University-Educated Employees Are More Confident About AI-Business Leaders Need To Bridge The Gap
We’ve heard a lot over the last few years about reskilling, upskilling, or some other buzz word that refers to learning new skills to adapt to the impact of AI and automation. 2020 is not likely to be any different. CGS released yesterday (January 14) the results of a survey around workplace learning, looking into how employees feel about the effects of AI on their work and on society in general.
The report raises some interesting questions about the divide between workers with a degree and those without, and between professional and vocational workers in their perception of how automation will affect their jobs. This article will explore their findings and explore what they might mean for employment in the age of AI.
There is no doubt that AI will massively impact the workplace, with 56% of business leaders saying that employees will need to acquire new skills as AI usage grows.
On the employee level, the survey found that 61% of employees were aware of or ready for AI and automation-but the divide between being ‘aware’ and being ‘ready’ is more nuanced than this statistic suggests.
When looking at workplace learning or training, there are stark differences between those who are confident in their skills, those who seek out training, and those who feel vulnerable to automation. Workers aged 25–44 years old were overwhelmingly confident in their skills and most likely to update skills on their own-in other words, people who have grown up with technology or who have worked with it throughout their careers. Conversely, 24% of people surveyed felt vulnerable-mostly employees over the age of 44-and this group was also the least likely to seek training on their own, choosing instead to wait for employers to provide training.
This trend-of those most used to technology being most confident and most likely to upgrade skills themselves-also plays out in different professional sectors. 48% of professionals said they would seek out training on their own to adapt to automation, whereas 95% of vocational workers felt their skills did not need to be updated. This may stem from the perception that AI will impact office workers more adversely than those working in healthcare, policing, utilities, or catering. While this still may be true, AI is rapidly becoming advanced enough to tackle a huge number of hands-on, vocational tasks. As professional workers who regularly work with technology are more likely to seek training, this may leave vocational workers without the necessary technical skills to prepare for AI.
The impact of education
Looking at the educational aspect of the workplace, those with a bachelor’s degree or higher are most confident about AI and automation, with 65% of respondents in this category saying that they view these technologies positively. However, 32% of these respondents also felt that their jobs would not change due to automation, perhaps an overly optimistic viewpoint. This may suggest that a higher level of education leads to an excessive level of confidence or even complacency about the need to adapt to AI, with those in thought-based, professional roles thinking themselves immune to the effects of AI.
In stark contrast to the overwhelming confidence of this group, 39% of workers without a university-level education are concerned that their job roles will be eliminated. However, this assumption is just as mistaken as more educated workers who feel they are immune. Doug Stephen, president of Learning Division at CGS, highlights the concern that automation will replace manual or administrative jobs, but clarifies that, in fact, “technology like robotic process automation (RPA) is more likely to enhance than replace those jobs.” The perception of how AI will impact job roles seems to be flawed amongst all kinds of workers.
University-educated, professional workers may not think their jobs will be affected by automation, but they are also most likely to reskill themselves and adapt.
On the other hand, vocational workers and those without a degree are more concerned about being replaced but are also less likely to seek out new skills. This dynamic can only lead to greater inequality between educated and less-educated workers, and as Stephen points out, “it is critical that leadership integrates their workers’ thoughts and insights into transformation initiatives,” to ensure that automation has a positive impact on workers and the organization alike.
The role of employers
It is clear that guidance is needed from employers to ensure that workers appreciate how AI and automation will realistically affect their job roles-replacing tasks rather than jobs themselves-whether that be to assuage fears or curtail complacency.
The impetus should be on employers to bridge the gap between those that are confident in their skills and eager to upgrade them, and those that are most scared of their roles being completely replaced.
As long as the impact of automation is adequately understood by workers of every description, their respective levels of education may not play such a decisive role in the workplace as it does now.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.