"Go get an education and better your life,” is advice that has stood the test of time -- at least for those apt to learn through books and afforded the opportunity to do so. Academic aptitude is not as tightly correlated with intelligence or human potential as it may appear in job descriptions. That nuance is important because the business community is facing a skill shortage and the people community is seeing a slowing of social mobility.

The US Department of Education estimated 36 million Americans are low-skilled meaning they do not have the basic literacy or numeracy needed to be competitive in a modern economy. “US social mobility has either remained unchanged or decreased since the 1970s,” according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Those are some of the human costs. The business costs can be seen in vacant positions, higher cost of hiring, and unmet customer demand. 2 .4 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled through 2028 according to a study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. This number is likely to increase as U.S. GDP is expected to grow 6.5% in 2021 -- the highest since 1984. Add to the mix demographics: the baby boomers leaving the workforce over the next 10 years are expected to vacate about 40% of skilled jobs.

With an open mind and a small investment, we are changing the way we find and develop talent at Stanley Black and Decker

The combination of human expertise and people-centric technology holds the promise of solving the great skills gap while accelerating socio-economic mobility. In this exclusive article for Manage HR Magazine, I will share practical examples of how to unite people and technology to achieve real impact for your shareholders, your workforce, and your community.

Building People Capabilities

One urgent business challenge is capturing the know-how of experienced workers before losing them to retirement or another company. The classic apprenticeship model whereby an inexperienced colleague looks over the shoulder of an experienced peer works but is inefficient and hierarchal. At Stanley Black and Decker, we needed something more scalable, so we looked to technology and human innovation for help.

The best idea turned out to be quite simple and amazingly effective. We adopted an artificial intelligence (AI) based technology to record experienced workers as they perform job-related tasks, troubleshoot common issues, and go through safety protocols. The work motion is recorded on video, automatically edited into bite-sized segments, tagged for easy searching, and then stored in a content library for everyone at our company to use. For example, in one of our assembly plants it was common practice for the top performer to be pulled off a production line to train new hires. This impacted the productivity of that line. By using AI-based technology to document the top performer’s work motion and lessons learned, we were able to capture the knowhow for new hires to watch on their own. When new hires see a specific step that they don’t quite understand, they can walk over to ask or watch it happen live.

The AI engine creates subtitles from spoken speech and translates it into 13 languages. All of this is accessible o n a computer, tablet, or phone. The technology does the hard work, the learner enjoys the on-demand flexibility, and we don’t need to hire a lot of trainers or create hours of classroom time. “People are learning with video when they want to,” said Audrey Van de Castle who leads our Training Innovation and Makers Initiatives. “Using video for folks to learn at work makes training much more efficient – and our employees not only prefer to learn this way – they learn faster this way.”

Although we are using advance technology, uniquely human characteristics remain a major part of the learning process. For instance, the peer trainer narrates contemporaneously during the recording in a manner of speaking that is more relatable to their colleagues. We have heard our share of jokes, gripes, and enthusiasm – all in the right natural places. Having a professional trainer say “Don’t put your hand on this part while the machine it’s on” is informative but having an experienced peer say, “Don’t you put your hand on this part while the machine is on because you will get burned” is probably more memorable.

Our workforce is more at ease with this method o f l earning. Supervisors and workers alike found this approach better than a 50-page manual or a classroom lecture. The videos provide more standardized training and allows a learner to rewind, fast-forward, and come back to it later. For those who prefer learning by reading, automated transcripts provide that opportunity as well.

We are finding this relevant on our factory floors as well as office workers. For example, the same technology can be made available to call center or field installation professionals so they can record how they do something well and share it with their peers. With AI based video technology we can activate the energy and industriousness of our 53-thousand employees. The key here is to let the informal peer-to-peer network happen – supervisors and HR should help launch, nudge here and there, and then get out of the way.

Building Organization Resilience

The classic model of training is too time consuming and costly to train a lot more people than you need for a given function. With on-demand technology, our workforce can choose what they are interested in learning and give it a shot without the need for tuition, approvals, or fear of failure. In a short amount of time you might find more people able to perform a given function than you expected. That starts to create building blocks for org resilience.

Another way we are building org resilience is in our hiring strategy. Like many other companies, we have found it challenging to find qualified talent. Instead of competing on a supplyand- demand curve that would make any HR leader’s playbook look like wishful thinking, we are redefining the curve. With the AI-based learning technology just explained, we can more confidently consider people who have not yet done a specific job but have the right work ethic and attitude. That opens the supply curve tremendously.

We explored the best way to find talent including the obvious – online job boards, billboards, recruiting partners, and advertising. The challenge is locating and getting the attention of a shrinking pool of candidates that are being bombarded with the same recruiting tactics that every other company is spending money o n. Our experience i s leading us towards AI-based, skills-first platforms with specialty niches to find, connect with, and reach out to qualified candidates where they are. Technology is helping us deeply understand which worker has which skill across multiple domains and how those skills could be transferable.

We now have valuable data across the Construction, Energy and Manufacturing sectors – at that’s a powerful advantage that helps us make the job-candidate matching happen faster. We are experimenting with creating a community - you might call it a social network - of trades people. We are striving to develop a continuous pipeline of talent through engagement and education.

HR Can Be Innovative

Thriving in today’s marketplace requires uniting technology with human potential. Your HR function does not need an army of machine learning experts or a multi-milliondollar investment to innovate. There are 1.35 million tech startups creating lots of innovation. Our role in HR is to connect the dots and curate the right technology that works. It isn’t technology that will carry the day, but a thoughtful combination of people and technology.