Expert Q&A with Alec Ross: "Talent Development Has Never Been More Important"

Ahead of his appearance at AESC’s Global Conference in April, Alec Ross discusses some of the key themes of his new book The Industries of the Future and how they overlap with executive search and leadership consulting

The blurb of your book ‘The Industries of the Future’, describes several fields that will most shape the next ten years of economic growth (notably cybersecurity, big data, robotics). Two areas that we have heard a lot about in recent years are Big Data and cybersecurity. How do you think these will influence the future?

Land was the raw material of the agricultural age, iron was the material of the industrial age and data is the raw material for the implementation age. Data is really the building block that entirely new industries are being built. In my book, I talk about how big data transformed certain industries such as advertising and publishing. I also write a lot about HR and analytics in my book. I worry that the analytics are inherently aggressive, in that they are often based on past performance. One of the things we should guard against is building Big Data programs that are reinforcing existing biases.

In the area of cyber security, as the number of network devices used grows from 16 billion in 2016 to 40 billion in 2020, our vulnerability will also grow. While The Industries of The Future is a net optimistic book, the area where I have the darkest view is on cyber security. I think the weaponization of code is the most significant development in the world of conflict.

At last year’s AESC Global Conference, McKinsey’s Richard Dobbs talked about the rise of technology across every industry and how that will lead to a shortage of employment opportunities for traditional blue collar workers. During your travels, how did you perceive the future of talent development to keep up with the technological drivers of economic growth?

I live in Baltimore where there is significant economic disenfranchisement. But there are also hundreds of jobs in cybersecurity that are going unfulfilled. It’s a field where you don’t need a specialized university degree in computing sciences – you just need a certificate from a college and you are almost guaranteed a $70k+ a year job. We need to look at our talent development and direct younger people towards the fields where we know there will be growth. I think talent development as a field has never been more important, we will have a skills deficit at the very time where artificial intelligence in robotics are displacing not merely blue collar labor but low level white collar labor.

Do you think organizations will be able to develop a large enough talent pool to deal with these new technological drivers? If so, how will they do so and what traits/capabilities should they be looking for? If not, how would you recommend they navigate these new fields?

The best companies will be able to attract the talent. They tend to place a priority on human capital that low performing and mediocre companies do not. They are prepared to invest not only financially but also in the things that people want and need. For mediocre and poorer performing companies, they are going to be really challenged as there are so many choices in the workforce that the best talent will move towards. I increasingly see people willing to take a little less money to be part of a company that is competing and succeeding in the market place. The people that are going to be most compelling in the future are those that blend technical skills with strong skills in communication and teaching are going to be the great leaders of tomorrow.

Alec Ross will be keynoting the AESC Global Conference on April 6 & 7 in New York City. Register now.