforce Development Month, not only is it a moment to reflect on the past, it’s a perfect time to watch for future trends. For industry professionals, the elephant in the room is artificial intelligence (AI). Defined in a 2004 paper by Stanford University’s John McCarthy as the use of intelligent machines and computers , AI is everywhere you look. And unlike recent trends such as non-fungible tokens, the Internet of Things, and the metaverse, AI has the longevity to impact the US workforce, the folks that help others along their career journey, and all connected industries. But, taking it one step further, AI has the potential to increase the need for workforce development. Read on to find out more. You Are Here Chances are you’re already using AI or an application that relies on machine learning. Visit your favorite website and interact with their chat agent. That may be a virtual assistant. Check your spelling and style with a tool like Grammarly. Yup, that’s AI. Searching for something new to watch on Netflix? A form of AI just helped you binge the latest hit show. The professionals of the future who harness AI as an assistant while learning the soft skills that robots can’t, will see their careers accelerate. But let’s take a step back. Why Workforce Development Month? Across the United States, there are more than 500 workforce development boards and 2,300 American Job Centers. Thousands of career counselors, employment specialists, youth advocates, and program managers work every day to ensure that the 167 million-strong U.S. workforce is skilled, willed, and ready to work. And that’s why in 2005, the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP) created Workforce Development Month to help raise awareness for the industry’s economic impact. A Brief History of Workforce Development 1862 -- the Morill Act makes it possible for the roots of workforce development to take hold. With this act, states establish public colleges using funds from developing or selling federal land grants. 1913 -- President William Howard Taft signs an act that established the U.S. Department of Labor. 1933 -- The New Deal allows the federal government to invest in workforce development services. 1962 -- Kennedy’s Manpower Development and Training Act paves the way for training to unemployed adults and youth workers. 1982 -- The Job Training Partnership Act yields Regional Service Delivery areas and renewed focus on training for dislocated workers and other populations in need. 1990 -- Workforce development matures with the Workforce Investment Act’s focus on service delivery through a nationwide network of one-stop career centers. 2014 -- The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014 strengthens the role of local workforce development boards and increases the need for stakeholder collaboration. Let’s Talk Stats As of August 2023, Employment Services accounted for more jobs in Administrative and Support Services than any other category at 3.6 million. It also made up 2.4% of national employment. According to statistics from the NAWB, an advocate for workforce boards, 12 million people touch the workforce development system each year . During COVID, over 9 million people used career services. The Brookings Institute estimates that the collective knowledge and capabilities of the U.S. workforce is worth an estimated $240 trillion , placing its value above 10 times that of all urban zones throughout the country. For the record, some of the largest zones of this nature are metropolitan statistical areas such as: New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the National Skills Coalition found that closing the digital skills divide could raise pay by an average of 45%. At the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions, leaders from across the world met to discuss new innovations and their skills requirements. They found that at the current pace of technological change, 44% of workers skills will be disrupted in the next five years. “I think that digital literacy today is what literacy used to be in the past,” said international workforce development consultant, Miguel Peromingo. “You cannot take part in the world of work properly if you are not able to express yourself in a digital way or deliver your skills digitally.” AI in Workforce Development The future of workforce development could hinge on the introduction of artificial intelligence to platforms that support upskilling, training, and hiring. In a July 2023, a report from McKinsey Global Institute showed that by 2030, 30% of hours worked across the US economy could be automated. This trend could be accelerated by generative AI. The most noteworthy insight from McKinsey’s report is that as the use of generative AI increases, the US will need workforce development on a far larger scale. According to the report “employers will need to hire for skills and competencies rather than credentials.” Could AI lend a hand to self-guided skills building sessions? Bruce Sylva, Senior Director of Sales at StandOut is confident that it will. “What we’re doing with AI is using different tools to build confidence in interview practice,” said Sylva. StandOut is amongst a group of companies that offer these training and practice options. Good Times for Soft Skills Metrix Learning, a company that provides skills building and training solutions, echoed these sentiments in a recent edition of Partnership Marketplace. Those in hiring positions have called for more candidates with the soft skills needed to complement AI and automation. “Employers are always asking for somebody that has core communications, teamwork, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking skills,” said Christine Peng, Metrix Learning’s Workforce Development Product Manager. Future Looking Forward AI is only going to enhance the ways in which we can train and upskill workers. Skills gain and skills-based training stand to benefit greatly from the use of artificial intelligence in the same way that writers benefit from tools like Grammarly for editing and Hemingway App style. And, professionals who help folks in their career journey are perhaps already using tool or feature that relies on an application of AI. September is the ideal time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of workforce development professionals but we should recognize these folks year round. When Senator Justin Morrill of Vermont submitted his initial legislation, he couldn’t have foreseen that he would be creating a new type of people power that would be observed yearly. And, he couldn’t have imagined that artificial intelligence generated by computers would be part of the conversation. But as we look to 2024, we are here – and we’re ready.