Modern AI holds the potential to upend entire profession while unleashing brand new industries in the process. Old assumptions will no longer hold, and new realities will dictate those who are swallowed by the tides of change from those able to anticipate and ride the AI wave headlong into a prosperous future.
Here’s how businesses and employees can both leverage AI in the 2020s.
Like many emerging technologies, AI comes with a substantial learning curve. As a recent McKinsey report highlights, AI is a “slow burn” technology that requires a heavy upfront investment, with returns only ramping up well down the road.
Because of this slow burn, an AI front-runner and an AI laggard may initially appear to be on equal footing. The front-runner may even be a bit behind during early growing pains. But as the effects of AI adoption kick in, the gap between the two widens dramatically and exponentially. McKinsey’s models estimate that within around 10 years, the difference in cumulative net change in cash flow between front-runners and laggards could be as high as 145 percent.
The first lesson for any business hoping to seize new AI opportunities is to start making moves to do so right now.
Despite popular opinion, the coming AI wave will be mostly a net positive for employees. The World Economic Forum found that by 2022, AI and Machine Learning will have created over 130 million new jobs. Though impressive, these gains will not be distributed evenly.
Jobs characterized by unskilled and repetitive tasks face an uncertain future, while jobs in need of greater social and creative problem-solving will spike. According to McKinsey, the coming decade could see a 10 percent fall in the share of low digital skill jobs, with a corresponding rise in the share of jobs requiring high digital skill.
So how can employees successfully navigate the coming future of work? One place to start is to investigate the past. Nearly half a century ago, the first ATM was installed outside Barclays Bank in London. In 1967, the thought of bank tellers surviving the introduction of automated teller machines felt impossible. ATMs caught on like wildfire, cut into tellers’ hours, offered unbeatable flexibility and convenience, and should have all but wiped tellers out.
But, in fact, exactly the opposite happened. No longer having to handle simple deposits freed tellers up to engage with more complex and social facets of the business. They started advising customers on mortgages and loans, forging relationships and winning loyalty. Most remarkable of all, in the years following the ATM’s introduction, the total number of tellers employed worldwide didn’t fall off a cliff. In fact, it rose higher than ever.
Though AI could potentially threaten some types of jobs, many jobs will see rising demand. Increased reliance on automated systems for core business functions, frees up valuable employee time and enables them to focus on different areas to add even more value to the company.
As employees grow increasingly aware of the changing nature of work, they are also clamoring for avenues for development, aware that they need to hold a variety of skills to remain relevant in a dynamic job market. Companies will, therefore, need to provide employees with a wide range of experiences and the opportunity to continuously enhance their skillsets or suffer high turnover. This is already a vital issue to businesses with the cost of losing an employee equating to 90%-200% of their annual salary. This costs each large enterprise an estimated $400 million a year. If employees feel their role is too restrictive or that their organization is lagging, their likelihood of leaving will climb.
The only way to capture the full value of AI for business is to retain the highly skilled employees capable of wielding it. Departmental silos and rigid job descriptions will have no place in the AI future.
For employees to maximize their chances of success in the face of rapid AI advancement, they must remain flexible and continuously acquire new skills. Both businesses and employees will need to realign their priorities in accordance with new realities. Workers will have to be open to novel ideas and perspectives, while employers will need to embrace the latest technological advancements.
Fortunately, the resources and avenues for ambitious employers to pursue continued growth for their employees are blossoming. Indeed, the very AI advancements prompting the need for accelerated career development paths are also powering technologies to maximize and optimize professional enrichment.
AI is truly unlocking an exciting new future of work. Smart algorithms now enable hyper-flexible workplaces to seamlessly shuffle and schedule employee travel, remote work, and mentorship opportunities. At the cutting edge, these technologies can even let employees divide their time between multiple departments across their organization. AI can also tailor training and reskilling programs to each employee’s unique goals and pace.
The rise of AI holds the promise of great change, but if properly managed, it can be a change for the better.
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