The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies of all shapes and sizes to reconsider how they were doing business. Overnight, customer experience became paramount, workflows increasingly moved to the cloud, and automation, digitization, and use of analytics accelerated to scale and meet the increasing demands of the pandemic. Companies that had never integrated AI into their workflow were seeing its benefits. In World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2020,” 50 percent of businesses said COVID-19 pushed them to accelerate automation in their organization. During the pandemic, AI’s on-demand resource scalability has been essential to companies trying to reinvent their processes or their core business model.
Companies have seen AI match their need for agility, customer focus, and speed to market. AI can bring efficiencies to the software development cycle, quickly ramp up output, significantly shorten project timelines, and drive value and productivity for businesses.
AI isn’t going anywhere. But what does it mean for working professionals? Can they work in harmony with AI — or is it a threat to their livelihood?
The Human Element of Work
It’s key to understand that though AI may replace some jobs, it will work hand in hand with humans and create new roles that can’t run on AI alone. Humans have unique capabilities that robots lack, and many AI processes will need humans to close the loop. There are things AI can’t, and isn’t meant, to do. “AI-based machines are fast, more accurate, and consistently rational, but they aren’t intuitive, emotional, or culturally sensitive,” said David De Cremer, Provost’s Chair and Professor at NUS Business School, and Garry Karparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation. Employees who can successfully understand and work with AI-powered processes are a big part of an AI-powered future.
Skill Needs are Shifting
AI takes on rote tasks so that workers can focus on intelligent, human-driven, cognitive tasks. With that said, some roles have or will become redundant with AI. Some existing jobs will evolve into positions that require an understanding of, and ability to work with, AI — meaning that workers will need to take on new iterations of their existing roles. Workers who can integrate AI with automation and data analysts, data scientists, and experts in machine learning are in demand. Staffing cybersecurity skillsets for the cloud are also increasingly in demand, leading to more DevOps, infrastructure, and cybersecurity roles. Companies are also seeking workers with emerging skills who can work with more complex AI projects.
In the long-term, an increase in AI-powered processes could mean a workforce with new core skills, including analytical and critical thinking and enhanced creativity (40 percent of workers’ core skills are expected to change in the next five years, according to the World Economic Forum). This may be a tough pill to swallow in the short term for workers whose skills are becoming less relevant — but it’s also an opportunity to grow.
Soft Skills are King
The need for workers with soft skills is vital in a new world of AI and perhaps more acute than the need for technical skills. Workers who can drive technology and data science adoption and literacy across the entire organization are in high demand — and this requires much more than someone who can code or analyze data. Moving forward, companies will need people who are skilled at interpersonal and emotional connections. These human traits and skills are what set people apart from machines.
According to World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, analytical thinking and innovation, complex problem-solving, active learning and learning strategies, and resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility are all in-demand soft skills. Author and futurist Bernard Marr also named creativity, emotional intelligence, leadership skills, and cultural intelligence as essential soft skills in the age of AI, noting, “I believe these softer skills will become even more critical for success as the nature of work evolves, and as machines take on more of the easily automated aspects of work.”
Being a Proactive Professional
As a tech professional, now is the time to find ways to add value to your role and learn more about working with AI. The labor market is set for a productivity boom, experts say, as AI integrates into companies’ workflows. This translates to hiring and a need for skilled workers to handle the influx in productivity. Fifty-five percent of the companies surveyed in World Economic Forum’s report said the inability to attract specialized talent was a barrier to adopting new technologies, and 60 percent attributed it to skills gaps in the local labor market.
It can be difficult and scary to get out of your comfort zone, but it’s essential to get out of your own way. “The fear is real, but it’s not the way we think people are scared. People likely feel the fear of adapting and learning new skills — skills that a machine could never do. That is an identity crisis in the workforce of the future, “ Missy Lawrence-Johnston, principal consultant at ISG, said.
Look for ways today to boost your value in tomorrow’s labor market. Stay up-to-date on the latest AI and workplace trends through auto-alerts and local industry groups, and talk to leadership at your employer about their vision for AI and ways you can act now to add value. Research emerging roles in AI and find out what transferable skills you’re missing that you can work to acquire. Learn in-demand skills through tech boot camps; take courses on sites like Coursera and Udemy; and examine whether new certifications are the right path for your growth. Consider the soft skills you have gained during the pandemic, and weave these into your resume. Use your drive to better yourself; it will help increase the value you provide, regardless of how the AI future unfolds.
Look for companies who are investing in their employees and finding ways to prepare them for the future. Accenture, for example, invests nearly $1 billion every year to upskill people in new technologies, including cloud, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and data analytics. If you’re currently in the market for a job, ask curious questions during the hiring process, like: “Which skills and capabilities do you need to build your AI vision?” “How do you plan to use AI at the company, and how do you see the staff evolving to meet this vision?”
Creating the AI Future We Want
It’s also important to remember that we as humans can drive the part we want AI to play in our lives and businesses. Humans aren’t, and don’t need to be, bystanders to a future ruled by AI. We need to be active participants in its use and learn to harness it to our advantage in our daily lives and at work. There is a growing need to use AI to increase positive interactions and fill the empathy deficit we are experiencing. “AI is already working in symbiosis with humans, so it’s up to us to define what we want that partnership to look like going forward,” said Josh Feast, CEO and co-founder of AI company Cogito.
Many organizations are seeking talented workers to be a part of the change and fill critical skills gaps. Find out more about becoming a consultant today.