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Four AI Upskilling Strategies for Business Leaders

August 22, 2023

At a Glance

Employers have an unparalleled opportunity to help realize the potential of AI by ensuring that all workers have the training they need.

Alex Swartsel Managing Director
Practices & Centers Topics

In the race to navigate the new world being reshaped by artificial intelligence (AI), every employer—whether knowingly or not—has a not-so-secret superpower. It’s not proprietary data or large language models, though those help. And it’s not early access to the latest AI-powered platforms. It’s their entire workforce—and not only those working in technology roles.

A massive transformation is coming, and the C-suite is already abuzz with AI activity: Seventy percent of executive leaders told Gartner that they are exploring generative AI tools, and 45% are increasing their investment in AI. It’s no wonder that the results of a recent survey commissioned by Jobs for the Future’s Center for Artificial Intelligence & the Future of Work identified a similar trend. Although less than one in 10 workers reported currently experiencing AI in their jobs as of early June 2023, more than half of the respondents said they believe they need to gain new skills to prepare for the impacts of AI—with one-third believing it necessary to do so within the next year. A recent survey by Chegg Skills found that nearly half of workers in low-to-mid-wage jobs are eager to learn how to apply AI to their current jobs.

AI—especially tools like generative AI, which is experiencing accelerated adoption—is helping people reimagine skills and work across nearly every occupation and career pathway. Some research has projected that the number of jobs lost to technology adoption will be exceeded by the number gained; a 2020 report by the World Economic Forum, for instance, estimated that AI and automation could displace around 85 million jobs but also create 97 million new roles by 2025. But AI’s real impact on the workforce will not be solely reflected in job gains and losses; rather, AI will change the skills within jobs that, on the surface, may seem to have little to do with technology.

AI is already helping developers write code, graphic designers create and edit images, sales and marketing professionals tailor messages to prospective customers, business analysts parse data and build visual presentations, and customer service representatives resolve initial inquiries. A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania and OpenAI found that four in five U.S. workers could see at least 10% of their tasks impacted by the introduction of generative pre-trained transformer, or GPT, large language AI models.

Jobs involving tasks like these—often entry-level or early-career roles that are becoming increasingly accessible without a bachelor’s degree—have historically been seen as pathways to economic opportunity because the skills that drive them are so highly sought-after. With AI poised to augment or perform many of those same skills, such as communication, information-gathering, foundational data analysis, and problem-solving, new questions are emerging about how jobs that rely on those skills will evolve in the future.

Yet too many workers still don’t know where to start when it comes to preparing for AI’s impact; 88% of respondents to JFF’s survey said they don’t yet trust their employer to support them in understanding AI. And in a survey conducted by Salesforce, 70% of senior business leaders said that their employees don’t have the skills to use generative AI successfully.

All of this adds up to an extraordinary opportunity for business leaders to prepare their companies for an AI-transformed future—to do right by their people by building an AI learning mindset and partnering with thought leaders who are moving quickly to answer this call.

Here are four essential strategies business leaders should pursue to ensure that the promise of AI training reaches—and benefits—everyone.

1. Train for tomorrow’s technology, not today’s tools.

Artificial intelligence is not a software program that’s updated a couple of times a year; it’s a family of technologies that build on one another and are being developed and deployed at lightning speed. Given that AI’s potential uses are almost limitless and largely untapped, gaining stagnant technical AI skills will be less relevant than having foundational AI literacy and a deep sense of curiosity about future practical uses for AI.

AiEDU, which works with school systems to upskill students, teachers, and administrators on foundational AI literacy, focuses its curricula on the big picture of how AI is affecting society. “When we design our curricula and approach,” said Christian Pinedo, head of strategic partnerships and engagement at aiEDU, “we’re very mindful about the skills, values, and frameworks students need to be a productive part of society,” specifically where society is more closely integrated with AI.

Providing training geared toward increasing workers’ understanding of AI’s potential and future integration, rather than just offering tips and hacks for any one AI platform, will position workers to learn alongside the evolving technology and see it in terms of tomorrow’s promise rather than today’s limitations. The pace at which AI technology is progressing means that AI training and literacy programs created today could be out of date within six months or even sooner—which is why they must be flexible, forward-thinking, and adaptable enough to grow as the market develops.

