One of the greatest fears of employees is the prospect of being rendered “redundant” by automation and obsolescence. For Unilever however, AI is actually helping them get a leg up the corporate ladder.

Called FLEX Experiences, this online talent marketplace uses AI to help Unilever employees search for and identify new career opportunities within the organization and the chance to “upskill” themselves. This is also Unilever’s bid to make upskill movement a more level playing field for all its employees.

FLEX Experiences is made possible by an AI startup Innermobility by Gloat. This isn’t the first time that Unilever has harnessed AI, as it recently funded an AI and is using it to pick the right influencers and weed out fake followers for its digital marketing, and has harnessed AI to automate some of its marketing activities.

A “robot overlord” that helps

How does FLEX Experiences operate? First, employees are made to make a profile featuring their current skill and are asked which areas of expertise they’re seeking to improve or which new skills they want to learn. Next, the AI goes to work to scour opportunities within the company that fit with the employee’s goals.

Unilever’s EVP for Human Resources Jeroen Wels said the company is taking steps “to create radical transparency” in the career opportunities they have or can offer. He believes that by building an “internal marketplace” with AI, you “democratize” the chances of employees to see what sort of projects are available to hone their skills, interests and gain experience. Wels further claims that this creates a “frictionless environment” where employees can view opportunities on the platform in real time, without any “middleman” in the form of a line manager that simply doesn’t see all the possible projects or opportunities available.

Losing a job to obsolescence or redundancy is difficult to bounce back from. That’s why “upskilling” is advisable as tech advancements can easily make jobs disappear (Pxhere.com/en/photo/1336594)

The company claims that the platform is already benefiting its 30,000-strong workforce, especially those in the marketing department. As an example, Wels shared that one brand manager in the US is now getting experience and exposure to a European market without even leaving New York. This enables him to gain international experience and “have a feel” for the work prior to making the big decision to move.

A physiological safety net

As of now, the platform is completely voluntary and will remain so, as Unilever believes that by not forcing employees to sign up, their desire to learn new skills and experiences is stronger. While signing up will remain voluntary, the company urges its leaders to promote the tool and emphasize to its staff the importance of preparing for the future. This is reflective in Wels’ sentiments, as he believes “it is of strategic importance that you keep on developing yourselves because skills are obsolete before you know it.”

Wels stresses that “we are entering a period where certain jobs will disappear and some will come back… you literally create physiological safety as you create opportunities for people to sharpen their skills.” FLEX Experiences is currently available to the marketing, finance, IT, supply chain and R&D departments, but is expected to be fully implemented at Unilever by 2020. Apart from endowing its employees with new skills and experiences, Unilever claims the platform has resulted in other unexpected benefits: better feedback was obtained about projects and skills that had the highest interest, giving a clearer picture of where the relevant brands and markets were going.

For marketers and other employees, this is a truly welcome development as other companies may follow suit and “future-proof” their employees. An AI-driven internal feature like this could become industry-wide practice and no employee would have to worry about becoming “obsolete”, despite the continuing advances in AI and other technologies.

To get the full details on the story here: https://www.marketingweek.com/2019/06/27/unilever-ai-upskill-training/

Do you think more companies should offer in-house opportunities for upskilling as Unilever is doing? Will this be a sufficient “buffer” against redundancy or obsolescence? Let us know in the comments!

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