Human Value as AI Transforms Work: Why Skill Building Must Be the Top Priority

Rapid adoption and advancement of generative AI has led to a disconnect in how employers and employees view the benefits and risks of this transformative technology.

To future-proof their workforce, business leaders must build the confidence, competence and resilience of their teams in preparation for perpetual change. Investing in developing both technical and uniquely human capabilities will be key to addressing the AI skills gap and achieving the promised productivity gains. 

New data reveals:

  • Current employee sentiment and differing perceptions about the role of generative AI at work.
  • What soft skills employers still value that AI can’t yet replicate.
  • The human-centered approach to AI integration and reskilling needed to remain competitive in this next evolution of how we do business.

Employees are both optimistic about the benefits of using AI and anxious about the long-term impacts. 

We’re seeing breakneck adoption of generative AI across industries, job levels and geographies, with a recent Oliver Wyman report revealing 55% of employees use GenAI tools weekly at work. 

A survey of 25,000 respondents across 16 countries revealed that a remarkable 96% of employees believe generative AI can benefit their jobs. And 61% of those who use the technology say it has already improved their productivity. 

As a result of this rapid uptake, broad applicability and generally favourable view, a 40% increase in labour productivity has been projected by 2035 across developed countries.

Whilst the enormous potential of this new technology stirs enthusiasm amongst workers, it’s simultaneously stoking uncertainty. 

There’s a fear of the unknown and perceived loss of control that’s impacting employee outlook, wellbeing and performance. 

EY’s AI Anxiety in Business Survey found 65% of US white collar workers are anxious about AI replacing their jobs, with concerns including losing out on promotions and falling behind if they don’t use AI at work.

The American Psychological Association found that for workers who are worried about AI making some or all of their duties obsolete, 41% believe they don’t matter to their employer, 64% feel tense or stressed during their workday and 33% don’t feel motivated to do their best.

This is highlighting how employees are already questioning their role and value in the context of AI integration. 

Many business leaders view AI as a supplementary tool, not a substitute. 

Despite employee concerns that AI will serve as a replacement rather than an enhancement, employers appear to value soft skills as much as technical proficiency. 

World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 cites the top employer reskilling priorities over the next five years as:

  1. Analytical thinking – Breaking down problems, seeing patterns and deriving insights. 
  2. Creative thinking – Generating novel ideas and solutions. 
  3. AI and big data – Leveraging technologies and complex data sets for business advantage. 
  4. Leadership and social influence – Employing interpersonal skills to inspire and motivate others. 
  5. Resilience, flexibility and agility – Adapting positively to changing circumstances. 

There’s a clear emphasis on the continuing importance of human judgement, expertise, oversight and emotional intelligence – all of which contribute to an organisation’s intellectual capital. 

Intellectual capital refers to the knowledge, skills, experience and creativity individuals possess that can be leveraged to create business value. These intangible assets produce economic benefits through improved productivity, innovation, problem-solving and decision-making.

The difference in employer and employee sentiment around the role of generative AI reveals the need for clear communication and trust-building during deployment of this technology. 

Employees want more (and better) training to address the AI skills gap. 

Fortunately, employees are highly aware of the need to adapt to this new way of working and have indicated their willingness to make the change. 

98% of employees surveyed by Oliver Wyman believe they’ll need reskilling or upskilling due to generative AI and 79% indicated they want AI training.

But demand is currently outpacing delivery, and workers are concerned about the accessibility and quality of relevant training. The same study found that 64% of employees currently receive AI training and 57% feel existing learning opportunities are inadequate. 

Transforming the global workforce on such a scale will require an estimated $1.7 trillion spend on generative AI training by 2027 according to the Oliver Wyman report. But the returns are expected to significantly outweigh investment, with the World Economic Forum’s Upskilling for Shared Prosperity report indicating a potential boost to GDP of $6.5 trillion by 2030.

However, training initiatives focused solely on upgrading technical know-how won’t be enough to address the industry disruption. Business leaders will also need to invest in developing the uniquely human capabilities that AI can’t replicate to fully realise these economic gains.

Business leaders need to implement a human-centred approach to AI integration and training.

1. Communicate with your team about AI’s transformative impact and the long-term benefit of upskilling and reskilling. 

The shelf-life of skills is shortening. Fostering a growth mindset will help build the resilience and adaptability of your team in a time of constant change. 

2. Engage with employees to identify gaps in technical knowledge and complementary soft skills. 

Focus on how your people can provide strategic guidance, subject matter expertise, ethical discernment and interpersonal connection while leveraging AI’s speed and scale.

3. Provide accessible and engaging learning opportunities that address employee and business needs. 

Self-directed, on-demand and hyper-personalised microlearning on mobile devices…the way employees want to digest information is changing. You’ll see better outcomes if training delivery is tailored to your team’s preferences. 

4. Redesign workflows for optimal human-AI collaboration where the application of technology supports and enhances employee output. 

Empower your people to integrate AI into existing processes and develop new approaches to allow more time for higher-value work. 

5. Establish an ongoing reskilling program where professional development is incentivised and rewarded. 

Treating reskilling as a strategic workforce capability rather than a one-time training exercise will enable faster adaptation. The World Economic Forum’s Good Work Framework cites a culture of continuous learning as one of six benchmarks for enhanced job quality. 

Investment in technical upskilling and intellectual capital is essential for a future-ready workforce. 

The speed with which generative AI is advancing is necessitating a fundamental review of the definition of human work and its economic contribution. How business leaders approach embedding new technologies within their organisations will have a direct impact on employee morale, wellbeing and performance, with empowerment critical to buy-in. 

While embracing AI’s potential, we must make a conscious effort to elevate the distinctive strengths humans can provide – the creativity that kindles innovation, the empathy that forges connections and the lifelong learning that hones our decision-making. By thoughtfully combining human and AI capabilities and prioritising investment in intellectual capital as well as technical expertise, we can unlock new possibilities and competitive advantages.

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