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  • Writer's pictureGraham Atkinson

Future-Proof the Workplace with AI - 4 Practical Tips for Employers

Will AI steal our jobs?


This is a question that’s been asked lots over the last 15-20 years and even more since the rapid and impressive emergence of Chat GPT this year. The issue is contemplated in this Guardian article, in numerous Forbes pieces including this one and here by the BBC.


The consensus, of course, is broadly “no, but with a big but…”


A report by Goldman Sachs states that around 300 million jobs worldwide could be replaced by AI, but it goes on to add that it will also mean new jobs and a productivity boom. McDonalds have opened their first ‘fully automated’ store in America; except it turned out it’s not really fully automated because there are still people that work there - just taking on different work. In 2020, the World Economic Forum estimated that while 85 million jobs would be replaced by machines by 2025, an estimated 97 million new jobs would be created to help support this new economy.


Fear of Technology Isn’t New


History is littered with examples of technological developments that have prompted significant evolution of economies and of the type of work that people do; and it is certainly not a new thing for people to be worried about the impact of technology on their jobs.


In 1589, William Lee, invented the stocking frame knitting machine. It was revolutionary at the time and he hoped it would relieve workers of manual hand-knitting. He sought a patent to protect his invention, so travelled to London and met Queen Elizabeth I. To his dismay, the Queen refused to grant him a patent fearing the employment impact of his invention. She told him that it “would assuredly bring to them [her subjects] ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars” (Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012). The Queen was reportedly influenced by the Guilds’ concerns that technological developments like this would render the skills of their members obsolete.


Digital Disruption


Fast forward two hundred years to the British Industrial Revolution. There were numerous examples of riots about the introduction of new machinery and, in 1769, Parliament passed a law making the destruction of machinery a capital offence. Whilst (still) a point of contention, there is a compelling argument that everyone benefited from mechanisation – the inventors, consumers and workers. Wage growth outstripped inflation and working conditions and safety improved. There is a (mostly) accepted wisdom that technology causes ‘creative disruption’ and that economy evolves. Old jobs die and new jobs are born.


The Industrial Revolution, the Transport Revolution, continuous flow processes, the invention of the telephone, television, the computer industry and the internet have all led to hugely significant changes in the way that people work and the types of jobs that are required.


AI is certain to be added to this list and is already having an impact. There is no doubt that AI will start to revolutionise the way many people work, and quickly. In their paper 10-years ago, Oxford University researchers, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne analysed 702 different occupations and assessed their risk of ‘computerisation’, including as a result of machine learning. They found jobs in transportation, logistics, office, and administration and production are at risk of disruption. They also found that a substantial share of employment in service occupations is highly susceptible to digitilisation.


Some types of work may be substituted by AI, but the even bigger impact is likely to be in the way that AI augments existing jobs and shapes the way that work is carried out. People will need to be resilient to change and be supported to adapt to new ways of working.


4 Tips for Embracing AI in the Workplace


So, if we accept that AI will have a significant impact on the world of work (and that rather than fight this, we need to embrace it) how do we make sure that we’re prepared for that change?


1. Start the conversation

Talk openly to your team and create spaces where people can discuss AI. Champion curiosity by sharing your own experience of using AI tools like Chat GPT.  Here are some questions that might just prompt a useful discussion in your organisation:

  • Are you using AI (like Chat GPT) already? If so, how do you find it?

  • How could AI help you in your role?

  • Is there anything that worries you about how AI could impact on (y)our work?

  • How do you think we could use AI to help make the organisation more effective?

  • Have you seen any examples of AI being used well? If so, what do you think we could learn from this?

  • What support can we give you to build your confidence in using AI effectively?

  • Do you think there are any times or areas of work where it would be inappropriate or unethical for us to use AI?


2. Align it with Strategy

Make the time to properly analyse your work and consider the potential big wins or red herrings. Try to identify areas that you might want to focus on first. For example, if you were to pilot the use of AI in just one area of your organisation, what would it be?

3. Give People the Skills

Invest in training and upskilling your team quickly. Grow their confidence in how to use tools like Chat GPT and give them permission to practice and play with it in their work. Also review your wider Learning and Development strategy or plans. Are you investing in the right areas that will support your people to embrace and engage with AI safely? The following skills are some that will be essential for individuals to thrive in a world of AI.

  1. Critical thinking

  2. Creative problem solving

  3. Prompt writing

  4. Emotional intelligence

  5. Self awareness

  6. Digital literacy

  7. Adaptability

  8. Learning agility and agency

  9. Collaboration and communication

  10. Data analaysis

People won’t develop all of these skills in a 2-day course, so you need to be willing to invest and push these areas over the long term. You'll need to build a shared understanding of the opportunities AI can present if used responsibly, as well as an awareness of the skills required and how to continuously develop them.


4. Be Clear About Your Values

Whilst a clearer picture of ethical issues and risks will inevitably emerge over time, you can start by being clear about your own values and ethical expectations. Are there any situations where you don’t expect people to use AI tools (for example in recruitment, selection or hiring decisions)? Do you expect people to tell you if they’ve produced something with the assistance of AI?


Be open to discussing the ethics of AI and willing to consider and bring together different views and opinions. Also, keep an active lookout for examples of other organisations that are getting it right or wrong, so that you can learn and adapt your approach.


There is a growing understanding that over a relatively quick period of time, generative AI will start to significantly impact our organisations, our jobs, and the way we work. We may or may not be happy about this, but the organisations that will thrive, are the ones that embrace this change and invest the time, energy and resources quickly to bring their people with them on an AI journey.


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