Plan Now for Long-Term AI Impacts

It’s hard to know what the specific impact of AI will be in the next five to ten years. The big unknowns include: 

  • We don’t know how fast generative AI (GenAI) will advance. 
  • We don’t know how difficult it will be for organizations to implement GenAI advances. 
  • We don’t know specifically which jobs will be affected and how. 

When we don’t know the details, one option is to zoom back and see if there is anything useful that we can say about the big picture. The big-picture conclusion is that AI will bring significant productivity gains in many tasks. Even accounting for the difficulties of implementation, an estimate — at least for rough planning purposes — would be a 5% overall productivity gain each year. 
For those involved in workforce planning, a 5% productivity improvement should lead to a workforce that is 5% smaller each year, unless the organization is growing. 
This 5% reduction will be difficult to realize because managers will work to protect their departments, and it won’t always be obvious where AI has made reducing the workforce a good idea. Successful businesses will have the discipline to say, “Look, we know there is a significant dividend from AI. We don’t know exactly where, but we are going to push hard to get that 5% savings.” 
Anticipating gradual but relentless downsizing is not the happiest concept, but neither is it apocalyptic. It also feels reasonable in that we know AI is racing forward, but we also know it takes time for organizations to adapt. Five percent may be too low an estimate, yet I recommend starting there because it’s a number most people will be ready to work with. 
We can get caught up trying to predict details about the impact of AI that are largely unknowable. Perhaps we should focus on one thing that does seem highly probable, which is that workforce planning should be built around the idea of gradually slimming down the workforce. 
Want to read more about the possible impacts of AI on the world of work? Check out David’s other posts at the UKG Workforce Institute: