By Annabelle Watt, Consultant Partner, Cullen Scholefield
You may, as a leader in the People Profession, be feeling anxious about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on your organisation, particularly how you might future-proof the skills of your workforce. There are quite a few discussions out there highlighting how AI might impact the skills in your business, but little on the actions you can take to offset any impact.
This blog article aims to alleviate any fears by summarising what the issues are and to detail what can be done to meet this head-on. It would be helpful if you would complete the poll, which will help us define the status quo amongst our Circle of Peers, pinpoint good practice and identify the areas that you would like help with going forwards.
To write this summary I’ve taken findings from three key sources; The Gartner Report, Deloitte: Covid 19 The Upskilling Imperative, and the CIPD thought piece: Shaping AI for your business needs.
Firstly, what is AI?
According to Shah; Artificial intelligence (AI) is an umbrella term for a suite of technologies that performs tasks usually associated with human intelligence. The technology responsible for driving most current and recent advances within the field of AI is ‘machine learning’, which enables computer systems to perform specific tasks intelligently, by learning from data rather than pre- programmed rules. Machine learning is used across many areas of everyday life, such as image recognition systems – like those used to tag photos on social media, in voice recognition systems – like those used by virtual personal assistants, and in recommender systems, such as those used by online retailers.
How is AI impacting the evolution of skills in the workplace?
AI replaces repetitive perception and judgement-related tasks to improve efficiency; for example automation, autopilot, facial recognition, Spotify recommendations, automated customer outreach – chat bots and medical diagnostics. The more data that is gathered and presented, the more AI learns and evolves.
AI can be used to enhance human thinking; for example AI processes the data and recognises patterns. The key thing is, what do humans as creative and social beings, do with this information? Not only do employees need to adapt to AI, but line managers and team leaders will need to be trained so they can effectively consume the insights produced by AI.
Crucially, although AI displaced 75 million jobs by 2020, it created at least 133 million new ones. So, it’s clear that AI doesn’t eliminate talent, but instead requires leaders to refocus and use their workforce’s social/creative skills to utilise the data AI gives them.
A skill’s lifespan used to last about 30 years. The rapid changes brought about by technology mean a ‘skill’s lifespan’ is now about 5 years. Therefore, upskilling is crucial. The demand for technical/data analyst staff outstrips the supply through our universities. This will require upskilling of existing staff rather than relying on buying in this expertise.
64% of HR leaders do not have an effective plan to address how technology will change the skills needed in the workplace.
*Gartner Report 2019
Only 26% of organisations are ready to handle the impact of AI, 54% say they don’t have the skills to build the skills needed for the future, and 86% say they have to reinvent their organisation’s ability to learn.
……So there’s a need for assessing, planning and strategising!
How can leaders of people professionals assess the impact of AI in the workplace?
Some sectors will be affected more than others, and some job roles within organisations will be more at risk from AI than others. In principle, each job role in your organisation can be given an ‘AI impact score’. The fewer social/creative skills needed to execute the role, the more at risk of AI impact it is.
The Gartner paper summarises that more creative roles are at low risk from the impact of AI. E.g. marketing managers. This certainly might have been the case pre-Covid. However, with wfh/hybrid teams it’s essential these roles are dexterous in the following digital areas such as Zoom, Teams, Slack, database management, cloud data storage and in gathering and interpreting the information generated from social media platforms.
Some job roles are at medium risk of the impact of AI; for example, accountants already use automation to generate tax reports. However, accountants already have a high level of digital dexterity so these employees may embrace change more easily. This frees them up to do more strategic thinking roles such as forecasts and projections.
Mechanics are at high risk of AI impact. These days modern cars are more complex. When there is a fault, diagnostic tools are used to pinpoint the cause. This sector traditionally would not have had a high level of digital dexterity but will now need to upskill their workforce to utilise the data that AI feeds them.
Checklist : What can leaders of people professionals do to assess the status quo and plan better?
- Carry out a skills audit of job roles; prioritise by assessing the job role with the most employees first, or those roles that cost the most to train or retain
- Identify the roles that have a medium-high level of risk of automation or those that require a high level of digital dexterity. These are the ones to focus on
- Drill down further: Execute a ‘day in the life’ of a role. Decide which tasks sit at the creative end of the spectrum and those that are more technical. Identify the technical tasks that could be at risk of AI or are likely to become obsolete with the use of AI
- Quiz the board/management: How is the organisation planning to implement AI in the next 3 years and which job roles will be affected by this? What new products/service offerings are being launched that will have an AI impact; such as the introduction of a customer service chat bot. Are any roles going to be phased out fully?
Possible Actions to be taken by organisations in responding to the impact of AI:
ACQUIRE TALENT: Your organisation might need to employ more staff to deal with the volume of enquiries that AI generates: for example, websites reach thousands and with a click of a mouse an enquiry can be raised via a chat bot or an order that a human must respond to.
BROADEN PROFILES: Your organisation might need to identify more social/creative job tasks that might arise as a result of needing to interpret the AI data generated and spread people with these skills over complementary job roles in a department.
REDEPLOY STAFF: Your organisation might consider relocating or reskilling those whose roles have been taken over by AI and fill gaps elsewhere in the business. e.g. train mechanics to work with the AI diagnostics rather than buying in new talent to work with emerging technologies.
DOWNSIZE: For example the job role is no longer required as AI will do it instead.
Having a clear idea of how to support your future AI-enabled workforce is crucial to the success of your organisation. By starting now and thinking about how AI will impact your business needs over the next 3-5 years, you will be better placed to future-proof your role descriptions, upskill, or redeploy your workforce to meet those challenges.
Final Checklist: What can leaders of people professionals do right now to be future-ready?
- Carry out a Skills Audit to assess your workforce’s vulnerability from AI
- Determine how AI might fit into your overall business strategy (The Future-state AI vision)
- Draft up a future talent strategy (that meets your business sector/size) based on AI impact
- Design a learning strategy to assess future learning needs and to support your AI-enabled workforce.
Gartner TalentNeuron (2020) Future Proof your Talent Strategy ; How AI is evolving the workforce.
 Deloitte: (2020) Covid 19 – The Upskilling Imperative; Building a future-ready workforce for the AI age.
 Hetan Shah; (2022) CIPD; Shaping AI for your future business needs.