By Jeff Weber, Executive Director, Industry Research and Insights, Robert Half
People have been speculating for a long time about when and how artificial intelligence (AI) will dramatically shift how businesses operate — and how work itself is performed. With the explosive growth of generative AI (gen AI) over the past year, we know that when is essentially now. And as for how, a clear picture is emerging fast about what we can expect from AI as a helper, collaborator and coworker.
A global survey by McKinsey on the state of AI calls 2023 the “breakout year” for generative AI and emphasizes that AI’s effects on the workforce are likely to be “substantial.” Most respondents to the survey said they expect the adoption of AI to reshape many roles in their organization’s workforce.
Findings from a recent Robert Half survey of U.S. workers suggest many professionals are optimistic about AI and ready to learn how to use it. In one survey of professionals across four generations represented in today’s workforce, half of respondents said they’re ready to reskill if their jobs were to become automated and their employer asked them to change roles and learn new skills.
The top benefit of using generative AI cited by survey respondents across all industries is the technology’s ability to automate time-consuming or routine tasks — thus freeing workers to engage in more strategic thinking and problem solving.
The takeaway is that most workers are embracing AI already and are willing to adapt to the new world of work it will create. But another important message is that many employees may also be looking to their employers to invite them into that world — and help them to succeed in it.
AI assistants are coming to your workplace soon (if they aren’t already there)
Interestingly, despite the findings outlined above, a separate Robert Half survey gauging the impacts of AI at work found that U.S. workers are at least somewhat concerned about how AI and automation will impact their current jobs. It’s a good bet that, for many, these worries stem from uncertainty about how this powerful and rapidly evolving technology will impact their organization — and them.
However, given recent developments in what I will call “everyday AI,” I expect that uncertainty will soon fade.
At the recent Microsoft Inspire conference for Microsoft’s partner community,* I got a firsthand look at how AI will transform how many of us work. The capabilities of Microsoft’s generative AI assistant, M365 Copilot, were in focus. So, too, were Microsoft’s commitment to responsible AI, and the company’s emphasis on security, compliance and privacy in developing Copilot.
Microsoft has been working in partnership with OpenAI, the AI research and deployment company behind the gen AI tool ChatGPT, to deploy Copilot into its Microsoft 365 apps for business productivity and collaboration. The AI assistant is in a trial phase with several hundred companies right now, but it’s expected to be generally available soon.
By next year, many more people may be using apps connected to Copilot, which is designed to support them at work by automating time-intensive tasks, helping to create and improve content, providing project updates and meeting summaries, and much more. And many other companies, including Google and Salesforce, are developing gen AI tools for the workplace as well.
No matter what software your business uses for productivity and collaboration, generative AI capabilities are poised to become everyday AI tools for your workforce soon. And that’s why it’s vital to help workers prepare for this change now, so they’ll be ready to work alongside this technology.
Before we look at a few ways employers can do that, let’s dig a bit deeper into generative AI and how it can help many employees get ready for the future of work.
Generative AI is also approachable AI
As I was conducting research for this post, I decided to ask the generative AI tool ChatGPT to provide a quick definition of itself. Here’s the answer it delivered in a matter of seconds:
“I’ve been trained on a wide range of text from the internet, books, articles, and more. My purpose is to assist users in generating human-like text, answering questions, providing explanations, offering creative writing help, and engaging in conversations on a variety of topics. I don’t possess consciousness, emotions, or personal experiences, but I use patterns in the data I’ve been trained on to generate text based on the prompts and questions I receive. Is there something specific you’d like to know or discuss?"
That last line caught my attention. ChatGPT didn’t just respond to my request for information. It sought to engage me with a follow-up question. That simple gesture, albeit an algorithmic-inspired “decision,” drives home why gen AI tools like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard have been embraced by so many people, so fast. (ChatGPT is the fastest-growing consumer app in history.)
These tools are designed to interact with us, and they can’t be the helper they’re meant to be without our input. Generative AI is approachable AI, with a clear purpose that anyone can understand.
