In May, hundreds of AI experts described the existential threat the technology they helped to create poses to humanity. “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority,” they said in the statement they issued, “alongside other societal-scale risks such as nuclear war.”

Hundreds of scientists and business leaders – from companies including OpenAI, Google’s DeepMind, Anthropic and Microsoft – invoking the threat of human eradication highlighted the risks that might come with the growth of AI? That caught the media’s attention.  [Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so hasty to quote Nick Clegg in my last blog?]

Obviously, it is important that we are aware of the dangers artificial intelligence might pose. But alongside the risks sits a great deal of promise. Technology that can process and generate vast amounts of data should also create febrile excitement in HR circles. Large language models may replace or transform jobs. With that in mind, it’s probably best to leave the question of Armageddon to the various global summits and national institutes and look at how we deal with the rapid spread of the technology into common use.

 Afterall, this summer, the OECD suggested that occupations at the highest risk of displacement of AI would be highly-skilled, white-collar jobs, accounting for about 27 per cent of employment across member economies. Remember when the IBM Watson AI system was put to the test on the US TV quiz show Jeopardy and won top prize? That was back in 2010. Remember the Deep Blue chess-playing system that became the first to defeat reigning world champion, Garry Kasparov? That was more than 25 years ago. My point is that the technology has been around for long enough for these forecasts to be reasonable and for us to be dealing with the reality. This is no longer pie in the sky stuff.

Indeed, almost half of workers (48 per cent) now think AI will improve their career and prospects, according to a survey of 1,500 workers in the UK commissioned by Randstad. When it comes to learning and development, employees now rank AI as the 4th most important skill set for development (19 per cent), behind leadership skills (25 per cent); wellbeing and mindfulness (23 per cent); and coaching and mentoring (20 per cent). 

While employees are clearly beginning to appreciate how AI skills could support them in their current and future roles, a gap is starting to form between the training they want and the training they actually get: only 7 per cent of employees in the UK have been offered any AI training in the last year. 

Are employers ignoring AI? Victoria Short, the boss of Randstad UK, thinks not. “More employers are seeking talent with AI skills — our international analysis of job ads shows a 2000 per cent uptick since Q1”, she says. “AI is increasingly an enabler of skills, commanding a profound impact on productivity and overall performance in the workplace… AI is here to stay and the benefits of it are very clear.”

If this gap remains unbridged it will give HR’s another headache, too. Quite apart from the failure to prepare for the business transformation that AI is inevitably going to deliver, failure to offer AI training will give employers a retention problem. A third of Generation Z workers (33 per cent) told Randstad they would quit a job if they were not offered learning and development opportunities in the next year – more than double the number of baby boomers (12 per cent). 

All this means HR’s who embrace AI and push for the relevant training will be doing their employers a solid. Those that don’t will be taking their organisations straight to corporate oblivion.

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