Should workers be concerned about AI?

Should workers be concerned about AI?

EXPLAINER: Executives recommend an open mindset to adapt to new technologies

Roughly 40% of global employment is exposed to artificial intelligence, according to a new analysis by the IMF.
Roughly 40% of global employment is exposed to artificial intelligence, according to a new analysis by the IMF.

Should local organisations and employees be concerned jobs are going to be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) as it is adopted around the globe?

Executives in the technology, manufacturing and job recruitment fields indicate the impact is unavoidable and people as well as organisations should prepare to deal with the consequences.

According to a blog post by International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Kristalina Georgieva on Jan 14, AI will affect almost 40% of jobs around the world, replacing some and complementing others.

In a new analysis, IMF staff examine the potential impact of AI on the global labour market. Many studies have explored the likelihood of jobs being replaced by AI, but in many cases AI is likely to complement human work.

Historically, automation and information technology have tended to affect routine tasks, but what sets AI apart is its ability to impact high-skilled jobs, with roughly 40% of global employment predicted to be altered in some way by the technology.

As a result, advanced economies face greater risks from AI, but also more opportunities to leverage its benefits compared with emerging market and developing economies.

In most scenarios, AI will likely worsen inequality, a troubling trend policymakers are expected to address to prevent the technology from further stoking social tensions.

Countries should establish comprehensive social safety nets and offer retraining programmes for vulnerable workers to make the AI transition more inclusive, protecting livelihoods and curbing inequality, noted the IMF.

Q: How will AI affect the Thai manufacturing sector?

AI will likely impact unskilled labour, but it is too early to tell whether the technology will disrupt all industries, said Kriengkrai Thiennukul, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI).

There are 46 industries grouped under the FTI. Though many manufacturers are expected to use more AI and hire fewer workers, human labour is still important as AI cannot be applied to all jobs, he said.

"Jobs like replying to customer questions at a call centre, research or administrative work will be affected by AI," said Mr Kriengkrai.

He said in his opinion, highly skilled workers are unlikely to be affected by this technology.

While AI is important to improve businesses and reduce operating costs in the long term, Mr Kriengkrai said its impact on industrial employment requires further study.

"The FTI is monitoring changes AI may bring and will study how many industries will be affected by the technology," he said.

The government initiated plans urging factory operators to adopt more technology. For example, the Industry 4.0 scheme, which refers to the fourth Industrial Revolution, encourages manufacturers to apply digital technology and data analysis to manufacturing.

A survey by the Industry Ministry in 2021 found only 2% of Thai industries could be categorised as Industry 4.0 level. Some 28% are at the Industry 3.0 stage, with less high technology, while 61% are at Industry 2.0, which focuses on productivity and considerable production capacity.

The Industry 1.0 stage, which is the lowest level of technological development with some machinery used for production, applies to 9% of Thai industries.

Q: What will be the impact of AI on the local workforce?

Pirata Phakdeesattayaphong, consulting partner for PwC Thailand, said AI will augment or enhance human capabilities by providing deeper analysis and insight.

The World Economic Forum estimated 85 million jobs will be replaced by AI by 2025, but the technology will create 97 million new jobs.

Mrs Pirata said Thailand will see a slower impact from AI than Western countries because of its lower labour costs. In the West, investment in technology instead of labour costs is more cost-effective, she said.

Mrs Pirata said the debut of OpenAI's ChatGPT platform demonstrates the simplicity of using generative AI, spurring interest from consumers and later businesses as they see the potential to enhance productivity.

Q: Which jobs will be affected by AI first?

She said two types of jobs likely to be affected by AI replacement include those handling repetitive tasks and logical thinking tasks, with the latter including financial advisor, market research and legal assistant.

Coding is another job that could be performed by AI at a more advanced level, said Mrs Pirata.

These types of jobs are expected to be affected from 2025 to 2030, she said.

In Thailand, this year will likely see more proof of concept and deployment of generative AI projects, with AI changes gaining more momentum next year, said Mrs Pirata.

Q: How can people and organisations adapt to AI?

She encouraged individuals to have an open mindset based on lifelong learning, seeking to learn or improve skills.

Business may embrace AI to gain profitability, then reinvest on retraining employees to acquire new skills, said Mrs Pirata.

PwC has a dedicated team for its new business of "workforce transformation" that prepares skill-based organisations for new skills and analyses future skills gaps in workforces, she said.

Anothai Wettayakorn, the new managing director and technology leader of IBM Thailand, said AI is not replacing people, but rather people who use AI are replacing those who do not.

According to a recent study by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), executives in Thailand estimate that 40% of their workforce will need to reskill as a result of implementing AI and automation in three years.

