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How Your AI Skills Could Pay the Bills

If I had a dollar for every person who has leaned into my personal space bubble, grinned, then asked, "So, when is AI replacing your job?" … I could probably take a very nice vacation after AI replaces me. However, despite my inability to profit from fielding the same question for the last six months, I'm still not concerned about AI coming for my job. What I am concerned about is how to identify the ways AI is influencing my job and how to pick up skills that will let me use AI as a way to improve my workday experiences. 

I had an interesting interview with Jon Fan, the chief product officer for workplace optimization company Envoy, and he emphasized how collecting data around various elements of a workplace -- from workers' preferred hotdesking locations to the times of week people gathered -- was only useful if it could enhance the effectiveness of people-driven decisions. 

"The idea is to really be able to understand how everyone is either in the office or not in the office for some reason," he said. "You want to be intentional and data-driven in how you orchestrate your workplace. You want the end result where you have the best people in the best place at the best time." 

While the phrase "data-driven" is in that approach, what's notable is how it's serving the end goal of a specific work process -- getting the best people in the best place at the best time -- and not setting the goal of a specific work process. Using the data requires skills that are not easily automated, like analytical thinking, the ability to frame or reframe queries and the ability to find insights by synthesizing multiple sources of data. 

This on-the-ground analysis of how Envoy's customers are using data to shape their workplace dovetails with the skills Microsoft recently identified as essential to working with AI in the future. As summarized in their annual Work Trend Index, these skills are: 

  • Analytical judgment -- determining where and how to deploy AI tools 
  • Flexibility -- adapting to new tools and new workflows 
  • Emotional intelligence -- knowing where human skills fit into a workflow 
  • Creative evaluation -- being able to assess the end products of AI tools 
  • Intellectual curiosity -- knowing how to make queries of AI-driven tools 
  • Bias detection and handling -- being able to be critical of what may be shaping either an AI query or the outcome 
  • AI delegation -- Knowing when and how to prompt an AI tool 

None of the skills above can be replaced by artificial intelligence -- in part because AI is only as good as its data set and the way it's been trained to handle queries and find patterns, and one of the marvelous things about the human brain is how rapidly it can find ways to handle the stuff that falls outside patterns. 

I'm not worried about being replaced by AI. I'm worried about being replaced by someone who can do better and more creative things with AI than I can. So maybe the question workforce strategists and other people shaping the new world of work should be asking is not, "When can AI replace our workers?" but rather, "Does our workforce have the skills to get the most out of AI?"