The adoption of AI in the workplace is a polarising subject. On one side, a report in The Economist found that half of all jobs could be automated within 20 years, and we are not prepared for it. On the other, companies are increasingly looking into programmes such as IBM’s Watson, which is improving productivity and efficiency. Whichever side of the AI fence you sit on, what can’t be denied is that ‘digital natives’ are entering the world of work, and we must take a leaf out their book – stop fearing technology and start harnessing it. Because for the next generation, a workplace enhanced by the latest technology – including AI – will be vital. Those businesses that don’t embrace the opportunities this technology can bring, risk losing out on the best new talent.
A recent study carried out by Reed found that only 4 per cent of finance workers have seen their company adopt AI in the workplace. This is despite a third (32 per cent) of professionals believing that AI will improve productivity and efficiency and almost half (47 per cent) being ready to embrace it.
This positivity may be due in part to a growing perception that AI isn’t here to replace us. In fact, it is more likely to create new roles, and this is an exciting and comforting thought. David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has argued that technology has always ended up creating more jobs than it destroys, increasing the demand for human workers to do the other tasks around it.
Employee skills sets will change. A recent BBC Radio 4 documentary on what skills children will need to work alongside a future workforce of robots revealed that machines cannot replace human judgement and creativity. The younger generation entering the workplace will need abilities beyond those of robots in empathy, collaboration, cultural sensitivity, and entrepreneurship. With the increasing use of AI, this demand for soft skills is going to grow.
However, employers are telling us that the UK, and the developed world, is suffering a drought of these skills. Digital natives have become accustomed to using technology on a daily basis for communication and organisation of their personal lives. While this has led to an incredibly advanced and dynamic set of tech skills, it has made the world become a lot more insular, and softer, interpersonal skills become rarer. As a result, companies are actively seeking candidates in the next generation that can demonstrate excellence in empathy.
So, while digital skills will be important, candidates that demonstrate a combination of rational and softer skills will be in greatest demand. And, where there is great demand, businesses will need a strategy to attract the top talent.
For example, the next generation will expect that the ‘everyday’ technology they use to organise and communicate is standard in their place of work, and will be necessary in order to perform to the best of their ability. We also know from working with candidates in generation Z – who are used to getting frequent feedback and continual learning opportunities – that they are attracted to companies using tech to enhance potential, so demonstrating a commitment to using AI and other technology to help career progression will also help attract young talent.
At the moment, there is a disconnect between what the next generation of employees want from a workplace – the latest technology – and what employers are currently investing in. This shows that businesses can no longer delay the implementation of AI and other technology if they wish to attract the next generation of talent.
We must embrace the efficiencies and increased productivity that AI brings, as well as the major opportunities for employees. We should no longer fear AI, as employers or employees. If we are to develop business, grow careers and attract the next generation, we have to embrace AI and the benefits it brings.
Chris Adcock is director of Reed HR