Artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on the future of work has been dominating the headlines since the launch of ChatGPT. We spoke with Dr. Tracey Wilen to get her perspective on managing technology in the workplace and its effect on different generations in the workforce. A past speaker at International Foundation conferences, Dr. Wilen is a researcher and author specializing in the impact of technology on society, work and careers.
- From your perspective, what is the No. 1 technology trend that will shape the future of work?
My view is, it changes yearly as each technology grows and compounds and expands into new offerings. I remember when mobile computing was hot, then social media, then 3D printing, sensors, big data, the internet of things, augmented reality, cloud computing.
Now here we are in 2023, and everyone is talking about artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI, because it’s automating a lot of processes and is advancing in learning. Companies are finding a variety of use cases, which helps accelerate its popularity, and it’s getting a lot of funding. I think it’s the headline for 2023.
2. How should employers be adapting to new technologies in the workplace?
Technology is a language: The more you use it and the more you learn, the larger your vocabulary will become and the more fluent you’ll be. Think about the first time you tried a smartphone—It might have been rather daunting. And now you’re probably on either Android 13 or iPhone 14, because you’ve gotten so used to it and you’re finding the practicalities of using it all the time.
Offering ongoing training is important. Putting technology into people’s hands—whether they like it or not—and then making sure that you offer a help desk, chat and 24/7 IT support will make a big difference, because it’s critical that people don’t panic when they are given something new.
I recommend rolling out new technologies with first adopters, trying small pilots, and measuring and determining the effectiveness as well as peer-to-peer sharing, buddy systems and rotations in jobs so people can feel comfortable with new technologies.
3. Are there variations in how different generations approach technology, and if so, what can organizations do to address any gaps?
Some generations grew up with a lot of advanced technologies, like our youngest generation. They can ask ChatGPT to code for them, or they can click on an app on their smart device, but they may have no understanding of what it’s actually doing.
On the flip side, we have generations that grew up with minimal technologies but were the generations that created them. If you think about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, they would be baby boomers, and there are many people before them who would have a really deep understanding of technology—far more than our younger generation today.
With older generations, a lot of people are starting on phones and very light devices, so they might need some help. The generation in the middle (Gen X) has been through the most transitions—from computers, to laptops, to smartphones—and has broad visibility about using and transitioning technology.
Today, there are five generations in the workforce, and some generations view themselves as immigrants to technology, not natives of it, so it’s hard. Tap into where your people might excel, and then try to build an organization to work around their strengths. The more fluent they become in technology, the more they’ll figure out how to use it.
4. Will robots REALLY take my job?
They will replace rote and repetitive activities. That’s why I view technology as becoming our co-worker: so we can offload some of these activities. If your job is a series of activities that can be replicated and then taught to a machine or a robot, then yes, I think it may be in jeopardy.
Critical thinking is where humans really excel and what we need to continue in job creation. Years ago, there was a hotel that opened up in New York called Yotel, and they brought in a robotic bellboy. There was a story about the bellboys panicking because their jobs would be replaced by this robot. Many left, and they found bellboy jobs in other hotels that didn’t have robotics. One asked to be transitioned into a new job in the hotel, because the writing was on the wall that he would be replaced. The last one went out to the robotic firm and said, “I know how to be a really good bellboy and I understand technology, so why don’t I become your director of sales?”
The point is, technology is going to invade all of our lives. It’s up to you to decide how you want to deal with it and what you’re going to do next.