Written by Insights Team
In 1888, the London-based accounting firm that became PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) faced a major technological upheaval thanks to the Burroughs adding machine. The first-ever mechanized calculator, an invention by William Seward Burroughs, cut the time to perform accounting tasks in half, and PwC’s hundreds of workers had to quickly master the new system, or get left in the dust.
Today, PwC isn’t simply an accounting firm—now it’s a global consultancy with 250,930 employees in 158 countries, raking in $43.1 billion in revenue in 2018—but once again it, along with thousands of other companies, faces a seismic technological shakeup with the advent of AI and other advanced technologies.
It’s rising to meet the challenge by preparing its workers to use digital technologies at all levels, from entry-level staff to C-suite executives. And it’s not alone in its reskilling push—AT&T, IBM, Walmart and other forward-leaning companies also have major retraining programs underway. The common thread? Each company’s leaders believe that having a workforce that’s ready and able to harness emerging AI tech will provide a crucial competitive edge in coming years.
In the U.S., much of PwC’s efforts are centered on two ambitious programs: a Digital Fitness app for its 50,000 employees as well as an immersive Digital Accelerator initiative. In June 2018, the Digital Accelerator program admitted more than 1,100 staffers out of a pool of 3,500 applicants to its first class; recruitment is underway for the second class.
During the two-year initiative, Digital Accelerators receive intensive training in a wide range of emerging tech, including machine learning, robotics, data visualization and cybersecurity. After the program ends, the idea is that they will return to their departments armed with new skills or assume new roles within the company. Along the way, from Day 1, they mentor their peers, seeding their skills throughout the firm.
Does every organization need to match PwC’s elaborate efforts to prepare its own workforce for the future? Of course not. But most need to do more than they are doing at present. Although executives at 74% of U.S. companies expect to automate work tasks significantly over the next three years, only 3% plan to increase their spending on employee training, according to an Accenture survey.
That won’t cut it. For business leaders looking to prep their employees for all that AI will entail, PwC’s approach offers powerful lessons in how to both educate and communicate with their most valuable asset—people.
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