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In the age of AI, this is what people really think about the future of work

What do workers think about AI?

What do workers think about AI? Image: Unsplash/CoWomen

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of Work

This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

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  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is disrupting the workplace, as businesses adopt new AI technologies designed to boost productivity. The World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report 2023 found three-quarters of companies expect to adopt AI and half thought it would create jobs.
  • But what do workers think about the transformation and how ready are they to embrace it?
  • PwC’s latest Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey, presented at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions, finds "sizeable pockets" of the global workforce are eager to learn new skills, embrace AI and tackle new challenges.

Have you used generative AI to help you tick off your to-do list today?

Since the launch of ChatGPT-4 in March, more and more companies have been trialling and adopting the latest artificial intelligence tools in search of productivity gains.

Almost 75% of companies surveyed by the World Economic Forum for the Future of Jobs Report 2023 are expected to adopt generative AI – with high churn anticipated as a result.

Around half of these organizations expect AI to create job growth, while 25% expect it to result in job losses.

Businesses expect Big Data and AI to drive growth.
Around half of companies surveyed expect AI to drive job growth. Image: Future of Jobs Report

A huge reskilling effort is underway to harness the potential of AI – and guard against its pitfalls. Employers estimate that 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted in the next five years.

Training workers to use AI and big data ranked third among company skills-training priorities in the next five years, according to the Future of Jobs Report – and will be prioritized say 42% of surveyed companies.

But that's just one side of the conversation – what do workers think about AI disruption and how ready and willing are they to upskill?

Have you read?

Ready player one?

The central challenge facing business leaders today, according to PwC's Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2023, is getting buy-in from everyone in the organization to make its reinvention a success.

At the Forum's Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, China, PwC presented the results of its survey in a session called The Global Workforce.

"What the workers tell us is they are wanting to embrace the opportunity to upskill, to develop themselves, to be relevant, to be able to be more productive and to contribute to that reinvention of their organizations," said Peter Brown, PwC Global People and Organization Leader.


PwC surveyed more than 54,000 workers in 46 countries and territories and found workers are largely positive about AI despite the job churn it represents.

"They see it as something that enables them to be more productive, to remove some of the mundane in their day-to-day work, an opportunity to develop new skills and, ultimately, an opportunity to create new job opportunities," added Brown.

In the survey, more than 50% of workers chose at least one positive statement about the impact of AI on their careers, from increasing productivity to helping them gain new skills. Almost a third of respondents (31%) said: "AI will help me increase my productivity/efficiency at work."

Employees see mostly positive impacts from AI.
The majority of workers are positive about the impact of AI on their careers. Image: PwC

When it comes to the shifting skills landscape, only a third (36%) of respondents strongly or moderately agree that the skills needed to succeed in their job will change significantly over the next five years.

This contrasts with the 44% of employers who told the Forum skills would be disrupted in the next five years, showing the mindset gap around urgency between leaders and employees.

Many employees don't have a sense of urgency about upskilling.
Only a third of workers think the skills required for their job will change in the next five years. Image: PwC

Minding the 'specialization gap'

Digging deeper into worker perceptions around skilling needs, PwC identified a "specialization gap" – and it's growing, said Brown.

"We are seeing the emergence and the widening gap between those that have specialist skills and those that don't. Fifty-three percent of workers say they require specialist skills in order to do their job. That cohort of the workforce will broadly be more demanding of pay increases or promotions and seeking out opportunities to apply their skills and experiences.

"They will also be the people within an organization that are more likely to get opportunities to develop themselves and for upskilling."

Half of those whose jobs require specialist training said the skills needed to do their jobs would change significantly, compared to only 15% of those whose jobs don't require specialist training.

PwC said this meant those workers who lack specialized training could be "particularly vulnerable to job losses as skills continue to evolve, and as companies augment (or replace) jobs with automation, AI, or both".

The specialization gap affects how employees view skills.
The specialization gap affects how employees view skills. Image: PwC

Crucially, workers without specialist training were less likely to say that the more human, soft skills, such as adaptability, critical thinking and collaboration, would be important to their role in the future.

In another session at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions, on New Skills for Fast-Moving Industries, Brown said those with specialist skills were more likely to have access to upskilling opportunities from their employer and are "much more aware of the impact of technology disruptions and the importance of human skills".

"We need the whole workforce to be engaged and motivated and empowered to deliver this innovation.

"Those who don't see their job will require new skills in the next five years don't get easy access to upskilling opportunities in their organizations. There is a great danger and unless we respond to that, we will have a whole society that is disadvantaged. We must work together as business leaders, as policymakers, as governments to solve that."

Bringing everyone along on the upskilling journey

Growing skills gaps could further increase economic inequality and also slow down attempts to innovate for companies.

PwC put the responsibility squarely on leaders for bringing everyone along and engaging employees in upskilling – but also to create a culture where it's OK to experiment and fail.

Brown said: "If we want to innovate and transform, innovation by its very nature requires valuing making mistakes, stretching boundaries. If workers are in an environment where culturally they feel it is not safe to make small-scale errors or to challenge and debate development, then there is a problem.

"There is a real call to action for leaders to really have a look at the culture and focus on making sure it is inclusive, embracing all ideas, all diversity, not just gender but all forms of diversity so that we can solve those problems."

Transparency and inspiration were identified in the report as key tools for leaders to help in the transformation process.

"As a leader, you must create a narrative around your vision for the future of your organization, and align it with the company's purpose and mission. Encourage employees to ask questions and get involved, which helps create ownership and inclusion."

Putting the AI in training

When it comes to AI, employers need to nurture workers' interest in it, but also communicate the organization's approach to disruptive technologies and what they mean for jobs.

"Create opportunities for employees to responsibly experiment and explore with AI in their work, with the right guardrails around data access and privacy, copyright protection and other sensitive areas," said the report.

"Being transparent and purpose-driven regarding plans and decisions can help employees who are wary of AI – and what it may mean for their jobs – feel more comfortable experimenting with it and even adopting it into their work where appropriate."

At the same time, strengthening the human skills that AI can’t replicate, as identified by the Forum's Future of Jobs Report, will be essential.

Watch the full Global Workforce session here and the full New Skills for Fast-Moving Industries session here.

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Forum InstitutionalEmerging TechnologiesJobs and the Future of Work
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