Published on 2019/09/11

How AI Impacts the Global Workforce, and What Higher Ed Can Do About It

The EvoLLLution | How AI Impacts the Global Workforce, and What Higher Ed Can Do About It
Corporate leaders are looking for support in driving change management efforts around AI adoption across their organizations, and higher education institutions can play a key role.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)—in one context or another—seems to be in everyone’s thoughts and on everyone’s lips. To some, AI’s a threat to their jobs and way of life. To others, it’s a challenge and opportunity to be embraced.

HR and learning and development (L&D) professionals, along with professionals in higher education (including business schools), are far from immune to AI’s effects and implications on their jobs, skills development and more.

Headspring, the executive education specialist—a joint venture of the Financial Times and IE Business School—recently conducted a survey investigating attitudes towards AI and discovered how widespread AI is within the corporate world. Conducted in collaboration with YouGov, the survey comprised some 4,515 people working in a range of industries, in the UK, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

One key comment to come from a discussion of these results—during a panel discussion on the implications for the business world of the rise in AI applications—was that AI is focused around change management rather than IT. This means that, for HR and L&D professionals, AI can minimize their administrative burden and arm them with the data they need to make the decisions that will enable them to become a genuine partner to their organization.

The panelists (Jessica Brook, Senior People Scientist at Culture Amp; Jonquil Hackenberg, Managing Partner at Infosys’ C-Suite Advisory Practice, and Joanne Peplow, Head of Capgemini’s UK AI Centre of Excellence) shared the view that AI will radically change the HR/L&D function in a positive way. So, AI should be seen as an opportunity for these professionals, not a threat.

Survey Findings

From the Headspring survey, overall, there’s a significant gap in AI knowledge and attitude between those in senior roles and the rest of the organization.

It appears that UK professionals generally don’t welcome AI, and most professionals in Denmark and Sweden feel that they and their employers are unprepared to adopt AI within the next 12 months. While 75% of professionals in Germany don’t use AI,  84% of professionals in France use or feel prepared to use AI within the next 12 months. Spanish professionals rank highest in the belief that AI will make their work more efficient and of better quality but only 17% think that these improvements will translate into improved job opportunities. Chief executives in the UAE are unique among CEOs in seeing business development as the best potential benefit of AI.

A key message for HR professionals about organizations adopting and using AI is that not only do workers need to feel secure and understand more about AI so that they can maintain higher motivation and morale, they also need to feel confident in engaging with this new technology. This is true at all levels of the organization.

While the results of this research don’t suggest an international workforce enthusiastically campaigning for the adoption of AI, they reveal a keen appetite for learning about and engaging with AI. Consequently, employers should make the most of this if they want to exploit AI’s commercial benefits.

The second most widely held belief about AI is that it will help people make better decisions. Fear of job redundancy from the application of AI is low (under 10%) and much less than the expectation of new opportunities and upskilling arising from AI’s use. Stereotypical concerns about companies using AI for secret employee surveillance are also extremely rare.

People are also aware of the fact that, since it’s programmed by humans, AI can be flawed and not as unbiased as it was once expected to be. Decision makers still have a much greater trust in humans than in machines.

Another key message to emerge from this survey is that hard and soft skill development requires attention. Getting organizations ‘AI-ready’ requires an investment in new technology and infrastructure, with a complementary bolstering of technical know-how and general upskilling. However, it’s in the softer areas of resource management that leaders may need to pay the most attention.

Leadership

One of the most desired interventions revealed by professionals in Headspring’s study was the establishment of a new business role that oversees AI integration. In times of uncertainty – as AI will, inevitably, create – people need leadership. The deciding factor for most organizations will be how their leaders respond.

Success in AI’s implementation will depend on the effective management of employee expectations and confidence in the value of transition. In particular, the survey showed that employees feel a need for enhanced internal communication to manage potential negative perceptions.

In addition to internal communication, the need for upgraded investment in people and L&D activities is a major outcome from this study. The implementation of processes to manage ethics around AI also emerged as a priority.

Messages for HR Professionals

The survey showed that:

  • HR/L&D professionals aren’t immune to AI’s effects and implications—in terms of jobs, skills development and so on.
  • Workers need to feel secure and understand more about AI so they can maintain higher motivation and morale
  • Workers at all organizational levels also need to feel confident in engaging with this new technology.
  • The workforce’s appetite for learning about, and engaging with, AI appears high.
  • Investing in new technology and infrastructure requires upskilling workers and bolstering their technical know-how.
  • Success in AI’s implementation will depend on managing worker expectations and confidence in the value of transition.
  • HR/L&D professionals must provide workers with enhanced internal communication to manage any potential negative perceptions from the adoption of AI.
  • In addition to internal communication, AI’s adoption provides a need for upgraded investment in people and L&D activities.
  • Implementing processes to manage ethics around AI are also a priority.

Messages for Higher Education Leaders

The messages from this survey for those working in the higher education sector, especially business schools, to serve the corporate sector would be similar to those for in-house HR/L&D practitioners.

In other words, organizations’ successful implementation of AI will be as much about managing worker expectations and giving them confidence in working with AI as it is about developing the skills to implement and operate AI. All of these elements should be a critical part of an organization’s strategic planning and digital transformation efforts.

Because of this ongoing corporate focus, a key need is for including, in universities’ and business schools’ programs, sessions on how to introduce and use AI. This would be in terms of enhancing internal communications, dealing effectively with potentially negative perceptions of AI and helping workers to feel secure and confident about AI rather than under threat. These things can be dealt with as a sub-set of executive development, especially developing leadership abilities.

There’s also a part that colleges, universities and business schools can play in defining and helping their students to manage the ethics that are part-and-parcel of AI.

To download the full Headspring Report on AI, visit: https://go.headspringexecutive.com/AIReport

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