Closing the employee skills gap series – part 1: Why upskilling for AI technology is essential

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4 mins, 34 secs read time

Employee skills need to be ready for AI. If there was a theme for 2023, it was artificial intelligence (AI). ChatGPT and dozens of other AI technology products burst onto the market, and the AI craze began. People were using generative AI (GenAI) to create shockingly realistic headshots, DrakeAI dropped some dance-worthy beats and savvy companies started leveraging AI to become more efficient.

Despite its limitless capability and growing popularity, not everyone was so quick to jump on the AI technology bandwagon. Businesses were worried about the security risks and diversity, equity and inclusion leaders were curious about the impact of biased machine learning.

And yet, AI technology has shifted to a business essential, and early adopters will reap the benefits. But before they do, employee skills need to be up to par. Employers should upskill and reskill their workforce for AI use.

Winners vs. observers

A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study revealed that 50% of CEOs actively discourage using generative AI technology in their organizations. But this mindset is what differentiates winners and observers.

  • In 2023, fearless organizations jumped aboard the AI train and started experimenting – a winning behavior
  • Winners used AI to optimize efficiencies and top-line benefits
  • Smart businesses showcased winning behaviors, like systematic improving of employee skills, vigilance to the cost of use, building strategic relationships and implementing responsible AI (RAI) guardrails
[Deploying AI] can increase productivity by up to 20%, enhance efficiency and effectiveness by up to 50%, boost revenue and create long-term competitive advantage.
– Christoph Schweizer, BCG CEO

Despite half of CEOs discouraging GenAI, 89% rank it as a top priority for 2024, with 85% planning to increase AI technology and GenAI spending in 2024.

AI should be part of your strategy

AI is a tool to help organizations do more, synthesize data, reveal blind spots and streamline processes. It’s not an overstatement to say that it's revolutionizing everyday operations with nearly limitless applications.

If it's not already, AI technology should be a strategic part of your business. There are dozens of benefits of not only using AI but also improving employee skills and reskilling your workforce to use it effectively:

  • Cost savings. Companies investing more than $50 million in AI and GenAI in 2024 are 1.3 times more likely to see cost savings this year and 1.5 times more likely to achieve more than 10% in cost savings.
  • Upskilled employees stick around. Instead of hiring new employees, upskill or reskill current employees to learn AI. It also improves their employee lifetime value (ELTV) and your bottom line.
  • Boost productivity and effectiveness. AI technology can boost productivity by up to 20% and effectiveness by 50%, according to Schweizer.

AI upskilling and adoption challenges

In contrast to early adopter success, hesitation may cause downstream hardships to close the employee skills gap. In a Harvard Business Review article, Raffaella Sadun highlights five top challenges in upskilling existing teams:

  1. Waiting too long to start. Skills gaps will widen as organizations wait to implement AI. Ambiguous goals, undefined usage guardrails and unclear regulatory futures contribute to the murkiness.
  2. AI technology can feel scary. AI has its fair share of skeptics, especially among workers. One of the most common fears is that AI will replace humans.
  3. No clear ‘why.’ Employees are hesitant to invest their time into learning a new skill when there's no clear benefit or roadmap showing how AI technology will advance their careers.
  4. Workforce hoarding. Middle managers are reluctant to train valuable employees on AI, especially if it means they'll change occupations or teams.
  5. Low participation. AI upskilling participation is weak without clearly defined employee-facing benefits or career roadmaps.
As new technologies emerge…we might see a polarization of outcomes across firms. Some will figure it out. Others just don’t get it.
– Raffaella Sadun, Charles E. Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School

The good news? There's a solution: design an upskill plan.

Your AI upskill or reskill plan

Rolling out an upskill program comes down to communication. Share the reason behind adopting AI technology, map out possible career paths and income potential and make it easy to start training.

Tell them why

Brush up on your change management skills because you’re reshaping daily operations. Share the ‘why’ behind the new direction to minimize fear and uncertainty

Keep humans in charge

AI is exceptional at summarizing information, distilling unstructured data and offering first drafts for content. It’s not a decision-maker. Make sure your employees understand that and how to use AI properly.

Build or join cohorts

Organizations are no longer gatekeeping their AI insights – they’re pooling their peer-to-peer knowledge to upskill workforces together. Join them

Encourage learning on the job

Leading companies prioritize systematic upskilling, including AI. By doing so, they realize the strategic advantages immediately

Offer incentives

Pay employees to train plus share new salary projections, like the estimated 43% increases in sales and marketing, 42% in finance, 37% in legal and compliance and 35% in HR disciplines.

These tips barely scratch the surface – check back for our next blog to learn more about rolling out your AI upskill plan.

Ready to get on board with AI technology? GenAI is here to stay. Innovative companies are leveraging it for impressive growth and productivity gains. Join them by creating an AI upskilling program backed by budget and talent.

Want to learn more about the value of investing in your people? Check out our ebook.

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Sheena Fronk

Sheena Fronk

is a writing-obsessed entrepreneur who founded her all things writing passion project turned small business, wanderluster co. She works with SaaS and tech companies, transforming jargon into conversations using human-centered copy. When not working, Sheena eats doughnuts, plays with her pup and travels the world.

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