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Facing AI fears: It may augment jobs, but it can’t replace experience

Workforce development experts at a Delaware conference tell employers it’s time to confront the unknown.

Lindsay Mareau, vice president of strategy at Phenom (Technical.ly)

Artificial intelligence is coming for workers — but maybe not in the way you think.

Workforce development trainers and human resources professionals are preparing future employees for the AI-driven workplace, where those tools help them do their jobs more efficiently. 

And, yes, some jobs will be replaced by generative AI, but generative AI is also a job creator.

“50% of jobs from 1970 don’t exist today,” said Lindsay Mareau, vice president of strategy at Phenom, an AI-driven human resources platform based in Ambler, Pennsylvania. “This is not new.”

Mareau spoke at “AI and the World of Work,” part of the Tech Council of Delaware’s Tech Ecosystem Conference. Phenom is itself a constantly evolving platform. And while most companies aren’t fully moving into the business of AI, Mareau warns against ignoring it.

Some fear is good, but AI is not avoidable

Business owners who ignore and avoid generative AI may be disadvantaged sooner or later. 

“If organizations do not work to lean into AI, their organizational existence is in question,” Mareau said, explaining that if a company doesn’t understand how their employees’ current skills relate to their jobs, and how those jobs are changing, they won’t know what kind of upskilling they need to keep up. 

“It’s going to be really challenging for them to continue to upgrade and even function and survive as a business,” said Mareau.

While that sounds scary, most of the fear we hear about has nothing to do with falling behind in an industry, but rather that AI will obliterate everything.

“It’s the fear of two things: fear that it can take your job, and that fear of learning that new skill set,” said Brittany Osazuwa, director of government partnerships at CompTIA. 

It’s not necessarily that they’re being alarmist gloom-and-doomers. Sometimes, the fear of AI in the workplace can come from a good place, says Mareau.

“Some of the fear, it’s not necessarily founded, but I think the intentions are amazing,” the Phenom executive said. “They really want to protect not only the organization itself but also the employees and the people that they are considering hiring for these opportunities, and want to keep things as fair and equitable as possible.”

Companies are already citing AI gap losses

Embracing AI has happened in some unexpected places. John Deere is known for its tractors and farm equipment, for example. It transitioned from a traditional manufacturer to a leader In the tech and AI space after reskilling its workforce in machine learning in 2020, said Shahier Rahman, account director at General Assembly, a New York-based tech workforce training organization. 

Skills are changing so rapidly, Rahman said, that job descriptions for the same role look different from month to month because generative AI itself is shifting at such a fast pace. 

According to a General Assembly survey, HR leaders increasingly say that they don’t fully understand the day-to-day responsibilities for 29% of the positions they’re hiring for.

“They know they need people, but they don’t exactly understand what those folks are going to be doing day to day,” Rahman said. “It’s not because they don’t want to know, it’s because the shift in those skills just happened so quickly.”

Even more concerning for businesses, 32% of the organizations General Assembly surveyed said they lost revenue due to inadequate or mismatched staff. 

“They had an opportunity for a project or a sale, but they didn’t have the people in place to implement,” Rahman said.

AI alone is not where the value lies

John Deere’s solution was not to hire a bunch of new people with AI degrees to fit its shifting tech needs, but to upskill the employees it already had, and not just because it didn’t want to fire people. It made more sense to teach employees with years of experience with tractors and agriculture AI than to teach a decade’s worth of experience with tractors and agriculture to a new employee with an AI certification.

In other words, AI isn’t taking those manufacturing jobs, it’s augmenting jobs so that the company retains those softer, more human skills that John Deere also needs to stay competitive.

Still, people struggle with letting go of the idea that AI isn’t meant to operate without human input. When asked if there are more reliable generative AI platforms that create text that’s accurate enough to put your name on, Osazuwa paused.

“I would just read it and fact check,” she said.

If anything, Rahman says, AI requires more critical thinking and not just taking things at face value, not less. 

“Thinking about the future of the workforce requires embracing new technologies,” he said. “With a healthy dose of skepticism.”

Companies: Tech Council of Delaware / Phenom

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