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IBM Study: AI Won’t Replace People, People Who Use AI Will Replace People Who Don’t

I was going to say can we please get some better AI stock photos that aren’t totally corny but this one has a guy with a hilarious job-stopping tattoo so it’s not all bad.

So IBM put two different studies together — one with 3,000 global C-suite leaders across 28 countries, another with 21,000 workers across 22 countries — and one thing they’ve learned is executives estimate that 40% of their workforce will need to reskill as a result of implementing AI and automation over the next three years. THREE YEARS.

87% of executives believe job roles are more likely to be augmented than automated, but there’s a catch: with technology automating away much of the busywork it’s communication, teamwork, and flexibility that will be more important than ever.

Interestingly, the executives themselves don’t seem to think that AI will have as huge an impact on them and their work than it will at lower levels.

While workers at all levels will feel the effects of generative AI, lower-level employees are expected to see the biggest shift. More than three in four executives say entry-level positions are already being impacted, while only 22% say the same for executive or senior management roles.

screenshot of an IBM study on AI

Executives in our survey estimate that 40% of their workforce will need to reskill due to implementing AI and automation over the next three years. That translates to 1.4 billion of the 3.4 billion people in the global workforce, according to World Bank statistics.

What sort of reskilling? On average, 87% of executives expect job roles to be augmented, rather than replaced, by generative AI. That figure is closer to three-quarters in marketing (73%) and customer service (77%)—and more than 90% in procurement (97%), risk and compliance (93%), and finance (93%).

Once the darling of in-demand skills in 2010s, STEM is “plummeting” in importance, dropping from the top spot in 2016 to 12th place in 2023. Some bad news for large swathes of the Going Concern audience: leaders are now hungriest for people with people skills.

most in demand skills in 2023

Even “basic computer and software application skills” have experienced a drop. It’s all about communication and managing your time.

As the need for technical acumen has increased more broadly, many leaders may now see these skills as table stakes.

Looking to the future, executives are more focused on developing people skills, with time management and prioritization, collaboration, and communications topping the list.

As technology becomes more user-friendly, employees are also able to do more with less advanced technical skills. No-code software development platforms, for instance, let people without a programming background create business critical prototypes and apps. Plus, as machines take over mundane tasks, people can spend more time on the problem-solving and collaborative work that require stronger people skills.

This pivot away from STEM skills highlights the volatility of the talent landscape. It’s likely that the skills people need will continue to change, which is why organizations must build a flexible structure that allows for evolution.

Let’s talk about what matters to employees and not the executives they work for. Props to IBM to skipping right past “salary, benefits, and job security,” pretending those things aren’t employees’ most important factors at work and focusing on some secondary stuff employees also want.

When asked to make tradeoffs, foundational factors such as salary, benefits, and job security still top the list of employee priorities. But when asked to select the most important work attributes out of a list that doesn’t include those factors, people put impactful work above all other attributes, including autonomy, equity, flexible work arrangements, and growth
opportunities (see Figure 5).

PwC is way ahead on this. Recall comments made earlier this year by Joe Atkinson, PwC chief products and technology officer, when he spoke to the New York Times:

PwC’s workers have expressed fears about displacement, according to Mr. Atkinson, especially as their company explores automating roles with generative A.I. Mr. Atkinson stressed, though, that PwC planned to retrain people with new technical skills so their work would change but their jobs wouldn’t be eliminated.

Says IBM:

But employees may think that, by partnering with AI, they are training their replacement. Leaders can combat this initial resistance by highlighting how AI can help people focus on more meaningful work—which is something employees crave.


Additionally, when asked to select whether the work they do, the employer they work for, or the people they work with was most important to them, nearly half of employees say the work they do is far more important than who they work for or who they work with regularly.

So far, it seems, employers have missed the memo. The executives we surveyed rank impactful work lower than nine other non-compensation attributes when assessing which factors matter most to their workforce.

This disconnect is poised to cause problems as executives rush to automate as many tasks as they can. If leaders don’t plan human-machine partnerships with impactful work in mind, they might miss opportunities that will help people work smarter and more strategically. How employees will use—and benefit from—technology needs to be considered as carefully as the tech investment itself.

Things employees care about other than salary and benefits

Oh good, they did put compensation on there.

So what’s the takeaway? A) AI is evolving rapidly and incredibly accessible compared to advanced technologies before it, workers at all levels should be jumping in and playing around with it because it’s coming to your job regardless (this means you too, executives). B) communication is more important than ever. You don’t have to be an extrovert to navigate the gauntlet of professional communication, you just need to be clear.  If you get stuck, just ask ChatGPT to write your emails for you.

IBM study: Augmented work for an automated, AI-driven world [PDF]

One thought on “IBM Study: AI Won’t Replace People, People Who Use AI Will Replace People Who Don’t

  1. Interestingly enough, implementing AI might force more CPAs to have to become proficient at things like job costing at a transactional level, especially if they take on fractional cfo/controller work. Buckets and materiality are simply not enough when it comes to creating deliverables that aid in strategic decision making (VS does the financial statement conform to GAAP). Automation actually causes some lags for clients that do need costing systems or classes to run their business, especially if work is done after the fact. It takes a lot less time to correctly enter things in manually than review & correct large batches of imported transactions, especially if your client needs multidimensional reporting to make their key decisions. Many CPAs are not comfortable working at this level of minute detail that drives operational decision making. Part of the type of collaboration necessary in these sorts of practice units requires being able to provide necessary information to all key departments within a client’s organization. Strategic budgeting based on assumptions beyond SALY will become more crucial as well. Especially in a post pandemic business environment.

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