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Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) are beginning to revamp the way things are done in the typical workplace. We're moving toward a part-human/part-robot workforce, and companies should be preparing employees for this new environment today.

"We are seeing an explosion in the demand and application of automation technologies that are changing the way we work today," said Jeff Wong, global chief innovation officer at consulting firm EY.

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"We see these advancements as a positive, and businesses should seek to adopt a man and machine approach to free up their human workforce to take on more strategic, challenging and cognitive endeavors," Wong said. These endeavors can be supported by AI and RPA technologies to carry out the repetitive, mundane tasks, he said.

In order to stay competitive, businesses across all industries need to think about not only embracing these disruptive technologies, but how the technologies will impact the organization, Wong said. At the same time, they should be providing the right training and support for employees.

The addition of technically proficient robots and machine learning capabilities is by no means lessening the value of and need for people with technology skills.

"To attract the right talent, we are looking at those with STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] skills, in addition to traditional business backgrounds," Wong said. "While business and accounting experience present valuable skillsets, adding STEM skills into the mix brings diversity of thought to problem solving and delivers better outcomes."

EY has adopted a "suits plus jeans" approach, "melding cultures together and bringing in new mindsets, such as technology practitioners, to disrupt traditional ways of thinking and solve problems differently," Wong said.

To facilitate the mature and scalable design of blockchain services for example, the firm is hiring a mix of talent including cryptographers, physicists, mathematicians, and software developers. As the needs of its clients evolve, EY is embracing the importance of recruiting candidates with future-focused skills.

Part of the strategy of adapting for the future of work is committing to a culture of "learning how to learn," Wong said. "It's not simply enough to teach a skillset, enterprises have an obligation to their workforce and communities to ongoing learning," he said. "As this digital shift is underway, it is important that business build a workforce that is agile and malleable to accommodate the pace of change."

It's less about having the right skillset and more about learning how to learn and to continuously evolve. To embrace this concept, the firm has launched EY Badges, a digital certification program that allows employees to earn credentials in future-focused skills, centered on key disruptive technologies such as AI, RPA, blockchain, and big data, Wong said.

"EY is using this program to equip our people with the skills needed to solve the complex problems of the future," Wong said.

Businesses should also embrace the potential intrinsic to each disruptive technology. "AI, for example, could be one of the most disruptive technologies in history, and is commercially viable today," Wong said. "But it is currently underinvested, and organizations are not yet fully capitalizing on its potential."

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