Technology   //   March 29, 2024

‘The entry-level job has largely disappeared’: How workers can attain the AI skills of the future

Employers expect 23% of all roles will be disrupted in the next five years due to the rate at which technology is developing, according to research from the World Economic Forum. And companies will have their work cut out to design and scale their training programs to keep pace. 

WorkLife caught up with Dr. Mona Mourshed, founder of Generation – a nonprofit that trains hundreds of thousands of people across 18 countries and has helped more than 14,000 employers – including the likes of BlackRock, JP Morgan, McKinsey, Microsoft, and Verizon – fill highly skilled roles in technology, sustainability, and healthcare. 

As the former head of global social responsibility at McKinsey, Mourshed witnessed the widening gap between the skills companies need, those currently in the workforce, and those developed by education providers. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and flow. 

What jobs will begin to disappear because of AI and, likewise, which opportunities will the technology create?

AI will have a significant impact on the labor market, and no one will be immune to these dramatic shifts. Some entry-level roles will see less demand due to automation of activities, and others, like those related to the development and maintenance of AI, will grow significantly. We are already hearing from some employers that they are hiring fewer entry-level candidates, and this is an important area to watch and see if the volume of entry-level roles will decrease or not with the advances in productivity that AI can yield.

However, the meaningful immediate impact of AI on the workplace is already being felt across a wide range of roles today. The 2024 PWC/World Economic Forum CEO Survey found that 61% of U.S. CEOs reported that generative AI will require most of their workforce to develop new skills over the next three years.

Employers are excited about the productivity boost that can come with integrating AI into their work, but we haven’t yet seen a surge in employer-provided training. As new tools are rolled out to boost productivity, it will be critical that employers offer appropriate support and training so that employees can quickly gain the new skills they need.

Understandably, there is a lot of speculation around which roles might be replaced by AI and which new jobs might be created. Irrespective, those employees with job-relevant AI skills across a wide range of roles will be the ones considered most valuable to employers.

How can workers ensure they have the skills for these jobs?

The rapid changes in the workplace ushered in by AI point to a need for ongoing learning. Increasingly, tech skills are required for a range of roles across industries, and workers need to act now to gain the skills they need.

For those already on the job, learning from colleagues, exploring information available online, gaining certifications, or participating in employer-offered training are all great avenues for continuous learning.

However, the challenge looks different for those coming into the market for the first time – whether new university graduates, people who have pursued alternative certifications, or more experienced workers who are switching careers. The entry-level job has largely disappeared. At Generation, we have done global research in the past year that looked at entry-level tech roles and found that 61% of employers have increased education or work experience requirements in the past three years. In fact, 94% of employers said that they wanted their entry-level hires to have at least some work experience in a related field. 

There is a common misconception that to enter technology-related roles you need a computer science or related degree to have the right skillset for these jobs. This is not the case, and our training programs, which take between four to 16 weeks, show that these are skills that everyone who wants to can acquire if provided with the right support. Within just six months of course completion, three-quarters of our graduates have been placed in a role.

How can employers ensure they employ people who will be equipped for these jobs?

One of the greatest inclusivity and equity challenges in the labor market is how employers hire, particularly for entry-level and intermediate roles. Hiring managers have traditionally relied on CVs, focusing on education and work experience, and even turning to AI algorithms to help them find “perfect” candidates. In both cases, job seekers who face systemic challenges typically lose out – and employers lose as well, unable to fill important vacancies and uncertain they are hiring people with the skills they need.

The solution is to change hiring practices and to focus on skills instead of CVs. The breakneck pace of technological change we are experiencing means that one of the most important skills employers need to hire for is cognitive flexibility. With AI, the tool you use today might not be the tool of choice in six months, and workers need to be prepared to adapt quickly and easily to these shifts.

Like any skill, this can be tested. Skills-based hiring can incorporate standard assessments, demonstration-based interviews, portfolio reviews, and more based on the needs of specific roles. Only by seeing how job candidates perform the skills needed for the role at hand – including the critical skill of cognitive flexibility – will employers be able to overcome the many biases that permeate hiring practices today and get candidates who can perform from day one on the job.

Explain how companies can benefit from hiring people aged 45 and over for entry-level jobs created by the emergence of AI?

Even before AI entered the scene in full force, midcareer and older workers faced significant employment challenges. Individuals who are aged 45+ face deep-seated, unfounded ageism from employers who are skeptical of their skills and ability to learn. We recently released a report – The Midcareer Opportunity – in collaboration with the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] that explored these challenges, finding that just 13% of employers would ‘definitely’ consider hiring someone over age 55, compared with 47% for those between ages 30 and 44.

Perhaps the most striking misplaced assumption is that older workers are somehow less capable of adapting to technological changes in the workplace. Of surveyed respondents, 52% of employers believed that 30 to 44-year-olds would have a good knowledge of tech skills, with that statistic dropping to 30% for workers over the age of 45.

But workers over age 45 shatter this myth with their on-the-job performance: 83% of employers felt that the midcareer and older workers they had hired learned as quickly as their younger hires, and 89% said they performed as well, or better, than the younger cohort.

Midcareer and older workers are a growing share of the overall workforce, and employers that tap into this pool of talent will be well-positioned to fill the roles they need and drive improved company performance.

How can Generation provide training to older employees to ensure that they can have access to the same opportunities?

Age is not a determining factor in a candidate’s ability to learn or perform well on the job, and Generation’s programs are a pathway for people of all ages. In many cases, we have midcareer and older workers learning alongside younger counterparts, and they all master skills quickly and become valuable team members when they are hired. We encourage hiring employers to focus on skills-based hiring practices and hire the best candidates for their roles, regardless of age.