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Prepare for the Future of Work: The emergence of artificial intelligence

Jason Lauritsen by Jason Lauritsen   December 05 2018

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This is the seventh post of my series about preparing your organization for the future of work. In each post, we look at a data-based trend that is or will be disruptive to work as we know it. In the last post, we explored the impact of longer life expectancies on the workforce. Today, we’ll look at the impact of the rise of artificial intelligence (AI).


Future of Work trend #7: Automation through artificial intelligence

Unless you’re really good at ignoring the news, it’s been hard to avoid the headlines about how AI is coming for our jobs. Perhaps the most startling of all the headlines came from a 2013 study published by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne at the University of Oxford with this jaw-dropping prediction about the impact over the next 20 (now 15) years, “According to our estimates, about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk.”


This statistic has garnered a lot of headlines over the past five years for good reason. If the authors are correct, it feels worthy of some panic both for employees and employers. Since this study was published, there have been many other reports making predictions about how automation will disrupt jobs.

 

Here are a couple samples:

  • A McKinsey report estimates that between 75 million and 375 million workers (3-14%) globally will need to switch “occupational categories” by 2030.  

  • In the same report, McKinsey forecasts that approximately 23% of working hours for current professions will be displaced by automation over the next 12 years.  

  • The World Economic Forum estimates that “by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today.”


What does artificial intelligence automation mean for organizations?

While the predictions about the impact of AI on jobs are widely varied, everyone agrees that disruption is coming. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when and how much.  


The more recent studies and predictions, like those shared from McKinsey, are more nuanced in their analysis. Instead of focusing on how many jobs might be lost, they address the more complex reality that nearly every job in existence today will be susceptible to automation through AI in some way.


startup business team on meeting in modern bright office interior brainstorming, working on laptop and tablet computer

It’s not jobs that we automate, it’s tasks. It’s tasks that require employees to have specific skills and abilities. When a task or set of tasks is automated, those skills become unnecessary. And as new tasks emerge in their place, they require new skills that may not have been a consideration in the past.

 

Herein lies the challenge and opportunity for employers. The coming impact of AI on jobs is as much about transformation as it is about elimination. Many of today’s tasks will be gone, replaced by new ones we may not even know about yet.


How can we prepare for the future of work now?

Of all the trends shared in this series, this is probably the most daunting. Based on who you chose to believe, somewhere between one fourth and one half of the tasks currently done in our organizations by people will be automated and replaced (at least in some part). Many of these will be replaced with entirely new tasks that require new skills.   


This should not cause you to panic, but it should have your full attention. There’s still time to prepare yourself and your organization, but that time is fleeting. Below are a few ways to get started.


  1. Get educated about AI. As you begin to research this topic, you’ll be both amazed and shocked by the technology that already exists. AI is performing customer service and writing news articles. It’s composing symphonies that most of us couldn’t distinguish from those written by the masters. AI is doing some amazing things. But, it also has limitations that you should be aware of. AI is here. It’s time to get up to speed.  

  2. Assess and predict where automation will likely impact your organization. Once you’re educated about AI and what technology is here today, engage with the other business leaders in your organization to identify where automation of current tasks is most eminent. By mapping out these impacts, you can start planning for how to reskill your current workforce for redeployment when the automation happens.

  3. conversational HR bubble

    Develop a point of view about the value of human interaction. As AI advances, there will be an onslaught of tools available to HR for employee customer service. Chatbots and automated agents are already being used in some places. Without a doubt, these tools will be more efficient over time than paying a human being to answer those phone calls. Plus AI never requires the employee to wait on hold. But, it’s also important to consider the employee experience. If I’m calling HR to ask some personal questions about my benefits, do you think there’s value in having an empathetic human on the other end of that call? It’s an important question to think about. In the race towards AI-fueled automation, we need to pause and consider the difference between what we can and what we should do.  


AI is going to be a disruptive force on the future of work. Every organization and every job will be impacted in some way. You can wait around to be the victim of the coming changes at the expense of both your organization and your people. Or you can start anticipating and preparing everyone for what most likely lies ahead. In other words, you can either ride the wave or be washed away by it. Your call.

 

AI is just one trend HR must prepare for in the Future of Work. Hear Jason break down everything HR can start doing today in our upcoming webinar: The (Very Near) Future of Work: 8 HR Trends HR Should Focus on in 2019

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Jason Lauritsen
Jason Lauritsen

Jason Lauritsen is a keynote speaker, author, and consultant. He is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently. A former corporate Human Resources executive, Jason has dedicated his career to helping leaders build organizations that are good for both people and profits. Most recently, he led the research team for Quantum Workplace’s Best Places to Work program where he has studied the employee experience at thousands of companies to understand what the best workplaces in the world do differently than the rest. Jason is the co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, and author of his new book, Unlocking High Performance, to be published by Kogan Page in October 2018.

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