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Leaders are going about AI all wrong

By Jack Campbell and Kace O'Neill | |6 minute read
Leaders Are Going About Ai All Wrong

Employers are placing a heavy emphasis on artificial intelligence (AI) skills in the modern workplace, but are they taking it too far?

The AI avalanche has stormed through Australian workplaces, with nearly every industry getting involved in what is presenting itself as a mainstay in future business endeavours.

Employees have already jumped the gun in terms of implementing AI into their daily practices, with three out of four workers (75 per cent) already using AI in their job role, according to the 2024 Work Index Annual Report from Microsoft and LinkedIn.


The productivity benefits are clear, as users have said that AI helps them save time (90 per cent), focus on their most important work (85 per cent), allow more creativity (84 per cent), and enjoy their work more (83 per cent).

“AI is redefining the boundaries of what’s possible in global business. But we’ve only just scratched the surface of AI, and its potential is still largely unrealised. AI is evolving at exponential rates, strategic planning, investment and continuous learning will be required for businesses looking to leverage the technology to thrive on the global stage,” said Nat Natarajan, chief product and strategy officer at G-P.

Taking things too far?

However, with the considerable uptake in AI adoption, there are always those that take things a little too far. According to G-P’s AI at Work: Unlocking Global Opportunities report, 60 per cent of Australian businesses are placing their investment in AI technology and tools rather than in hiring and retaining their employees.

While the foresight in seeing the potential AI technologies can bring is positive, the disregard for the people is concerning. AI can streamline processes and help employees perform better, but there still needs to be a human element to keep things running smoothly.

“AI holds a lot of potential to drive value impact, but only when done in partnership with a future-ready workforce,” said Zachary Chertok, research manager for employee experience at IDC.

“AI is shifting the narrative for digital use cases into a focus on workforce empowerment. Building a winning formula with AI requires organisations to invest in training the workforce for how to collaborate with AI-based tools just as much as it requires them to invest in the tools themselves.”

AI has continuously caused strain on the workforce, with distrust rife. Leaders understand these concerns, with just over half (51 per cent) fearing employee hesitations and concerns could stand in the way of following through with AI plans.

Furthermore, over half of employees (52 per cent) who use AI at work are reluctant to admit to using it for their most important tasks. Some even refrain altogether from using it for their important tasks out of fear of creating the narrative that they are expendable.

This highlights a greater concern with miscommunication from leaders. AI adoption is necessary in the future of work, but without effective implementation that considers the feelings of workers, initiatives can potentially fall flat.

Despite this, 86 per cent of respondents reported that their company has an established AI program in place. Meanwhile, 87 per cent noted that they’re planning to invest more in AI in 2024.

It’s a balancing act

So, where’s the middle ground? With demand for AI increasing and the consideration of the people taking a hit, a seemingly glaring solution would be to upskill and hire for AI roles.

Leaders understand this, with 99 per cent of Australian executives predicting their organisation will need to create new roles to implement and monitor AI successfully.

In fact, AI skills are of growing concern, with over 70 per cent of employers noting that they’d rather hire a less experienced candidate with AI skills than a more experienced candidate without them.

Similarly, 66 per cent of employers wouldn’t even consider hiring an employee without AI skills. With these new employer expectations, junior candidates have shot up the ranks, with 77 per cent of leaders saying that with AI, early-in-career talent will be given greater responsibilities.

This, again, could be seen as taking things too far, as a lack of this niche skill set could see good talent turned down. There is a simple solution to this issue, however, and that lies in training.

Establishing AI upskilling opportunities can help to plug AI skills gaps while still holding onto top talent.

This is an untapped area, too, as at the moment, learning AI skills is classified as a “do it yourself” gig, creating a big gap in potential. Only 39 per cent of people globally who use AI for work have gotten their training from their company. Moving forward, only 25 per cent of companies are planning to offer training on generative AI this year, further cementing this training deficit.

Leaders have a lucrative opportunity to develop and hone AI skills internally, thus generating a skilled workforce that is prepared for the future.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.