While AI, on the whole, is still a nebulous concept for many people to grasp, generative AI has quickly become something familiar — similar to the conversational AI we interact with regularly via chatbots, virtual assistants and apps. Gen AI is a crucial gateway to an AI-enabled future for many businesses. And notably, in the McKinsey survey cited earlier, 40% of respondents said they expect their organizations to increase their investment in AI overall because of advances in gen AI.
AI is creating new roles — and new opportunities for learning
We know that the use of AI, including generative AI, is only going to expand. The rise of AI has already created many new job roles related to the technology’s development, implementation, integration and maintenance. Employment of AI and machine learning specialists top the list of fastest-growing jobs through 2027, according to the World Economic Forum. Natural language processing engineers, AI ethicists, AI security specialists, and AI consultants are just a few other examples of roles that are in demand right now to help businesses develop, refine and manage AI tools and systems.
As for generative AI, it has the potential to fuel a wide range of new and transformed roles across many fields and industries, including entertainment and media, human resources, finance and accounting, healthcare, manufacturing, and, of course, technology. It’s already evolving how people in these and other professions work — helping to alleviate tedious, manual tasks and providing more room to apply the human side of work, like creative thinking, to higher-value initiatives for the business.
Robert Half’s research shows that workers in a wide range of professional fields are already using gen AI to help with various tasks, including analyzing and categorizing customer feedback, streamlining document review and analysis, and processing large volumes of data to improve IT system performance.
So, generative AI is here, and it’s already changing businesses and their talent needs. Companies also need to think about how to use this technology to stay competitive — or risk falling behind. Consider that 67% of senior IT leaders surveyed by Salesforce said their organization is prioritizing the use of gen AI for business within the next 18 months. One-third of respondents said these efforts are a top priority.
These trends underscore why now is such a critical time for businesses across industries to accelerate workforce education and readiness for AI, formulate AI strategies and clear policies, understand legal and compliance requirements related to the use of AI, and identify viable use cases for implementing AI capabilities beyond support for everyday productivity and collaboration.
Creating a future-fit workforce, from the top down
A recent survey on AI in the workplace found that less than 15% of front-line employees have received AI training, and that most upskilling efforts have centered on helping business leadership build AI skills. While it’s important for leaders to have hands-on experience with AI, it’s clear that employers have a lot of work to do to bring their staff up to speed.
Stepping up AI training for employees will help them gain vital skills and the confidence to collaborate with this emerging technology. That will lay the groundwork for a smoother shift to gen AI and other AI-powered tools in the workplace. It will also help workers adopt an innovation mindset around AI because they will better understand its potential — and feel more empowered to experiment with it.
As a starting point for advancing AI skills in your workforce, look to external partners that can provide relevant knowledge and resources. Microsoft, as an example, maintains an AI learning and community hub, which includes guidance on how to develop relevant AI skills for the modern workplace.
Management consulting firms like Protiviti, a Robert Half subsidiary, can also help your business determine what AI skills you may need, and where, and identify opportunities to upskill your current labor force to work with AI. And when your business needs to hire professionals with AI skills for contract/temporary or full-time roles, Robert Half can assist in your search. We also collaborate with Protiviti through our joint managed solutions offering to help businesses transform digitally so they can make the most of automation, AI and other technology advancements.
To learn more about AI readiness, I also suggest reading this post from Christine Livingston, a managing director at Protiviti, who is responsible for AI and machine learning and innovation solutions at the firm. She offers a great primer on generative AI and outlines what it takes for businesses to get ready to work with this emergent technology successfully. (This related podcast is also enlightening.)
Jeff Weber is the executive director, industry research and insights, at Robert Half. His work, which includes overseeing our data and analysis programs, helps to inform the strategies Robert Half uses to develop, refine and deliver talent solutions that meet the needs of businesses around the globe.
Follow Jeff Weber on LinkedIn.
*Robert Half and Protiviti are members of the Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Program.