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How to prepare for the massive change AI will bring

By Tracey Malcolm and Jenn Murray | February 24, 2023

Bots, sensors, virtual assistants and robots are disrupting work models, creating new opportunities and risks.
Future of Work|Employee Experience
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The world of work is experiencing a demographic shift in talent and skills while a boom in artificial intelligence (AI) is underway.

We’re on the winding road of ongoing talent and skill gaps due to:

  • Declining workforce participation rates
  • Generational impacts of “boomers to zoomers”
  • Workforce resizing amid de-globalization

Meanwhile, a surging worker base of bots, sensors, virtual assistants and robots is heading in the opposite direction, and some like ChatGPT are disrupting work models once thought immune from automation. This simultaneous change in work creates new opportunities and risks.

We’ve identified key steps to help you responsibly address these new game-changing AI technologies and update your work and talent models to embrace them.

  1. 01

    Set a work strategy

    With increasing levels of automation and shifting talent supply, it’s critical to establish a strategy on how work will get done. You should have a unified strategy for technology and people to ensure you have necessary insights about the future of work in your organization and proper oversight and accountability.

    Take, for example, a utility client with a declining workforce and increasing automation. In our work with HR on retirement planning, we knew about the impending talent deficit due to retirement and added turnover analysis, forecasting a 40% talent cliff. However, we took a step back with the client and realized there was an opportunity in this change. We further evaluated how work is changing due to automation and identified new career possibilities for employees.

    For example, sensors were starting to do the work of reading gauges, and automation processing was used for reporting. Meter readers were becoming customer technicians. This analysis determined the gap was actually less than 20% due to increasing levels of automation.

    Graph demonstrates the following:

    Current workforce: 100%.

    Gap due to retirement/turnover: Approximately 1/3 of current workforce.

    Future workforce: Includes gap addressed by automation (approximately ¼); gap to solve with reskilling, hiring (small portion); current workforce projected (approximately 2/3).

    Work analysis and design

    How work gets done now and in the near future with automation.

    To take advantage of this opportunity to reskill meter readers as customer technicians, IT and HR needed to work together. IT needed to communicate with HR about their plans and pace for technology to help HR identify the new skills needed to manage such changes. Meanwhile, HR needed to delve into current job and workforce supply data to create new jobs. This brought an exciting and impactful business and people development opportunity to HR. Completing work analysis and design requires consideration of two sources: people and technology.

  2. 02

    Redesign work

    The new work strategy described above helps create more focused talent acquisition and re-skilling in specific work areas (like customer care in troubleshooting) versus broad areas (meter reading). It also informs career impacts, identifying new breakpoints where previous career progressions were common, but are now obsolete. The new career paths are in customer care and quality improvement.

    For example, customer technicians can move to customer lead or quality improvement roles. The work redesign generates new jobs and career experiences:

    New jobs and career experiences

    New work and careers
    Historical job New job
    Meter reader Customer care technician
    Historical career path New career path
    Field Leader Commercial customer care lead
    Quality improvement

    We often spot the obvious impacts of automation, such as robotic process automation redefining entry-level analyst roles, or chatbots reconfiguring an entire work area such as call centers. But automation options are available for all levels of work, from routine and repetitive to variable and creative.

    Responsible organizations are uncovering automation and workforce impacts by redesigning work to help leaders make decisions, maintain drive, and produce output while providing clarity of goals for (and increasing empowerment of) employees.

  3. 03

    Address the employee experience in new ways of working

    We know employees want to spend more time doing meaningful work aligned to company purpose. (Figure 3: WTW’s High Performance Employee Experience model) and automation can help us get there by:

    • Taking over mundane tasks
    • Accelerating ideation
    • Assisting in problem solving

    The more organizations embrace and integrate new ways of working that enhances the employee day-to-day experience, the more competitive and productive they will be.

    HPEX model dimensions include Purpose, Work, People and Rewards.

    Excellence: Mindset needed to succeed

    • Inspiration: “I’m totally inspired by what we do”
    • Drive: “We’re transforming, agile and ahead of the market”
    • Growth: “I’m achieving my potential”
    • Trust: “I trust leadership and they trust us”

    Emphasis: How to create personal agency

    • Inclusion: “I really fit in here, and we respect human differences”
    • Voice: “I have a say in what we do”
    • Capability: “I’m developing my capabilities”
    • Collaboration: “We help each other, and work across boundaries”

    Essentials: Basic facilitiation of work efforts

    • Understanding: “I get it.”
    • Organization: “We’re efficient, flexible, and continually improving.”
    • Fair Pay: “I’m rewarded fairly for my performance.”
    • Support: “I feel supported, and have a good boss.”
    Automation aligns with excellence in HPEX

    Automation is a bright new spark that closes talent gaps, creates better work and career options and accelerates change.

    Take, for example, the new content creation automation tools like Open AI’s ChatGPT, DALLE and Aux.AI. They are all highly useable forms of generating different types of content that typically require hours of work by people. It’s worth exploring an example, as it makes understanding the potential of many other areas of AI more accessible to all of us. In this example, an HR practitioner can use ChatGPT to get started on an onboarding plan (Figure 2).

    A ChatGPT request to create an employee onboarding plan that includes the following:
    Introduction and Welcome, Orientation, Job-Specific Training, Safety and Health Training and Benefits and Policies. A sample of expanded components of Safety and Health Training includes details on the following: Workplace Hazards, Emergency Procedures, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
    ChatGPT content: Employee onboarding plan

    In ChatGPT, the simple command “Write an employee onboarding plan” created a lengthy list of content spanning orientation, job-specific training, health and safety considerations, benefits, etc. Within 30 seconds there is a range of content to leverage and even expand HR’s thinking about the potential components of the guide. Another prompt to “expand on health and safety training” offers even more content. This cycle can continue, showing the value of digitally savvy HR continuing to explore content for relevance for the onboarding plan.

    This HR practitioner still must paste the text into a branded onboarding guide, validate if the organization has the capacity to fulfill each unique step and enhance each step to fit their unique business processes. However, they no longer need to spend hours researching and writing the generic initial outline.

    The fact that ChatGPT is open and free to use (at least for now) means it is being used extensively. The success of ChatGPT has prompted Microsoft and Google to announce plans to bring similar functionality to their products. The cat is out of the bag, so the reactive response to ban such automation postpones the reality that it will keep showing up.

  4. 04

    Expand governance for use of AI at work

    ChatGPT is a reminder of the fast road we are all on. In 2021, this kind of content generation required hours of work, but in 2023 I can sit at my computer and quickly craft an article or PowerPoint presentation using it. Organizations need to expand their governance around how and when employees use AI at work. For example:

    • Design jobs dedicated to advising on the use of technology and that make AI explainable and interpretable, coupled with jobs dedicated to overseeing AI ethics, fairness and bias management.
    • Provide training to keep employees aware and informed of data-handling policies, including simulation exercises and gamified assignments for awareness.
    • Update job descriptions with digital work accountabilities.
    • Embed digital work in career philosophies and experiences, recognizing it as an increasingly important component of future work, growth and development.
    • Review the policy and standards that employees must follow to make sure they are working securely.
    • Research investing in the latest technology linked to firewalls, antivirus software, servers, virtual private networks and maintenance.
    • Understand and clarify risks throughout the work ecosystem based on digital and AI-derivative work that could impact liability due to new ways of working.

    As automation options become more pervasive, CHROs, chief risk officers and IT leaders can expect to work more closely on developing plans and taking action to address these new dynamics of work.

Authors

Global Leader, Future of Work and Risk

Employee Experience
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