(Illustration by erhui1979/iStock by Getty Images)

Even before multiple crises challenged the engagement of employees with their companies, workers were restless and ambitious. Eighty-three percent of employees want to change roles, 53% want to change companies, and 64% want a clear career path, according to a survey by Eightfold.ai, an AI-powered Talent Intelligence Platform.

How will they achieve those ambitions–and how will employers help them do it? The essential component is being open to learning, according to Kamal Ahluwalia, Eightfold’s president. “Everybody needs to learn more things. I think there are more assets than we ever realized, and the No. 1 is learnability,” Ahluwalia said in a presentation at From Day One’s recent conference on the workforce of the future.

Eightfold’s mission, delivered through its Talent Intelligence Platform, is to help chart the right career for everyone, based not so much on a worker’s experience but instead on the person’s skills and capabilities that can be discovered and enhanced. (The company’s name derives from Buddhist philosophy, in which the Eightfold Path guides each person to wisdom and nirvana.) In everyday practice, this approach will make traditional approaches to talent obsolete, said Ahluwalia: “Resumes are useless and job descriptions are even worse.” Likewise for job-hopping merely to get a boost in pay. “People don't leave their current role to do the same thing in their next job,” he said.

Kamal Ahluwalia, president of Eightfold.ai (Photo courtesy of Eightfold.ai)

What AI contributes to the process is bringing together billions of anonymized data points and algorithms to help assess a worker’s potential. “What we are able to do with our AI is identify the validated skills, missing skills, likely skills and skills to be verified, based on what candidates have shared with us and the context of the job,” Ahluwalia said.

The data at hand shows that hiring based on potential and aptitude makes more sense than focusing on the candidate’s current skills, which are just a snapshot at a moment in time. In that respect, AI is an invaluable resource in keeping track of a constantly evolving array of skills in demand. In the current job marketplace, there are 1.4 million uniquely identifiable skills, and the half-life of each skill is four to five years, Ahluwalia said. Thanks to AI, “not only do we understand what they are, but we also understand how to apply them. We understand the adjacency of these skills and how to put it in the context of a job,” he said.

One of the areas in which this method its proving is effectiveness is in developing the careers of  military veterans, who represent 6% of the U.S. workforce. In September, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), chose Eightfold in a competition “to build an application to better match transitioning military service members’ skills with employers’ needs,” the department announced. While military veterans have often learned skills that are much in need in business, sometimes the jargon that’s used in the two different worlds leaves something lost in translation.

A slide from Ahlawulia's presentation (Image courtesy of Eightfold.ai)

U.S. military-service members “are amongst the best trained in the world. They are used to working with technologies that some of us won't even see for another five to 10 years,” Ahluwalia explained. “And [they have] the other soft skills that we all yearn for our workforce leadership skills: the ability to work in ambiguity; having each other's back; the trust, loyalty, and transparency. It’s a workforce that we should be opening our arms to. And yet, it's not as easy for them when they're ready to transition out of the military service.” The complications of hiring during COVID-19 have aggravated the challenge.

Ahluwalia described a layered process for bridging the gap. First, the company aggregated data such as military job-occupation codes and the military version of the resume. Then Eightfold  representatives deployed its Capability Matrix, which allowed them to determine not only what the candidates were capable of doing, but also to account for their aspirations. One service member wanted to go back to school, another wanted to be a sound engineer, another one wanted to go into the performing arts. “When we talk about the Capability Matrix, we are talking about something that's self-updating, and automatic,” Ahluwalia said. “So nobody is sitting there updating stuff and trying to find every single thing.” With a focus on learnability, employers can avoid identifying candidates solely with their skills, which is limiting. “If somebody is willing to learn,” said Ahluwalia, “none of us should be in the way.”

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner who sponsored this session: Eightfold.ai. Please visit our conference page to register for more upcoming events.

Angelica Frey is a writer and a translator based in Milan and Brooklyn.