How artificial intelligence is, and will continue, redefining job roles

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One of the most hotly-debated issues around artificial intelligence is how the group of technologies will impact individual job roles, and whether AI is a “job killer” as opposed to a “job creator.”

For insights on this debate, Information Management spoke with Mike Maresca, managing director in Accenture’s internal IT organization. That firm recent conducted research on the current impacts of AI on job roles and what organizations can expect in the near future.

Information Management: Recent research from Accenture found that 29 percent of organizations have already had to redefine job roles due to the impact of artificial intelligence. What types of jobs or job roles are being most affected by this trend?

Mike Maresca: Artificial intelligence is redefining roles across industries as it allows people to take on higher-value and more specialized work. In fact, recent Accenture research found that 46 percent of executives say that traditional job descriptions are obsolete as machines take on routine tasks and people move to more project-based work.

IT careers are continuing to transform as new, complex technologies demand more coordination and management to ensure that AI and humans are effectively collaborating to drive successful results.

There are IT roles that didn’t exist even five years ago, and in five years there will be IT roles that don’t exist today. Therefore, IT departments must be willing and able to continuously train, reskill and adapt. A learning-based culture should be implemented in order to encourage trainings to keep pace with changes in technology.

IM: Are organizations having to find new workers for these changing roles, or are they able to adapt existing workers with new skills in order to remain in place?

Maresca: It takes time to build the skills necessary to leverage emerging technologies to their maximum capacities. To stay competitive, companies need to up-skill and retrain their people at a greater speed and scale than ever before. “New skilling” programs can provide rapid, flexible and tailored training that can be applied at a large-scale.

Organizations must move the spotlight from the job to the nature of the work itself to prepare workers with the skills necessary to be successful. To achieve this, companies must first allocate work to machines and people to balance the need for automation and augmentation.

Next, to create agile, project-based teams, they must free people from function-based roles and create new roles that are insight-driven and strategic. Then, once a company has a full list of required tasks, skills and newly defined roles, it can map that list against the skills presented in their current workforce and align them. This will allow employees to take on higher value tasks, giving them a chance to be strategic and do more satisfying work.

IM: For those roles that require new workers, what is the job market like for finding these workers and needed skills?

Maresca: The job market is very competitive right now. Attracting the best talent requires a focus on culture as well as workplace opportunities.

We focus on talent segments and strategies to identify and equip employees with the “in the new” skills. For example, more than 88 percent of our internal IT people are already NEW IT conversant.

Companies must adopt technology strategies that can successfully create the next-generation of workers to empower them even further. By adapting these strategies, companies can identify strong internal candidates for open roles, and later, match employees with the training needed to prepare for a role switch. At Accenture, we’ve also identified new channels for recruitment such as apprenticeships and crowdsourcing to create a more diverse workforce.

IM: How will the impact of AI on the workforce change over the next five years?

Maresca: AI has the potential to end repetitive, low-value but necessary administrative tasks. It provides precise data and greater insights that allow workers to become more specialized and creative in their roles.

New roles will emerge that don’t exist today. These roles will require an increased amount of coordination, collaboration, innovation and visibility into IT architecture as ecosystems become increasingly more complex. In turn, IT management will be increasingly important as these new technologies introduce more layers into IT environments.

IM: What types of work and corresponding skills are most needed in this new environment?

Maresca: New roles will be introduced for the workforce to manage, coordinate and maintain the machines, cloud and artificial intelligence. In fact, a recent Accenture report found that 61 percent of business leaders expect the share of roles requiring collaboration with AI to increase in the next years. This will elevate capabilities in the workforce, as helping intelligent machines to learn and improve will drive new forms of growth and innovation.

In this instance, IT leadership will need to serve as a sort of conductor for an orchestra – guiding and coaching on how new technology may work with existing capabilities in the current framework.

Technologies like cloud and artificial intelligence are the way of new IT, but it takes time to build the skills necessary to use these technologies in a way that is meaningful to the business. Organizations need both time and resources to train, develop, build or borrow the skills required to move to the cloud and take advantage of emerging technologies like AI. Therefore, many companies are working through a risk-mitigating approach: first, they build and acquire the skills necessary, and then they move to new technologies.

IM: How can employees best position themselves to survive and thrive in this new AI environment?

Maresca: The best thing that employees can do is not only embrace AI and the changing work environment that lies in front of us, but also learn how to effectively collaborate with AI. Our research shows that 54 percent of people self-rated themselves as having high confidence in their skills and willingness to work with new intelligent capabilities.

By embracing new technologies such as AI, employees will be able to develop a new range of expertise and capabilities to provide more informed services to clients. This will grant workers more autonomy and decision-making power, freeing them from traditional functional constraints.

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