Future of working | Will AI be the benefit that workers hope for, or will it be a hindrance?

Will AI be the benefit that workers hope for, or will it be a hindrance?

Having weathered many society and economic storms over the past few years, it seems the U.S. has another key challenge brewing on the horizon – AI. Its impact on American workers remains a complex terrain that demands proactive adaptation from all involved in working life.

Generative AI, though still largely in its infancy according to the world’s leading tech gurus, is advancing at the speed of sound. Leaders such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk have noted publicly that is has the potential to influence every facet of business and the economy.

However, its impact on the American workforce, while potentially positive, requires strategic intervention to ensure that the overall outcome is favorable for workers.

McKinsey's analysis anticipates that by 2030, the introduction of generative AI will hasten automation, potentially leading to the automation of activities accounting for 30% of U.S. working hours—a considerable rise from the pre-generative AI figure of 21%.

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While the researchers remain optimistic about the emergence of high-skilled and well-paid jobs, particularly in fields like healthcare, STEM and professional services, they acknowledge that adaptation is key.

The shift could lead to increased job displacement, primarily impacting lower-wage workers and those without a college degree. Notably, workers earning less than $38,200 annually may be 14 times more likely to require occupational shifts compared to their higher-paid counterparts.

The ongoing trend of resilience among US workers, demonstrated by the 8.6million occupational transitions during the pandemic, is commendable. However, McKinsey stresses that proactive measures are required to ensure the continuation of such resilience.

Investments in workforce development, re-training, and education are crucial to equip the labor force with the necessary skills for the evolving job landscape.

Generative AI also holds the potential to significantly enhance productivity, a benefit that could be vital for the U.S. economy's growth.

By coupling the technology with efficient redeployment strategies, labor productivity could see an increase of 0.5 to 0.9 percentage points annually, potentially contributing to three per cent to four per cent annual GDP growth.

The manufacturing sector is a notable example of this potential. With around 36% of working hours susceptible to automation, McKinsey suggests that the shortage of almost 700,000 workers in this sector could be partially addressed through investments in initiatives like the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act.

Such investments could create demand for higher-skilled roles, transforming the sector's workforce into more tech-centric roles.

To capitalize on the benefits of generative AI, concerted efforts from workers, employers, and Government entities are required.

Adaptation through reskilling, promoting learn-as-you-earn programs, recruiting from underrepresented demographics, and hiring based on skills and potential can be instrumental in ensuring a successful transition into the generative A.I.-influenced job landscape.

While challenges exist, the transformative potential of generative AI is here to stay, so collaboration and serious ideation on the future of work is absolutely essential if the US is to make the best of this paradigm shift.

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