The 2020 Decade for Workers: The Future of Artificial Intelligence in Your Office

Less than a quarter of firms have incorporated AI into their processes so far. Here’s how that transformation will change in the coming decade. Second in a series.

Published: Dec 17, 2019

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You’ve seen it splashed across the headlines: “The AI job-pocalypse is coming.”

And sure, there’s no arguing that professionals across the globe are struggling to imagine how their jobs will change as artificial intelligence and machine learning evolve in the workplace. That’s because organizational leaders themselves are only beginning to understand the application of these technologies: according to a McKinsey survey, only 21% of businesses have incorporated AI into multiple processes or functions, and only 17% say they’ve mapped out where in their company all the future AI opportunities lie.

The amount of free data we give to companies—including our employers—that they monetize or otherwise use to their advantage is only going to grow.

But what’s clear as we head into the 2020 decade is that the job roles of today will not be the same as those of tomorrow. And we’re not just talking manufacturing jobs, where it’s easy to see how robots may take over. Even knowledge workers, whose roles have long been seen as untouchable, are at risk of changing dramatically or even disappearing. “Amazon now sources its suppliers using AI and algorithms,” says Kirsta Anderson, a senior client partner and the leader of Korn Ferry’s Culture Transformation practice. “That’s a job you would have had a human for just a few years ago, and that many people still think you need to have.”

What’s more, 31% of executives in a recent survey say they’re worried they’re not going to be able to meet the demand for AI skills over the next five years. While a lot is still unknown about AI and the future of work, here’s a look at some predictions over the next decade, and how automation may affect you.

What’s happening:

AI is the gatekeeper for job seekers.

Applicant tracking systems that many companies use to track job candidates are the first form of AI most professionals are experiencing, making decisions about who’s in and who’s out. But the technology is getting more sophisticated. Sean Carney, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance, predicts that we’ll start to see more automated interviews, where you submit video responses that are analyzed by a computer before moving on to the next round. It’s not a decision people feel comfortable with: 41% of professionals surveyed by Korn Ferry say they feel uncomfortable dealing with AI instead of a human recruiter, and 76% say they trust AI less than a person to guide the job-search process.

Reskilling isn’t happening as much as it needs to.

While corporate giants such as Amazon are getting ahead of the need for technical talent by “reskilling” employees whose jobs are at risk of disappearing, experts fear that the practice is happening too slowly and unevenly to adequately position people for roles of the future. A Korn Ferry survey found that only 23% of senior leaders at tech companies agree that their organization is actively helping reskill employees affected by automation and retasking them to other work.

Convenience is crucial.

From package delivery to virtual assistants to contactless payments, there are major changes underway in how we accomplish day-to-day tasks. The convenience factor is only going to become more important for companies as AI and machine learning continue to make their mark on sectors including retail, transportation, and finance. At the same time, companies are working hard to figure out how to use voice commands to manage code so that less tech-savvy workers can carry out more complex technical processes.

Diversity is becoming a competitive advantage.

Within the technology space itself, there’s a push for greater diversity in how machines learn what decisions to make. That’s because the technology is created by humans, so the solutions will include those humans’ inherent biases. “The only way to ensure your product is efficient, user friendly, and appealing to every customer segment is if the people creating it represent the customers,” says Vinay Menon, global lead of Korn Ferry’s AI practice.

Privacy and data concerns abound.

The quest for privacy and control of our own data continues. The amount of free data we give to companies—including our employers—that they monetize or otherwise use to their advantage is only going to grow. Research by Korn Ferry shows that the number one factor that leads people to choose one job over another is culture; as people look to jump to new employers, they’re going to want to move to employers who have created a culture of transparency and respect, and use AI and data for good. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, for example, revealed that the company has AI technology that is about 95% accurate in predicting which workers are planning to leave their jobs, all in an effort to improve employee retention. So it’s best to be mindful of how you may be tracked.

What you can do:

Go up the cognitive food chain.

All workers need to shift their mind-set into perpetual learning mode, and constantly need to upskill and have more diverse skills than in the past, says Sally Beatty, a principal in Korn Ferry’s Private Equity and Global Technology practices. While it’s not totally clear who in the future will be best equipped to teach the new skills, experts say individuals need to pursue their own learning, because corporate training programs aren’t keeping up. And while being on a continuous learning curve sounds exhausting, there’s a silver lining: “The number one reason people leave companies is that they stagnate from lack of challenge,” says Nancy Von Horn, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “Constant learning would be a reason to stay.”

Find the upside in automation.

While the tendency for many workers is to shy away or be afraid of the rapid technology changes and disruption in the workplace, career advisors suggest viewing automation as a way to free you up for other parts of your job that you find more engaging. Sure, it’s annoying to have to learn a new automated scheduling system, but that may give you more one-on-one time with your clients. Automated systems also can track metrics that can help make business decisions—whether you’re an entry-level employee or a CEO.

Make your soft skills shine.

In the medium to long term, automation and the world of technology will give people the gift of time. Computers can do simple cognitive tasks with more efficiency and make choices on our behalf. So the question then becomes, “If you have more time left, what are you going to do with that time?” says Menon. Professionals who stand out will be those who bring a great degree of creativity to the table, who can think differently and connect the dots, he adds.

In such an environment, soft skills including emotional intelligence and resilience become more important. Failure, too, will become as important in the future of work as success, because being able to work with uncertainties and persevere will be hallmarks of individuals and firms that thrive.

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