2. Learn through practice, creativity, agency, and empowerment.

At JFF, we’ve seen that there’s truly no substitute for putting new technology directly into workers’ hands and giving them a mission to accomplish that’s grounded in real-life examples. In a recent demonstration project led by JFF and supported by Meta, which implemented a flexible augmented reality platform within small advanced manufacturing facilities, workers collaborated to create as many as 40 different use cases, many of which we couldn’t have predicted.

Incorporating proven best practices like project-based learning and real-life examples, and helping workers understand how their work with AI connects back to overall company goals, will help them maximize their own creativity as they build novel use cases with potentially transformative benefits. It will also drive engagement by signaling to workers that their employers are invested enough in them to equip them with the most leading-edge tools.

3. Leverage AI’s power to personalize.

AI has unparalleled personalization power—not just at the individual level but at the organizational level, too. Some of the most promising use cases we’ve seen in learning and development are personalized AI-powered tutoring or coaching platforms that can increasingly be prompted to recall past exchanges or be tailored to individual contexts. At the same time, organizations are fine-tuning AI models on their own proprietary data sets and creating large language models that integrate more specialized—and, in some cases, higher-quality—foundational data. This can enable them to generate outputs that are more precise or tailored to their unique needs, such as industry-specific examples and case studies.

This approach has clear advantages for training applications. For example, Megan O’Connor, vice president of strategic partnerships at Chegg Skills, shared:

Generative AI is allowing us to accelerate and personalize learning in a way that’s never been fathomable before. Using AI, our instructional designers have already reduced the time it takes us to create learning content by more than 70%, which means that we can keep up with the pace of the rapidly changing skilling needs of organizations. Our in-product AI learning companion will be there 24 hours a day to help learners get unstuck, including those who are reluctant to seek out human support. As our own internal teams have been up-leveling on AI, we’re seeing how transformational this can be for businesses and their employees right before our very eyes, and that’s what we’re sharing with companies when they reach out about upskilling their teams.

4. Evaluate the impact of AI—and AI training—on populations that have historically experienced barriers to advancement.

The rapid deployment of AI has significant implications for equity and representation across America’s workforce: One study by Revelio Labs found that of the 10 million people employed in the 15 most AI-exposed jobs, 71% are women, and 33% are people of color.

Too many of these workers continue to face structural barriers to economic advancement, such as caregiving responsibilities or a lack of generational wealth. Training programs designed to prepare workers for an AI-transformed future must thoughtfully consider what these populations need in order to be positioned for success in learning and development efforts, and carefully measure their long-term impact on these workers as a critical metric of success.

AI-related educational initiatives should take a number of factors into consideration:

  • Training programs need to be designed to fit into the flow of work and be accessible to workers where they are (whether behind a desk or not).
  • Workers who need foundational digital literacy training should receive it in preparation for engaging in AI upskilling, and they should be compensated for their time spent in training.
  • The people and situations represented in training programs should represent the people being trained.
  • Employers should explore holistic services that will help increase the likelihood of learners’ success, such as AI-powered mentoring and other wraparound supports.
  • Programs need to responsibly collect data on short-, medium-, and long-term outcomes (including wage growth and advancement) for workers overall and for distinct worker populations to better understand the impact of their approach to AI training.

As Brian Gonzalez, executive director at Intel, recently shared during a LinkedIn Live event with JFF, “It’s going to take a deliberate effort to make sure [AI education is] inclusive—that communities can participate and engage—because once you can engage, the beautiful thing is that you can engage from anywhere. But you have to have that core confidence and core set of skills that then can help you jump and leap ahead.” In other words, inclusivity will not just happen; business leaders must be deliberate in developing training, recruiting participants, and deploying learning opportunities.

In the long run, AI will fully realize its potential only if it is shaped by all, is used by all, and benefits all. Today, employers have an unparalleled opportunity to help realize that potential by ensuring that all workers have the training they need to understand and participate fully in that future—and the equitable opportunities that will result.

The age of AI upskilling has arrived. It’s time to make sure the opportunities it creates are available to everyone.



This article was made possible through the support of Chegg Skills, working with JFF to better understand and showcase the potential of artificial intelligence to shape learning and work. Since 2006, Chegg has helped millions of global learners transform the way they learn. Chegg Skills helps employers launch skilling programs that solve for critical talent gaps and deliver impact for their business. Designed by expert, in-house instructional designers, Chegg’s programs help companies build internal talent pathways, attract skilled talent, and retrain employees in rapidly evolving AI technologies and other in-demand skills. Get in touch and learn more here.

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