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White-Collar Workers to Be Most Impacted by GenAI

Study forecasts enhanced productivity, workforce reductions over next decade


Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) will usher in big changes to the world of work, and the biggest impact will be on highly skilled professional workers, according to new research released by SHRM and conducted by The Burning Glass Institute.

The report predicted that GenAI will enhance productivity and transform job roles over the next 10 years, but the cost of that surge will be short-term layoffs and hiring slowdowns in many white-collar occupations as employers adjust to a new reality.  

Early adopters of GenAI will see increased productivity as roles are automated, augmented or transformed—a surge in output that will surpass demand, leading to overstaffing in many industries, according to the report.

“While those disruptions will carry a high human cost, they are likely to be only temporary,” the report said. Corporate profits will increase from decreased payroll costs, leading to new jobs, which will replenish some of the lost employment, along with price cuts for goods and services.

“Thus, while GenAI may initially lead to job losses in certain sectors and occupations, other sectors will grow as the economy adjusts,” the report said.

Impacted Occupations

Administrative and support roles have been slowly winnowed down by automation over the past 20 years, but the unique consequence of GenAI is that highly skilled knowledge work will be automated and augmented, causing broad transformations across nearly all categories of white-collar roles, according to the forecast.

The industries most likely to be affected by GenAI include financial services; business and legal services; marketing; writing and editing; graphic design; computer programming; and HR.

“HR roles may be completely transformed as GenAI automates routine tasks, reorienting a smaller team of HR professionals to serve more strategic functions,” researchers wrote.

The study found that the roles most exposed to disruption by GenAI include mortgage brokers, legal professionals, certified public accountants, tax preparers and marketing researchers.

“Financial services will see the greatest impact, as a range of roles … within the sector are transformed,” the report said.

Reskilling and upskilling workers will become increasingly important as GenAI becomes central to the workplace. Many roles will be transformed, and employees who hold them will require new skill sets. For example, the report noted that traditional customer service roles may pivot toward managing chatbots or overseeing automated processes, and data analysts may become AI data specialists. “In this dynamic landscape, blending in-house training with strategic external hiring will be pivotal to harness the full potential of GenAI innovations,” researchers wrote.

Previous waves of automation predominantly affected low-wage occupations, but blue-collar work will mostly remain shielded from major disruption by GenAI. “The reasons for this are both increased demand for these workers due to the growth of premium goods and service categories and the inability of GenAI to perform physical tasks,” the report said.

Instead, the adoption of GenAI may spur even greater demand for blue-collar workers and a corresponding rise in their income.

Employer Takeaways

SHRM and The Burning Glass Institute outlined a few key steps that CHROs and other business leaders should take to best prepare for the oncoming AI revolution:

  • Evaluate your organization’s composition. If your company operates in an industry that is at risk of transformation or that has a large share of employees in at-risk occupations, you must expect disruptions as GenAI adoption scales up.
  • Evaluate the roles within your organization. HR should think about how roles might be automated, augmented or transformed by AI and then help prepare workers for these changes. HR can proactively invest in upskilling and reskilling programs to ensure that workers have the necessary skills and training to navigate this transition period.
  • Consider your current talent pipeline. “Service, manual and other in-person occupations that have been experiencing staffing shortages, such as nursing, are unlikely to be impacted by GenAI, and current labor shortages will remain,” the report said. “Meanwhile, GenAI-fluent tech talent will become highly sought-after, and savvy HR leaders are wise to begin building a pipeline for such talent now.”
  • Develop a game plan. Researchers recommended beginning to plan ways to leverage GenAI’s productivity benefits and prepare for the disruptions to your workforce through a combination of upskilling investments and reskilling programs so workers can remain relevant and be repositioned for areas of more stable demand.

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