From education to employment

Innovation First: Embracing AI could save workers approximately 390 hours per year

Amid the ever-present fear that AI is replacing jobs, here, Ben Harris, UK MD at Visier, explains how organisations can help employees adapt to the changing landscape of work and bridge the skills gap permeating the UK workforce by working with AI to upskill employees and improve opportunities.

It’s hard to imagine what we can’t see. And this is why for many employees, any mention of the word ‘AI’ is enough to panic them. What’s more, experts across a variety of industries are fuelling this worry as they make bold statements about generative AI’s impact and its expected widespread adoption. 

Consequently, “What does AI mean for my job?”, “Do I need to understand how to use AI?” and “Will AI replace me?” are common sentiments employees are understandably concerned about, with more than half (53%) of workers stating that they are genuinely concerned that the skills they currently have could be replaced by AI, according to a global report conducted by Visier.

But AI innovation doesn’t have to be scary. Take IKEA as an example. The Swedish furniture store implemented an AI agent to handle common customer service queries in 2021. And whilst the move could have in theory replaced employees responsible for doing this, they moved more than 8,500 call centre employees to work as interior design advisers. This internal mobility push not only supported IKEA in expanding its sales efforts with a vision of increasing sales among Gen Z buyers, but it also helped to upskill existing employees into more value-add roles. 

For employers willing to embrace AI responsibly to work alongside humans, it’s possible to boost productivity and enhance performance, whilst minimising redundancies and risk.  Plus, we’re seeing that AI can support workers in tackling their day-to-day challenges. According to Visier’s global data, AI has the potential to save British workers approximately 390 working hours per year – that’s 1.55 hours per day.  Who would object to that?

Closing the skills gap with AI 

As workers worry about the threat of AI, many are looking to develop their skills to stay ahead. Our research found that this itch isn’t currently being scratched, with 50% of British employees currently disengaged at work because they aren’t learning new skills. Furthermore, as the government races to build the regulation required to keep up with AI, employers have a responsibility to support employees in upskilling to keep pace with technological advancements. 

But there’s an even bigger challenge on the horizon. While more than two in three (67%) employees surveyed agreed that developing AI skills is going to be important to their future career growth, when asked about skills development, there was a discrepancy between what they want, and what they need. 

Although more than half (52%) expect to see their employer take the lead in upskilling them in AI, hard skills such as emerging technology (10%) were not ranked as highly as soft skills (40%) and leadership skills (43%) in the workplace. It’s this lack of engagement and discrepancy that could further widen the UK skills gap. 

Demonstrating the value of AI

While some individuals can effectively take charge of their own skills development, relying solely on employees to drive reskilling efforts is a risky proposition. To help employees adapt to the changing landscape of work, companies will need to focus on either upskilling their employees to improve effectiveness, or re-skilling them with skills adjacent to their current skill-set, so they may move into new work. Furthermore, effective communication and the provision of learning opportunities by employers can help demonstrate the benefits of AI in the workplace. 

While it’s difficult to predict with 100% certainty what the uptake in AI will look like long term, to navigate any potential future disruptions brought about by AI, organisations will need to embrace a culture of talent mobility to continuously address skills gaps. 

Instead of viewing humans and AI as an either-or scenario, future-focused employers are taking the lead and gaining insight into how people and machines can complement each other in achieving organisational goals. As with the case of IKEA, AI’s implementation offers the chance to free up human workers to focus on higher-value activities that require problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking. 

History has proven our ability to adapt to growing technological innovation. Employers need to support employees in complementary skills development, and position the growing role of AI technologies in the workplace in a positive light. This radical transformation can be for the better, and benefits to employees themselves could be huge.

By Ben Harris, UK MD, Visier

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