With the announcement that General Motors is closing its Oshawa plant as well as others in the U.S., there has been great concern over people losing jobs, well one Toronto-based company wants to help solve that problem with its artificial intelligence (AI) powered upskilling, reskilling platform.
Calling itself the “Google Maps for the future of work and learning,” FutureFit AI is a machine learning powered platform that combines labour market data, its own algorithm, and education/training programs, claiming it can create opportunities for workers to find new job paths.
“Our view at FutureFit AI is that, while some of the major trends in the job market in terms of automation have already happened and will continue to happen, we want to be proactive and work with businesses, governments, unions and individuals to plan ahead,” Hamoon Ekhtiari, CEO and founder of FutureFit told ITBusiness.ca. “It’s about upskilling and reskilling workers using the power of AI.”
FutureFit thinks it has the solution to that growing worry around automation taking human jobs and ironically it wants to use machine learning to do it.
Take the case of the soon-to-be-laid-off GM plant workers for example. Enterprises, like the Detriot-based car manufacturer, would be able to include the FutureFit AI platform into an employee’s transition package, allocating a certain budget to that person which they could then put towards taking new courses, helping them learn new skills for a future job or career path.
GM presents a great, if not timely, example as it is shutting down certain plants and turning its focus to electric and autonomous vehicles. Workers with a different skill set will be needed or workers will have to be retrained.
The AI platform would be able to help workers (like those at GM) find new career opportunities and set them up with the education needed to gain the skills needed to work in an autonomous car industry for example.
How the platform works
Ekhtiari calls FutureFit the ‘Google Maps’ for work because like the online map, he wants to give workers a “dynamic tool” powered by data that can help them make educated decisions about where they want to go in terms of a new job or career.
The platform combines real-time data from job sites collected by job market analytic software company Burning Glass, with FutureFit’s own research into the future of the labour market. Adding on top of that it’s own machine learning algorithm which matches people’s profiles with occupations best-suited for them based on all the collected data, most in-demand jobs, as well as their skill set and characteristics.
Ekhtiari says what’s unique about FutureFit is that it combines all those things, as well as geolocation, but starts from the point of view of putting people first and finding what works best for them. “People are not just widgets, you can’t just replace them, one job for another, it is very nuanced,” he argues.
FutureFit works by allowing enterprises to offer its services to workers that need to simply learn new skills or an entirely new career. The individual makes a profile, then sets a career or learning goal. The algorithm then assesses the profile, offering paths to get achieve that goal.
For example, it offers a variety of education or learning options from free online courses, to three-month online boot camps, or programs directly connected to a certain enterprise. The individual could then chose their desired path and use the budget given to them from their employer to achieve that goal.
Adapting to the labour market
“There needs to be a change in the way we look at the future of work,” says Ekhtiari, “the headlines around robots taking over jobs is misguiding.”
He argues that in reality, it’s not jobs that will be taken over by automation but tasks, skills and activities. And while some job positions will change, meaningful, human competent jobs will be as important as ever.
While he emphasized the need to teach young people digital literacy, he doesn’t believe that learning technology and coding are the only answers. Teaching skills needed for jobs like social work, education, healthcare, which can often be undervalued by society, are going to be just as important in the future labour market Ekhtiari argues.
Statistics agree that automation doesn’t necessarily mean job loss.
According to The McKinsey Global Institute report, ‘Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation’, “a growing and dynamic economy, in part fueled by technology itself and its contributions to productivity, would create jobs.”
The report goes on to say that this job growth could more than offset the number of jobs lost to automation. However, learning new skills is going to be key.
It estimates that “as many as 375 million workers globally (14 per cent of the workforce) will likely need to transition to new occupational categories and learn new skills.”
The solution, it says is businesses and governments stepping up and creating opportunities to boost job creation, arguing that if they are not proactive the transition will be slow, causing high unemployment and effecting wage growth.
Starting out strong
A fairly young company, FutureFit is just three months into its journey, but it has already been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and was a winner of the TD Ready Challenge, receiving $1 million in funding.
The Toronto-born company has been a couple years in the works though, says Ekhtiari. It stems from his other venture, Audacious You which partnered with Deloitte, the Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank, CIBC, and Sunlife also focusing on helping people learn skills for the future workforce.
He says that those institutions have also expressed interest in FutureFit. There has also been international interest both from U.S. companies and the Middle East, where, Ekhtiari explains he just got back from speaking with the prime minister’s office of the United Arab Emirates about his venture.
The company will also be flying to Hong Kong shortly to participate in the Yidan Prize Summit, which brings together global leaders to discuss issues around education and planning for the future.
FutureFit is currently in its pilot stage, working with early adopters to test out the platform, with plans to become fully available to its partners and customers sometime in 2019.