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Three Most Likely Scenarios For AI’s Impact On The Workforce

Three Most Likely Scenarios For AI’s Impact On The Workforce

“Generative AI is likely the most significant change to work since the agricultural and industrial revolutions.”

Well, hold that thought, please. This statement out of Accenture’s latest report on the workforce in 2024 may be just a tad over the top, since we’ve been hearing similar pronouncements about work since the dawn of the information revolution in the early 1980s. But there’s little doubt that AI will substantially alter and assist the way work is performed and delivered. Call it the latest phase in the ongoing information revolution.

The question is how exactly AI will transform work as we’ve known it, and how people will be affected. For starters, AI, as with all other technologies to come along over the decades, is seen as something being pushed down the throats of workers.

Just the opposite is true with generative AI, however. Just about all workers Accenture surveyed, 95%, see value in working with the technology.

But employees don’t trust the way their organizations will handle AI — for example, 60% are concerned about job loss, stress and burnout associated with the technology.

In contrast, fewer than one-third of C-suite executives, 29%, feel job displacement is a worry for their people. There is “a disconnect between workers and C-suite leaders as organizations look to capitalize on the promise of generative AI,” according to Ellyn Shook and Paul Daugherty, the report’s authors.

Both executives and employees need to prepare for the broader sweep AI will take in the near future—and again, its ultimate impact on work is an unknown. All the business leaders surveyed—100%—anticipate changes to their workforce such as growing or reducing headcount and implementing plans to reskill, the survey confirms.

Things have been moving fast—perhaps too fast for business leaders. “Gen AI took a few hours at most to capture the world’s attention,” Shook and Daugherty stated. “Gen AI’s swift adoption by enterprises and individuals alike underscores its ability to reinvent work, reshape the workforce and prepare people for a future that unfolds in real time.”

While the current generation of AI has addressed relatively narrow tasks and roles, the next phase will focus on “redesigning processes across organizations, as well as how people experience work,” Shook and Daugherty stated. However, two-thirds of executives admit they do not yet have the right skills and capabilities needed to carry out such reinvention.

Plus, executives don’t trust that their workers are ready for AI—36% believe workers will not fully embrace generative AI due to a lack of technological understanding, the survey shows. Yet most workers (82%) believe they grasp the technology, and 94% are confident they can develop the needed skills.

In addition, while more than half of workers, 53%, are concerned about the quality of output of generative AI, only 21% of C-suite leaders say trusting the quality of output is a concern for their people.

The growth of AI needs to be a collaborative, user-guided, human-guided process. Companies in the survey successfully taking the lead with generative AI—9% of the sample—“are breaking out of silos and building trust among their people by actively involving them in redesigning their work and roles.” Plus, these leaders who put people first—supported by AI—could create $10.3 trillion in global economic value.

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Accenture based its insights on economic modeling of data related to gen AI, along with surveys of more than 7,000 C-suite executives and 5,000 workers at large organizations.

A people-first approach has yet to percolate through corporate ranks. While 95% of workers are ready and willing to embrace generative AI, only 5% of organizations are providing training at scale. The emphasis needs to be on “increasing people’s proficiency, and level of comfort, with the technology,” Shook and Daugherty urged.

Three likely scenarios are now emerging that may determine AI’s ultimate impact on work in the latter half of the 2020s decade:

  • The aggressive adoption scenario: Organizations will focus “entirely on cutting costs through gen AI, adopting the technology quickly (full adoption within five years), and displacing talent at a high rate. Displaced talent would transition to jobs similar to the ones they held, roles of equal likelihood for displacement, resulting in increased unemployment.”
    The cautious adoption scenario: Organizations will focus on “automating and augmenting work with gen AI, adopting the technology slowly and cautiously to avoid displacing talent (full adoption within the next 15 years), but without a focus on creating people-centric approaches and organizations.”
    The people-centric adoption scenario: Organizations will focus on “augmenting work with gen AI, while also leveraging automation use cases effectively. As they adopt the technology at a moderate pace (fully within 10 years), talent displacement is ultimately low because effort is placed on creating people-centric approaches and organizations to support both existing workers whose jobs are changing, and new workers displaced due to automation and moving into new roles.”

More than half of the forward-looking leaders in the survey—who ascribe to the people-centric scenario—are taking action to reshape the workforce by redesigning jobs and roles around generative AI. Three-quarters are enabling their workers to help shape these new ways of working.

These leading companies are twice as likely to invest in growing people’s soft skills, along with tech skills, and twice as likely to anticipate workforce productivity gains of 20% or more in the next three years, Accenture predicted.

Forbes

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