Your Employees Must Learn to Use AI. It’s on You to Teach Them.

Your Employees Must Learn to Use AI. It’s on You to Teach Them.

Your Employees Must Learn to Use AI. It’s on You to Teach Them.

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A friend realized a lifelong dream of purchasing a tiny, seaside hotel and completely renovating it. Shortly before the grand opening, she created a website. The descriptions of the rooms and property were polished, like something you’d see in a glossy travel magazine. I asked who she’d hired to create the text. Her answer surprised me: the descriptions were courtesy of ChatGPT.

Granted, the text wasn’t flawless. It was missing the property’s back story — what I saw as a great opportunity to share how my friend had visited the hotel years ago and fell in love with the simple charm. It used the word “meticulous” too many times. My friend’s dream hotel website made me realize two things: first, that AI’s capabilities are impressive. The OECD recently reported that ChatGPT can write jokes, computer code and essays, formulate medical diagnoses, create games and explain complex scientific concepts. Still, ChatGPT is not perfect. And second, combined with an editor’s eye or a human touch, it could be a powerful tool. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

The AI era has arrived and its potential to transform the work landscape can’t be overstated. That said, most knowledgable workers will be able to capitalize on AI to complement their work, rather than replace it entirely. The missing link? Education and training — it’s not just an office perk. Recent research has shown that 4 out of 5 employees want to learn more about how to use AI in their profession. It falls on leaders to provide those vital training opportunities.

Here’s a closer look at how leaders can bridge the gap between AI and employees and equip them with the skills they need in this age of rapid change.

Related: How to Successfully Implement AI into Your Business — Overcoming Challenges and Building a Future-Ready Team

Why (and what to) learn

As CEO of Jotform, I want our employees to have full lives, and to be able to make time for their friends, families, and hobbies. It’s good for their well-being, and as an added perk, it benefits our organization in terms of creativity and productivity. Happier, refreshed employees bring invaluable vigor to their work. I also understand that as a leader it might seem impractical to add learning to employees’ already full plates — but continued training is vital for your employees’ advancement and your company’s health.

Today, the average half-life of skills is less than five years — two-and-a-half years in some tech fields. Research has shown that companies with strong learning cultures see higher retention rates, more internal mobility and a healthier management pipeline versus those with weaker learning cultures. What’s more, employees are hungry for new skills, especially Gen Z, the fastest-growing generation of the workforce. The youngest generation of employees (born after 1996) is expected to overtake boomers this year. According to a recent survey, 53% of Gen Z values learning for career progress, versus 37% of millennials, Gen X and boomers collectively.

The question becomes: What are the most important skills to offer employees?

The ability to use new technologies, like AI and automation tools, is the obvious answer. And no doubt, that’s part of the equation. But as AI plays a larger role in our work lives, human skills will become more valuable in tandem.

As Harvard Business Review notes, and as my friend’s hotel website example demonstrates, AI lacks the human ability to understand context. AI tools like ChatGPT might understand the assignment and execute it almost perfectly, but they lack the “why” of it all and the domain expertise, acquired through years of experience, to assess materials in their larger context.

Other critical skills that AI lacks include people management capabilities, like effective communication, conflict resolution and problem-solving. As Ted English, former CEO of TJX Companies and current executive chairman of Bob’s Discount Furniture, told Harvard Business Review, leadership requires “a lot of instinct, experience and knowledge. Some of it you can’t get from a machine. Technology reinforces and allows you to make a more confident decision.”

We can rely on AI to do certain tasks, from content creation to document review. They can reinforce our work. However, it requires a human eye to review that work product and ensure it has the proper context and quality. In that sense, humans reinforce the work of AI as well.

Related: AI vs. Humanity — Why Humans Will Always Win in Content Creation

Cultivating a learning environment

It’s well settled that companies and employees that utilize AI will have a competitive advantage. The challenge for leaders is empowering employees to do so. How can leaders ensure employees are adequately trained to use the latest AI and automation tools?

One side of the equation is motivating employees. Research shows that employees who set career goals are four times more engaged than those who don’t set goals. Leaders and managers can set aside time to discuss employees’ career goals and how developing certain skills will further those goals.

Of course, the most valuable asset for learning — and the hardest to find — is time. One strategy for making time to learn is building learning into employees’ workflow, rather than requiring them to dedicate time outside their typical workday. Research shows that most employees prefer learning that way — in a 2021 BCG survey of 209,000 workers, 65% said they preferred learning on the job. As I’ve found in almost two decades of running my company, time carved out for training, during lunch or between regularly scheduled tasks is well worth it. It not only changes the pace of the day, but it also challenges employees in new ways, giving a quick boost to daily engagement.

Related: Making Time for Learning When No One Has Time

Another way that leaders can help employees fit training and education into their busy schedules is by promoting an automation-first mindset. Encourage employees to regularly reflect on which tasks are most meaningful to them — which projects and assignments put them in a “flow” state; which ones they wish they could dedicate more time to — and to find AI and automation tools to execute the rest. This practice saves time, speeding up or outsourcing tedious busy work and, most importantly, mental energy.

The advent of AI isn’t something to take lightly. But it’s not necessarily a shift that employees should fear, either. The businesses that gain a competitive edge from AI will be those that rethink the normal ways of doing things in the age of AI and arm their employees with the resources to capitalize on it. With more time for meaningful work — the stuff that only humans can do — your employees will be happier and your company stronger for it.

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