Much has been written about the sudden and exponential onslaught of Artificial Intelligence (AI), spurred mainly by the surprisingly fast proliferation of ChatGPT into almost every office and home. As HR Strategists and Organization Transformation Consultants, we are mainly concerned with the impact of AI on the regular workforce and the gig economy from a Strategic Workforce Planning perspective – most importantly the need for a massive workforce skills upgrade and the potential for mass redundancies if that effort is not initiated immediately by organizations, all over the world. The social and political implications could be staggering!

According to a recent article, a group of researchers recently examined the degree to which large language models could perform the 19,000 tasks that make up the 1,000 occupations across the US economy. Their conclusion: 19% of workers hold jobs in which at least half their tasks could be completed by AI. The researchers also noted two surprising patterns among the most vulnerable jobs: They require more education and come with big salaries!

Concept of future employment where robots will occupy different jobs. A group of robots dressed in suit and tie stand shoulder by shoulder and are ready to work. They have heads made of plastic and titanium.

Who would have thought that the most vulnerable jobs would be the more intellectual; the ones we invest so much effort, education and training in?! This goes against every fiber of our human reasoning. It also goes against every perception of automation and digitalization humanity has ever held since the early steam age where machines typically replaced the lower value, less creative, repetitive jobs – sometimes the more dangerous or menial jobs – we generally don’t want to do. This has held true until very recently. AI is now writing a different story; it is writing its own script; a script that goes against our conventional wisdom of automation and digitalization. It is slowly replacing the jobs we actually want to do. Surprisingly, we are dedicating an abundance of resources to build applications and machines to do things we not only can do, but actually want to do; things like writing, editing, designing, engineering, …etc. Instead of developing technology to explore uncharted territories where we are in most need of assistance, we are actually developing technology to do what we, as humans, like doing the most!

For most, this may be an exaggerated scenario – but where there is smoke there is bound to be fire. And, undoubtedly, the workforce of tomorrow (and I mean that, literally) is bound to find itself in need of a different skillset to perform tasks that may be radically different from what it does, today. But the question is: will this be a battle for survival, or merely an evolutionary adaptation? Some say this is simply a relevelling of the playing field; a reset towards equity; an equalization between the intellectuals (the more seasoned professionals) and the beginners (the new entrants). But, since when was that part of our definition of social or workforce equity?!

With its human-like capabilities, AI is effectively targeting the knowledge economy. It is coming for the knowledge workers; it is coming for blood, it is coming for you and me!! Furthermore, when I put on my Strategic Workforce Planning hat and look into my crystal ball to conduct a future scenario plan for most organizations (5 to 10 year horizon), I see AI having acquired super-human capabilities where the workforce will be hard-challenged to compete, where we may no longer have the ability to keep up. What then??

In conclusion, and going back to the initial focus and the reason behind my article, how should HR start partnering with the business to prepare for the worst-case scenario? How should HR Strategists, Workforce Planners and Organization Transformation Consultants respond to the current proliferation of AI? What are you doing now, if anything, to prepare for this bleak scenario?