Recent data shows AI job losses are increasing, but the numbers don't tell the whole story

According to a recent report of 750 business leaders using AI from ResumeBuilder, 37% say the technology will have replaced workers in 2023. Meanwhile, 44% report that there will be layoffs in 2024 due to AI efficiency.

But even with reports of AI-related layoffs, many experts disagree with Musk’s view.

Julia Toothacre, resume and career strategist at ResumeBuilder, recognizes that the numbers from her research may not accurately reflect the broader business landscape. “There are still so many traditional organizations and small businesses that don’t leverage technology the way some of the larger companies do,” Toothacre said.

Layoffs are a reality, but AI technology is also enabling leaders to restructure and redefine our jobs.

Alex Hood, chief product officer at project management and collaboration software company Asana, estimates that half of the time we spend at work is spent doing what he calls “work about work.” Here it refers to status updates, cross-departmental communication and all other parts of the work that are not the core of our presence.

“If that can be reduced thanks to AI, that can be a great opportunity,” Hood said.

He says that without the nuances behind the numbers, the statistics highlighting and predicting AI-related layoffs reflect fear rather than reality.

With AI tackling task-based work, people have the opportunity to move up the value chain, says Marc Cenedella, founder of Leet Resumes and Ladders. “For the entire economy,” Cenedella said, workers could focus on “integrating, structuring or defining task-based work.” He compares this shift to mid-century office culture, when there were entire floors of typists – something that was eliminated by the efficiency of word processing programs.

Office work and “human-centered” AI

According to Asana’s State of AI at Work 2023 report, employees report that 29% of their work tasks are replaceable by AI. However, Asana is a proponent of what it calls “human-centered AI,” which aims to improve human capabilities and collaboration rather than replace humans entirely. The more people understand human-centered AI, the more they believe it will have a positive impact on their work, the report says.

According to the United Nations, white collar and office workers make up between 19.6 and 30.4% of the workforce worldwide. Analytics and communication tools have reoriented knowledge work over the years, and “generative AI should be viewed as another development in this long continuum of change.”

But in 2022, 34% of the world’s population still did not have access to the internet. Therefore, any discussion about the impact of AI on layoffs and potential work restructuring must also include discussion of a broader divide between the technological haves and have-nots. not.

The personal responsibility of a worker and tinkering with the AI

Action must be taken for professionals who want to avoid layoffs in an AI-powered work environment.

Cenedella says that being a modern employee comes with a certain level of personal responsibility. “Part of your job is to keep developing new skills,” he said. “If you learned some software five years ago, that’s not enough. You have to learn new software today.”

For example, while positions such as research and data analysis are eligible for AI automation, companies still need someone to stimulate the AI, understand the results and take action.

“My advice to everyone is to understand how AI could impact your position in your industry right now,” Toothacre said. “At least you have an idea of ​​what you can possibly expect rather than having no idea what’s going on.”

But Cenedella is also clear that leaders are expected to help employees develop their skills throughout their time with the company. “For their own sake alone, the companies that fund the development of their employees will be better positioned to stay a little ahead of the companies that don’t,” he said.

Even Hood, who is at the forefront of developing collaboration and project management solutions using AI, is still experimenting with his own products. In preparation for an upcoming performance review for a member of his team, Hood experimented by asking the AI ​​to summarize how he worked with the team member.

The AI ​​created a list of all their shared interests, all the tasks and feedback between them, as well as a characterization of their relationship based on the messages they sent each other. In it, Hood illustrates what AI tinkering can look like.

“You learn it by asking it questions and seeing what it’s capable of and being disappointed in some ways and excited in some ways and then going for it,” Hood said. “The best thing employers can do today is to give people the opportunity to understand the art of the possible through individual experimentation with AI.”

Although layoffs are occurring due to the current generation of AI, there is no historical evidence that technological advances like this will lead to mass unemployment. The workforce has a long history of malleability, and increased technological capacity can lead to “higher quality” work, as Cenedella says – and increased productivity, which future generations of AI will likely learn to handle.