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What the Use of AI Tells Us About Gaps in Workforce Skills Development

  • 5 Min Read

A new survey from D2L sheds light on the generational impact AI is having on our workforce, including skills gaps that need to be addressed.

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In 2023, when ChatGPT emerged as a beacon for the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI), employees worried it would replace them. Now, workers are more concerned that another employee with better generative AI skills could replace them in their role in the next year.   

In a recent survey by D2L, 43% of workers said they worried about being replaced by employees who can more productively use generative AI. D2L surveyed 3,000 full- and part-time U.S. employees about their use of AI and feelings about professional development (PD) courses. Some eye-catching stats from this new research include: 

  • more than half of Generation Z workers (52%) and 45% of millennials surveyed were worried about being replaced within the next year by people with better AI skills, compared to only a third of Generation X workers (33%) 
  • almost 40% of respondents felt their employers aren’t prioritizing AI PD opportunities 
  • a quarter of both Gen Z and millennials polled are planning to take anywhere from six to 10 PD courses in the coming year 
  • almost a third of respondents said PD they’d previously taken hadn’t influenced their career goals 

The data helps demonstrate that the pace of work and skills is rapidly changing. Disruptive skills—those that are growing the fastest and spreading the widest, like the ability to effectively use AI, cloud computing or data analytics—are constantly changing the talent needs of employers and organizations. For businesses, an agile corporate learning strategy that can adapt and address changing needs to avoid skills gaps is increasingly important. 

Matt Sigelman, president of the Burning Glass Institute, uses real-time labor market data to anticipate growing skills. Data from BGI’s state of skills report shows that 1 in 8 jobs will require a core disruptive skill. 

“We think of AI as on this bleeding edge when it’s already been here and reshaping work in meaningful ways,” said Sigelman in an interview with D2L. “That says that this set of skills is going to be increasingly critical to defining jobs, to defining people’s readiness for work and to defining which companies and organizations are most ready for work.” 

So, how can organizations keep up with this rapid pace of change? By having a solid strategy for employee skills development that keeps their company and talent ahead of the curve. 

Employees Are Hungry for Knowledge

The good news is that employees are ready and willing to learn. The same survey data from D2L showed that younger workers were more likely to say they planned to take multiple PD courses over the next year. Around a quarter of both Gen Z (26%) and millennial (24%) respondents said they planned to enroll in anywhere from 6 to 10 courses over the next 12 months. By contrast, only 12% of Gen X respondents said the same.    

Since these generations—particularly Gen Z—are experiencing this fast pace of change as they enter the workforce, an appetite for learning may not be overly surprising. But viewed through the lens of learning and development professionals, it’s great news. 

So, let’s dig into a few examples of how organizations can shape their upskilling strategies to better meet their employees’ needs and avoid skills gaps. 

Choose Learning With a Focus on Practical Skills

It’s important to be aware of industry trends and to listen to the needs of employees when choosing learning programs for staff. 

The D2L survey showed that employees are eager to use AI to make themselves more productive at work, with 60% saying they want to use AI tools more frequently over the next 12 months. 

Clearly there’s a desire from workers to be upskilled in this area, signaling that there’s a need to develop more practical learning. There’s also a benefit to the business in being willing to invest in this growing area of interest. 

Chike Aguh, senior advisor at The Project on Workforce at Harvard University, told D2L in an interview that tech skills like AI will be as common as basic word processing skills in the near future. 

“The same way that an organization wouldn’t hire someone who couldn’t use Google Search in two years, if someone can’t use technology to increase their productivity, we won’t hire them because that’ll be as basic as Microsoft Office,” he said. 

With the growing use of AI in the workplace, businesses that provide training on how to effectively use these tools may avoid creating unnecessary skills gaps. Instead, they’ll develop staff who are confident and comfortable using them. 

Two people working on a laptop.

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The Human Always Comes First

To bring this article full circle, let’s remember: At first, employees were intimidated by AI, but now it’s the humans who are most capable of using the tech to do their jobs. The human comes first. 

Our obsession with AI can teach us that in tandem with upskilling to learn new disruptive skills, we should also aim to improve our uniquely human skills. In a chat with D2L, Bryan Seegmiller, a financial economist and professor at Northwestern University, shared that research done by his team “found that interpersonal skills are consistently the least exposed [to automation]. Soft skills aren’t going away anytime soon.” ChatGPT itself says its limitations include creativity, empathy and common sense. 

As teams work toward creating a more agile learning strategy that incorporates the need to upskill around disruptive skills in a fast-paced workforce, it’s important to consider how emergent technology can be used to make our work more human. 

During a recent podcast interview with D2L, Steve Cadigan, talent advisor at Cadigan Talent Ventures, reflected on the human component of making AI really work.  

“One of the things I’m trying to tell my clients, my kids and anyone who will listen to me is with all this new AI, automation and technical advantage that we have … how do you differentiate yourself in a universe where so many new technical features are going to be part of your job experience?  

“It’s everything that’s human. It’s your ability to influence, your empathy, your capacity to communicate, lead and read body language,” he said. “That’s where I get super excited about what’s in front of us when I look at artificial intelligence. We can use it to grab back control and make careers more beautiful and amazing. Isn’t that why technology’s here? So that we have a more beautiful life?” 

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Table of Contents
  1. Employees Are Hungry for Knowledge
  2. Choose Learning With a Focus on Practical Skills
  3. The Human Always Comes First