Advanced AI models, like the sensational ChatGPT that was released into the wild by Open.AI last November, are quickly making themselves indispensable in the modern workplace.

According to Business Insider, 43% of working professionals admit that they employ AI tools such as ChatGPT to accomplish tasks at work, with another 68% saying they haven’t told their bosses. This demonstrates, despite any skepticism or resistance, that just like the computer, and then the internet that came after it—so too will AI become an instrument we can’t live (or work) without.

In fact, MIT predicts that ChatGPT is about to revolutionize the economy, but it is up to us to decide what that looks like. This will call on business leaders across industries to start sculpting a new narrative with AI for the future of the work world.

In lieu of this, the context for humans in the workplace is about to radically transform—but not in all of the negative ways that many workers are imagining.

To keep pace with the rapid evolutions occurring in the workforce, talent acquisition (TA) and HR leaders need to consider how human capabilities can help determine where to employ men, and where to deploy machines. There are three key steps that leaders can take to ensure that  2023’s “great transformation” will ultimately be the positive restructuring of the workforce that is so desperately needed.

Step 1: Dial Out the Term “Soft Skill”

Hard skills, which have been resume boosters in the past, are increasingly being replicated by AI’s expanding technical abilities. This in turn will make it so that human capabilities—otherwise known as the skills that set us apart from machines—gain new traction in the career marketplace. Historically labeled as “soft skills”, human capabilities have often been overlooked.

In the modern workplace, uniquely human abilities have the potential to be determinants. These are things such as interpersonal skills or critical thinking and have been proven indicators of how workers fit into companies’ professional roles as well as cultural frameworks. In fact, research conducted by the SHRM in 2020 showed that 89% of the time a new hire failed, it was due to a mismatch in human capabilities. The same research showed that 97% of employers agree that capabilities are equally or more important than technical skills.

​​“I think of human capital as a workforce’s ability to create value,” said Jake Prince, Director at Elevos, a human capital consultancy. “Leaders want to know what their employees are capable of today and what they’ll need for the future. With that knowledge, an organization can proactively invest in its workforce.”

Leading the way in redefining what “soft” skills mean in the workplace are companies that are recording and capturing “skill taxonomies”. These are frameworks that provide an objective skill hierarchy within an organization’s employee ecosystem. Constructing skill taxonomies usually starts with pinpointing a broad sweeping skill, such as “communication”, and then drilling that skill down into more digestible bits like written communication, spoken communication, or technical communication.

Data on employees’ skills can break down enormous “capability” slabs into more relevant and digestible bits—offering a way to manage and identify the abilities that make your business and workforce successful.

“Understanding skills can feel like the wild west,” continued Prince. “Ideally, an organization would understand the skills needed for each role, the skill levels of its employees, and the best way to close any gaps. How an organization does that depends on its complexity, priorities, and appetite for investing in skills.”

Despite well-documented labor and skills shortages spanning many industries, most organizations (75%) aren’t using employee data to inform staffing needs, according to an Employee Relations Benchmark Study by HR Acuity and Isurus Market Research. This shows a need to dial out the term “soft skill” so that organizations can start to access the contextual data that is clearly needed to proactively address employee acquisition, retention, and engagement at scale.

Step 2: Dial in Automation (With Mindfulness)

With the backdrop of increasing AI in the workplace, it is more important than ever for organizations to identify and map their human capability data.

By employing human capability data and automation in tandem, skill patterns, gaps, and hotspots can be recognized within a company’s talent framework. This will provide some much-needed insight for those in the HR and TA space who have been trying to balance bottom lines with employee engagement in a dire workforce landscape. “The life of a recruiter has become increasingly difficult as they are being asked to do more than ever with less support to do it,” said Rob Savette, Co-Founder and CEO of Almas Insight, a company that uses game-based analytics to identify human capabilities in the workforce. “Human Capabilities can help individuals in HR and TA improve their metrics, present more comprehensive data to management and, through the effective use of human capabilities assessment products, glean better data with less interview time.”

There are a few major ways that AI can transform an organization’s processes and procedures so that they can move towards talent-focused models—both with the talent they seek as well as talent that already exists within their infrastructure.

Wielding the power of employee data, AI can be deployed to track patterns, showing which skill sets are in surplus and which are in short supply within an organization. This can help TA leaders identify where skills gaps exist so that they can more strategically recruit. It can also help companies to skill match internally, either across an organization or within certain departments to see if any people in their already existing talent pool are a good fit for open positions.

