- The benefits of AI depend heavily on the quality of a company’s human skills and capabilities—and people’s attitudes towards AI.
- To feel positive about AI in the workplace, people need to believe they have—or can develop—the skills to adapt to the changes resulting from AI.
- Companies should align their training strategies with the soft skills (e.g., communications skills, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork) that will be increasingly important in an era of AI.
As artificial intelligence (AI) goes mainstream, organizations are introducing new technologies that have the potential to radically change the way people work and the way businesses engage with their customers and employees. Recently launched AI-powered platforms and automation tools are designed to replace time-consuming work activities like record-keeping, administrative coordination, candidate sourcing, performance tracking, service provision and employee engagement analysis. In many cases, they promise to do the job better and more efficiently than humans.
Even so, widespread adoption of AI in business has been slow, as McKinsey’s Tim Fountaine, Brian McCarthy and Tamim Saleh note in a Harvard Business Review article on “Building the AI-Powered Organization.” In fact, despite all that AI has to offer, their research shows that only 8% of firms engage in core practices that support universal adoption. They point out, “new applications will create fundamental and sometimes difficult changes in workflows, roles, and culture, which leaders will need to shepherd their organizations through carefully.”
AI experts are finding that the benefits of AI depend heavily on the quality of a company’s human skills and capabilities—and people’s attitudes towards AI. In other words, no matter how promising the technology is, you can’t ignore the people.
What does this mean for your AI plans? Our recent survey of expectations and attitudes toward AI revealed that in addition to trust in their leaders and transparency in the way AI works, your people need confidence that they can transition through the significant changes this era of AI is ushering into the workplace. They need to believe they have—or can develop—the skills to adapt to the changes resulting from AI.
How to Keep Employees Feeling Secure Against Technological Unemployment
Many people are already concerned that technology is threatening their jobs. In our survey, only 35% of respondents are not worried at all about the prospect of losing their job as a result of AI, while nearly two-thirds (65%) of U.S. respondents are somewhat or at least moderately worried.
And that’s a problem. As Dale Carnegie once said, “One of the worst features about worrying is that it destroys our ability to concentrate.” We all know that when people are concerned about impending job cuts—or even rumors of them—it can have a serious negative impact on their performance.
The way to mitigate this concern is by creating an agile workforce where learning is a part of work and work is assessed on a routine basis to understand:
- which activities are being automated or taken over by AI, and
- what skills people need to be able to shift toward the “adjacent tasks” that remain
The kinds of tasks that remain will be work that relies on social and creative intelligence—those areas where humans have the advantage. This shift will require people to spend more time on activities like interpreting AI-generated decisions, providing governance to avoid bias and mistakes, communicating with clarity and empathy, creating and innovating, and building relationships. Your learning and development strategies will need to shift as well.
Developing Essential Soft Skills for the Era of AI
When we asked respondents which skills they believe they’ll need in order to stay competitive as AI and automation become more commonplace, more than 7 in 10 chose soft skills (communications skills, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork) over hard (STEM) skills (73% to 27%).
Drilling down further, we asked senior leaders which soft skills would be more important to successfully work alongside AI. We then asked all respondents whether they’d received training in those areas in the past 3 years.
The gap between what skills are needed and what skills have been trained is significant. For example, 69% of senior leaders say communication skills are vital, but only 40% of respondents say they’ve received communication skills training recently. Similarly, 64% of leaders emphasize creativity skills while only 30% of respondents have received creativity skills training in the past three years. Other significant gaps include critical thinking (only 27% have received training) and emotional intelligence (only 19% have received training).
The key takeaway: Don’t overlook the essential human component, and particularly the associated skills your people need, to enable widespread adoption and success of AI in the workplace. As our research shows, people want to know they have the skills they think they’ll need to be able to adapt. It will give them confidence, and that—along with trust in leadership and an acceptable level of transparency—will help them feel more optimistic about AI.
McKinsey predicts that AI and robotic automation will require up to 375 million people worldwide to change their occupations or learn new skills by 2030. Take a look at your learning and development strategies. Are they aligned with the skills that will be increasingly important in an era of AI?
For more on the skills employees need to prepare for AI in the workplace, download the full research report here.