AlienCat - stock.adobe.com
We are on the precipice of a revolution in the workplace – and it’s not down to a generational divide.
AI is one of the highest profile, fastest moving types of technology we've seen in a generation.
Whether you believe it will have negative consequences or be a force for good, there's no denying it's having something of a moment – and may soon become as ubiquitous as social media or the Internet across our personal and professional lives.
The ubiquity of AI and workplace impact
AI was once solely used by tech companies and embedded in behemoth machines (think IBM’s Watson), but the technology has developed to the point where it fits in our pockets. What’s more, it has become far more accessible for everyday use thanks to the rise of generative AI.
As AI systems have become more accessible and familiar, they have started to impact how we work and what kinds of jobs we do.
Recent figures from the OECD found that 27% of jobs could become automated in the future. While this is undoubtedly a headline-grabbing stat, it’s less shocking in context. For example, data from Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in 2018 found that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 hadn't even been invented yet – meaning that, while there will be a change to the jobs we do just now, different roles will be created that don’t currently exist.
But, while there are worrying predictions about the number of jobs that could fall by the wayside, I would counter by saying that we aren’t at that point yet. There’s probably still quite a long way to go, and despite the hype, AI also brings a wealth of opportunity to the workplace.
Maintaining the value of people
We are seeing some sectors where AI is already proving beneficial – finance and law in particular – whereby what were once very manual and time-consuming jobs can be offloaded onto an automated tool. This was something the World Economic Forum called out in a 2020 report.
However, rather than seeing AI as something that will “steal” jobs, we must reframe our thinking. As with the Dell Technologies research, we should consider that human jobs may not necessarily become redundant but instead evolve, creating opportunities for workers to upskill.
This is far from the first major technological advancement organisations have faced. The introduction of the Internet followed by social media transformed how we worked, connected and promoted our wares.
As AI advances at a rapid pace, there will still be a place for people within organisations, but with an increasing requirement for them to interact with advancing technology. Of course, there will be caution and nervousness about the power and potentially negative consequences of these systems in the workplace. Therefore, it is the role of employers to build trust in the technology, ensuring that regulation, ethical consideration and responsible use are upmost in everyone’s minds.
I urge that we all take a breath, keep calm and focus on the opportunity when it comes to how AI will shape what we do at work in the future.
We must not underestimate the investment required in upskilling and retraining workforces. Due to AI, IBM predicts that 40% of its workforce will require reskilling. Their recent study concludes that the most successful companies won’t simply automate existing systems but rethink all workflows and operations with AI in mind.
New roles will be created, and existing positions will change with the increasing need to be able to configure, control, maintain and interact with AI systems. To allow us to keep pace with the advancement of technology will require continuous professional development, not only from a technical perspective but also to develop in ways that will support interaction with these systems, such as problem-solving, creative and critical thinking. People must be aware of not only the benefits but also the risks, with an awareness of the potential for bias and inaccuracy and a level of personal responsibility with ethics and regulation, in addition to that of the organisation.
While not everyone will be in an ‘AI’ role, what must be acknowledged from the get-go is that technology will be able to do more and more to assist humans – be it AI or the advancement of a handheld device – which means that, like it or not, it will eventually become challenging, if not impossible, to avoid interacting with AI system in the workplace and our personal lives. Organisations must take responsibility for embedding this learning into their core training programmes. As data citizens, we should be aware of the increasing need to develop these skills to move forward with society and to maintain a competitive edge with employers.
Such efforts will not only ensure that staff are au fait with the AI tools that will help to boost their roles but will also mean they don’t miss out on any new opportunities that could arise from the impending AI revolution.
Rather than believing that this revolution will be negative, we must all consider that, yes, there will be an evolution in what we do at work – but not to the point where we become obsolete.
After all, that same OECD report stressed that people working in finance and manufacturing said AI has made their jobs more enjoyable. Given that job satisfaction can directly benefit employee loyalty and wellbeing, if that’s not a positive outcome for people and businesses, then I don’t know what is.
Heather Thomson is the Director of Skills and Talent, at The Data Lab.