Will AI Replace the Human Workforce Post-Pandemic?

The long-tail effects of the pandemic of 2020/2021 will continue to affect the face of the labor market. By extension, workforce planning and management will need to modulate their activities, even after things return to something resembling “normal”. One such notable change that is likely to impact workforce planning activity is the increased use of artificial intelligence or “AI” in segments of the economy which may displace job roles performed by human beings before COVID. What roles are most at risk and how will the rise of AI impact workforce demand planning in other, unforseen areas?

Its not surprising that COVID-19 has been driving quicker adoption of automation and AI. This is especially true in segments of the workforce where jobs involve high physical proximity. KcKinsey Global Institute research recently revealed that while pre-COVID net job losses to automation were concentrated in middle-wage roles in the manufacturing sector and office work jobs at the bottom and top of the wage scale continued to enjoy growth.

All that changed with COVID because most of the low wage jobs are those requiring close proximity – retail, entertainment, hospitality, travel, etc. And whereas there was a more significant ROI to be captured automating middle-wage roles before COVID, the new post pandemic normal drives greatly increased appetite to automate the high-proximity jobs characteristic of lower wage roles. Because of the AI-driven expansion into automation of low-wage roles, McKinsey is estimating that nearly all the growth in labor demand will occur in high wage jobs.

This makes sense also because the increased demand for AI and machine learning technologies driving this seismic shift creates more opportunity for workers with technology, IT and other computer science skills. Add to this dynamic, the likely staying power of teleconference and work-from-home positions which also leverage tech products and have seen meteoric growth during COVID. This only adds to the already high demand for tech skilled employees and contractors.

So in sum, we are fairly confident in the prediction that AI won’t necessarily replace the human workforce post pandemic. However, it seems clear that it will have a disruptive effect as those at the low end of the skill and wage spectrum will be displaced in greater numbers by automation and will have to train for higher skilled positions. Whether this will be possible for all is unclear.

For the workforce management professional, this will mean several things. One, there will be a glut of available worker resources without the training needed to easily obtain jobs in the middle-wage echelons. It will also mean an exacerbation of the already short supply of IT and other tech skilled workers. It also perfectly illustrates how unforseeable factors can make significant changes to the labor environment and economic dynamics of markets. Another good reason to build, grow and maintain a flexible and proactive workforce management strategy.

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