The impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the future of the workplace is often discussed in theoretical terms. Reports and op-eds run the gamut from the dystopian landscape that leaves millions unemployed to new opportunities for social and economic mobility that could transform society for the better.
But the impact of AI at work is no longer just theoretical. It is a significant part of our present. The World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs 2020 looks at how today’s jobs are being transformed by introducing new technologies. The skills data that millions of members report on LinkedIn can provide additional insights into how AI impacts different industries and job functions globally. The social network’s research on emerging skills around the world sheds light on some growing trends:
- Artificial intelligence skills are fastest growing, recording a 190% increase between 2017 and 2019.
- The industries with the most AI skills present among their workforce are also the fastest-changing industries.
- The countries with the highest penetration of AI skills are the United States, China, India, Israel, and Germany.
The findings suggest that while changes driven by AI technologies may still be in their infancy, we are already seeing their impact on the global job market.
Building Momentum Across Industries
In 2019, the number of LinkedIn members who have added AI skills to their profiles had increased 190% since 2015. When we talk about “AI skills,” we mean the skills needed to create AI technologies. These include expertise in areas such as neural networks, deep and machine learning, and fundamental “tools” like Weka and Scikit-Learn. Data from LinkedIn shows that all kinds of technical AI skills are multiplying worldwide.
As culture and tastes change, and new technologies are created, industries and jobs evolve accordingly. One of the ways to measure these evolutions is by how the skills needed for different jobs are changing. These changes ripple across occupations and industries in different ways. In some cases, the changes are driven by the nature of the jobs or changing tasks, such as an accountant focusing more on people-centric customer service tasks and less on routine tasks that have been automated, or a marketer who focuses on search engine optimization (SEO) to make your business blog content more discoverable through a Google search.
In other cases, specific skills become more critical to a job as they provide productivity gains, such as a data specialist using new programming and machine learning skills to target customers more effectively and ultimately generate income. When we compare all the different skills of an industry’s workforce in 2018 and 2020, it becomes clear which industries have changed the most based on how much their overall skill composition has changed.
It turns out that the industries with the most AI skills present in their workforce are also the industries that are changing the fastest. If we consider “change” to be a proxy for innovation, this indicates that AI skills correlate strongly with innovation within a sector. It also means that there is an opportunity for many industries to invest more in their AI capabilities.
When we zoom in from the industry level to the skill level, we find that many of the changes were due to:
- an increase in programming and data skills that are complementary to AI,
- skills to use products or services that are data-driven, such as search engine optimization for marketers, and
- interpersonal skills.
It is a compelling illustration of how technology affects an industry. Incorporating directly into products is part of the impact, but the most significant impact is through complementary products and services.
Is Artificial Intelligence Still A Niche… Or Is It Universal?
The researchers predict that AI will have applications in almost every sector, from construction to financial services and many more. To understand the extent to which AI skills have spread beyond the software industry, we look at the year-over-year growth of these skills across industries. While the software industry stands out as the top field for professionals with AI skills, change is also vital in education and academia, hardware and networking, finance, and manufacturing.
When it comes to volumes, in particular, the education sector stands out as the industry where members added the second-highest number of basic AI skills in 2019, suggesting that the growth of AI is correlated with more research in the field.
Humans And Machines Everywhere
AI technologies are more ubiquitous than many people realise, and that’s true globally. The United States, China, India, Israel, and Germany rank as the countries with the highest penetration of AI skills among their workforce.
This increasing ubiquity raises philosophical questions about the nature of how we relate to our work on a human level. As AI skills become increasingly relevant, we want to understand better whether typically “human” skills, such as those related to personal characteristics, interpersonal communication, and cognitive skills, are also on the rise. The results shouldn’t surprise us: at least for now, interpersonal skills aren’t going anywhere.
In The Future of Jobs 2020 from the World Economic Forum, we found several human-centric occupations among the top ten most emerging disciplines. That is the occupations that have seen the highest growth in hiring in the last 5 years. The top emerging disciplines across all industries include marketing specialists and managers, human resources specialists and consultants, and user experience designers. These roles require an understanding of human behaviours and preferences, a skill set that fundamentally cannot be automated.
Additionally, several highly automatable jobs are among the top ten declining occupations. The occupations have experienced the most significant decreases in hiring in the last 5 years. These include administrative assistants, customer service representatives, accountants, and electrical/mechanical technicians. As the OECD points out, the risk of automation increases if the education level and skill levels for a position are generally low, and functions such as food preparation assistants, cleaners and helpers, and workers in mining, construction, manufacturing, and transportation are most at risk of automation.
As the world continues to invest in AI technologies, we will continue to assess their externalities and impact on the workforce, especially regarding opportunities for more effective education and retraining initiatives. As new skills emerge, governments, educational institutions, and employers need to consider creating training programs to equip people with the latest and changing skills required to keep up with the modern economy.