General Assembly CEO: Don’t build your businesses around AI, VR and AR – use them as tools instead

Mr Jake Schwartz is the CEO and co-founder of General Assembly
General Assembly

Terms like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) are just a few of the many buzzwords that plague the technology landscape today.

“These words start to lose their value when they are used so much. They are not a panacea for the issues that businesses face today,” said General Assembly chief executive officer Mr Jake Schwartz.

In fact, he warns that such trendy catchphrases – which essentially refer to forms of data processing – may be outdated before you know it.

Mr Schwartz was in Singapore for a couple of days last week for a panel discussion and a slew of business meetings, and took time to chat with Business Insider over a cup of coffee.

General Assembly, which is a pioneer in education and career transformation is headquartered in the US and has 20 global campuses.

It aims to bridge the global skills gap by focusing on education and career transformation – specialising in today’s most in-demand skills including coding, UX & design, and data skills, among others.

“Education is not a content business, it’s an investment business. People come in and invest their time, and they want to get something out of it at the end,” says Mr Schwartz.

And increasingly, more companies are starting to invest in their employees, and are looking at learning as a tool for talent acquisition and retention.

In fact, globally, 60% of students who attend General Assembly’s evening and weekend classes are reimbursed by their employers.

Although General Assembly got its start in 2011 grooming individuals and working with consumers directly, and by 2018, more than half of its consumer base is set to be companies.

“The biggest growth for us, and it is really heartening, is that companies are now coming to us in droves”.

“I think what’s happened is that they (companies) have kind of woken up and seen both their intense need for these skills in the workforce and that their alternatives are much more expensive than investing in their employees”, said Mr Schwartz.

When it comes to the challenges of being a business and staying in business in the 21st century, he also laid out a few tips to help businesses stay relevant.

Know your core values

Understanding the unique selling point and core values of a business is essential to surviving the waves of disruption that may come.

Adopting the newest technology today is not going to help you in the long run as for every new innovation today, there will be 10 tomorrow.

“Even things like AR and VR are just tools, and they are going to change over time,” says Mr Schwartz.

So instead of building a business around a tool, businesses should make use of these tools to supplement their offering.

And this can only be done if they understand what their brand stands for.

Understand your metrics and invest 

“I think that learning and development when done properly, can be a completely different channel to build your talent pipeline”.

“And it gives you competitive advantage, it gives you visibility, and it sort of removes that bottleneck to growth,” says Mr Schwartz.

And the fear of losing employees after investing in them should not stop companies from investing.

Instead, creative solutions can be implemented to deal with such problems.

Help your employees understand their options

Many employees don’t know about the learning and growth opportunities available to them – and this poses as a real problem.

So companies should help open up these pathways to their employees through improved communication channels.

In turn, this will lead to a mutually beneficial outcome for both employees and employers, said Mr Schwartz.