Upwork’s Head of Growth on Reskilling in the Age of AI

Upwork’s Head of Growth on Reskilling in the Age of AI

This article was originally published in Connect, Upwork’s magazine about the modern way of working. See the digital magazine to get inspired.

Many companies are still trying to keep up with the changes brought on by digitization—and the shake-up isn’t finished yet. Artificial intelligence (AI) is infiltrating many business functions as more start-ups and large companies alike are using AI to make smarter decisions, reduce human errors, and automate processes.

Companies are still exploring AI’s far-reaching potential, yet executives are already wondering how they’ll find a workforce prepared for an AI-driven future.

To answer this, let’s start by understanding what AI is…

What Is AI?

AI is any task performed by a program or machine that, if done by a human, requires some level of intelligence to complete. That’s a broad definition, which may hint at how many jobs are affected by the technology.

Blue- and white-collar jobs are disappearing as tablets are replacing food-service employees, autonomous trucks are closer to replacing long-haul drivers, and apps are generating contracts sans lawyers.

While AI may cause concern for individuals at first, the technology benefits individuals across a range of industries. Businesses use AI-powered chatbots to improve customer experience, hospitals provide better early diagnostics with AI-based tools, and financial services protect customers with AI-based fraud detection.

You might be using AI in daily life more than you realize. For example, AI makes it easier for you to book flights online and organize personal and work calendars, and it’s what makes virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri so helpful.

How AI is changing our jobs

Similar to how computers began changing jobs more than 50 years ago, AI will change some of the work performed by humans today. A McKinsey report, Upskilling in the Age of Automation, predicts that by 2030, up to 375 million workers worldwide will be directly affected as AI, digitization, and automation progress. That equates to 14% of the global workforce.

But that doesn’t mean robots will eventually take over the world. It means that we, like generations of workers before us, must reskill or upskill to remain relevant.

Remember, jobs are changing—the need for humans isn’t. In fact, the same McKinsey report expects as AI and other technologies advance, it’ll grow the workforce by 17%.

As if emphasizing the need for humans, most of the skills categories predicted to grow as a result of AI involve soft skills. These are skills that are difficult to measure such as leadership, critical thinking, and communication.

According to the report, top skills predicted to grow in demand by 2030 include:

  • Advanced IT and programming skills. Not surprisingly, this is expected to be the fastest-growing category, catapulting up by 90%.
  • Basic digital skills. These may rise by 69% and include skills such as searching online, communicating via email, and making online payments.
  • Social and emotional skills: An anticipated rise in customer service jobs and remote workers fuels the expected 26% increase in communication and related soft skills such as communication.
  • Entrepreneurship and initiative taking. Researchers foresee a 33% surge in this category along with leadership and management skills.
  • Creativity, critical thinking, decision-making, and complex information processing. These abilities are highly demanded today and the need for them is expected to continue rising by 19% as more is demanded from professionals in healthcare and technology.

Who’s responsible for reskilling?

Individuals must take personal responsibility in maintaining skills that will be relevant in tomorrow’s workplace. But as businesses adopt new technology, they must also invest in the people who will use them and are affected by changing processes. It’s the only way companies can realize the full potential of their technological investments.

What’s more, finding, hiring, and training replacements is costly. Analysis from a Web Economic Forum report, Towards a Reskilling Revolution, suggests it’s more cost-beneficial for companies to retrain than replace employees.

A McKinsey survey shows executives agree, as more than 6 out of 10 (64%) are willing to invest in retraining employees. And most executives (66%) rank “addressing potential skills gaps related to automation/digitization” as a top-10 priority.

Although companies recognize the urgency, they’re slow to act. An Accenture survey finds only 3% have plans to significantly invest in reskilling their workforce for a future shaped by AI.

As intimidating as change may seem, AI can benefit everyone if companies invest in workforce retraining. For example, office clerks might be replaced by software, but their skills can translate into customer service jobs. Processes may change, but managers can maintain productivity by improving their critical-thinking skills.

Businesses can map a successful future by optimizing their talent resources. This may include adopting new sources of talent so that teams can access specialized skills and work more agilely. Optimization definitely involves reskilling their current workforce. Because preparing workers for tomorrow isn’t just a company’s social responsibility. It’s also how a company will remain competitive now and in a future that’s guaranteed to change.

Upwork empowers businesses with flexible access to quality talent, on demand. Get started today.


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Upwork’s Head of Growth on Reskilling in the Age of AI
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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