The World Bank estimates there are 40 million people in the Thai workforce, meaning roughly 16 million people will need to be reskilled in the near term.

"With AI primed to take on more manual and repetitive tasks, companies need to prepare their workforces for new AI applications to accomplish goals faster than ever before. This means providing people with the relevant skills to work creatively and responsibly with AI," said Mr Anothai.

He said companies should think systemically about how to shift people from routine work freed up by AI into roles that are more fulfilling and impactful to the business.

In this way, infusing AI across a company's workflow can not only drive new insight and innovation, but also lead to a more satisfied and productive workforce, said Mr Anothai.

"There are several high-impact use cases where generative AI is being applied to industries across the region for customer services, talent productivity and application modernisation," he said.

"For example, from the Vodafone case study in partnership with IBM and Genesys, we see 90% customer inquiries handled by AI assistants. In our CIO case study, IBM sees 60% software development content automatically generated by AI."

The IBV's Global CEO Study in 2023 found more than three out of four executives polled said entry-level positions are already being affected by generative AI, compared with only 22% indicating the same for executive or senior management roles.

Yet, only 28% of chief executives said they have assessed the potential impact of generative AI on their workforces.

Mr Anothai said AI solutions are being deployed across companies for repetitive tasks, freeing up employees to take on higher-value work. He said IBM experienced this with its human resources (HR) team.

"Every company, no matter its size, must prioritise hiring, promoting and retaining talent. Much of this work entails pulling large amounts of data and documentation together for standardised processes such as promotion cycles, which took 10 weeks to complete," said Mr Anothai.

"With the help of IBM's watsonx AI technology, we automated key steps of what was a very manual process. This allowed IBM Consulting to save 50,000 hours, with the promotions process cycle time reduced to five weeks, saving 85% of business partner effort time."

A large number of people were freed up to spend more time providing important talent-related services, such as career guidance and support for managers, which requires thought and creativity, rather than doing routine paperwork, he said.

Mr Anothai said HR specialists can step back from day-to-day processing to focus on what really matters: growing talent.

Generative AI should be thought of as relating to people and how work gets done, he said. Unlike technologies that focus on machine productivity, generative AI amplifies human capabilities, said Mr Anothai.

On the other side of the coin, he said it is clear the half-life of skills is shrinking. The skills a person has today could be obsolete in a few years.

IBM has urged for years efforts to prepare workers for the AI transition, training the skills needed to work in tandem with the technology, said Mr Anothai.

Last year the company announced a commitment to train 2 million learners in AI by the end of 2026.

"We expanded AI education collaboration with universities globally, while in Thailand we are launching new generative AI coursework through IBM SkillsBuild," he said.

With these free courses, high school and university students as well as adults can develop valuable new AI workplace skills to prepare themselves for the digital future, said Mr Anothai.

Q: Are there any signs of a lower employment rate?

Sangduan Tangthamsatid, co-founder of online job recruitment firm JobThai, said AI is likely to complement the Thai workforce rather than replace it.

Ms Sangduan said on the JobThai platform, the number of positions grew 14% in January 2024 year-on-year.

Jobs remain in high demand in the service and skilled labour categories, which are categories that AI can assist but not yet replace, she said.

While AI is not expected to replace all jobs, it is undeniable that it will gradually reshape the nature of work and progressively alter the characteristics of employment, said Ms Sangduan.

For example, JPMorgan Chase employed AI to analyse extensive amounts of transaction data for risk assessment and fraud detection, while BMW's factories have delegated AI-driven robots for tasks such as assembly and painting vehicle parts.

However, JPMorgan Chase still assigns human analysts to review and interpret the final findings, while BMW reserves complex decision-making roles for human workers, assigning them tasks such as quality control and overall process assessment.

Both cases exemplify efforts to reduce costs, save time and maximise profits using AI, while acknowledging the importance of human capital, she said.

Q: What should policymakers do?

Mrs Pirata said policymakers can collaborate with businesses and private organisations to offer courseware and programmes to retrain people with new skills.

Mr Anothai said organisations and policymakers must make people, not technology, central to their generative AI strategy.

Leaders who understand how to power their people with generative AI will have a multiplier impact on their business, he said.

Ms Sangduan said governments could encourage employers to allocate more resources to upskilling and reskilling initiatives.

For example, the government could offer support by subsidising training programmes or providing tax incentives to companies investing in employee digital skill training, she said.

"Inevitably new technologies will emerge, bringing changes in the future," said Ms Sangduan.

"However, with a resilient mindset and the ability to adapt to new challenges, the workforce will be capable of thriving in a technologically advanced economy."

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