AI can also recognize skill gaps on an individual employee basis, providing data to help address missing capabilities through training. Providing the opportunity to develop within an organization can help improve employee performance, prevent future issues, and expand the worker’s value—all things that increase the chance of retention. On the flip side, AI can also help identify high-performing employees, evaluating the ways that an organization can foster that individual’s progression within their company.

Finally, on an operational level, AI can transform the harmony of the workplace. With skills mapped, companies can delegate tasks that workers find meticulous to automation—both improving employee morale as well as operational efficiency. On a cultural level, it can help to enhance evaluation tactics through more standardized processes, providing an objective view of candidates’ capabilities and potential without bias.

“Organizations and workers must navigate this new world of work together and focus on creating mutual value,” said Sona Manzo, Managing Director for Deloitte Consulting Human Capital Practice, Workforce Transformation. “For workers, this includes honing their fundamental human skills and finding creative ways of delivering results. For organizations, this means meeting their people where they are and supporting them in delivering business goals while meeting their professional development expectations.”

Advanced AI models like ChatGPT excel at tasks that require vast amounts of data processing and content creation, but they still lack the creativity, empathy, and critical thinking abilities of humans. As such, leaders need to focus on how AI capabilities can complement vital human skills, rather than compete with them.

Step 3: HR and C-suite Leaders Must Adapt

The biggest challenge for integrating non-technical skills into the workplace dialogue has been that these abilities and behaviors are hard to quantify, measure, and then extrapolate into hard data that businesses can use. Leveling up this challenge is the fact that no employee, employer, organization, or industry is alike.

Adaptation starts with HR and C-suite leaders moving away from cookie-cutter evaluation methods. Companies need to find ways to look at the attributes of the people who are filling roles successfully within their organization, and not just the black-and-white requirements listed in the job description. In fact, according to Deloitte’s 2023 Human Capital Trends Survey, 93% of organizations felt that moving away from a focus on jobs was important to their organization’s success. Yet only 20% felt very ready to do so.

“The construct of jobs had been the defining characteristic of our working world for centuries, while businesses and their needs evolved at a slower pace,” continued Manzo. “Today’s competitive, ever-changing world demands more. A skills-based approach (to the workplace) can improve people and business outcomes by empowering workers and driving agility.”

Necessary skills for a role, both “hard” and “soft” or technical and non-technical, should be integrated into the hiring process from the get-go. This ensures that those in TA can help bolster their workforce’s operational needs while still hiring for intentional culture. Some bright examples of innovation that are helping steer companies towards “skills-based” models and away from rigid job frameworks are:

  1. Machine learning (ML) can help to screen candidates, providing an efficient and objective approach to match candidates with the preferences of the employer. ML algorithms can help HR teams to evaluate thousands of candidates in the time it takes for an individual recruiter to assess one. ML algorithms can also provide a more standardized approach to candidate selection—mitigating bias and more inclusively hiring.
  2. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies can be effective as they simulate real-world scenarios, helping employers understand how workers deploy skills in real time. This is a game changer for industries that require specialized skills, such as manufacturing or healthcare, where mistakes can have serious consequences. Additionally, AR and VR can be used to automate interviews, which can lower the impact of an interviewer’s biases while also providing actionable data that can save hours of work for interviewers at a company.
  3. Skills assessment and development tools can use data analytics to identify skills gaps within an organization, helping companies integrate an applicable capability test when hiring for open positions. Additionally, these platforms can help workers track their individual progress and identify areas for improvement, creating targeted training programs that address the specific needs of the workforce they are a part of while also keeping TA up-to-date with the latest employee data.

The 2022-2023 SHRM State of the Workplace report found that labor shortages were still a top concern for 80% of HR professionals in 2022 and that allocating good job candidates and employee retention will be the key priorities for organizations in 2023. By incorporating groundbreaking technology that can provide value to HR and TA, leaders can start to move towards skills-based models and adapt to the needs of modern business.

Changing the Narrative

Employees who feel that their skills are not being put to good use in their current job are 10X more likely to look for a new job than those who feel that their skills are being put to good use.

By leveraging human capability data and AI technology simultaneously, organizations can start to move towards a skills-based business model. This will ultimately give companies an edge during the “great transformation” as they acquire and retain employees more effectively and efficiently.

“Businesses that welcome change and position themselves and their teams to react to changing market conditions are more likely to succeed in a market that is undergoing rapid evolution,” continued Savette. “We need to stop treating flexibility in the workforce as a bolt-on feature and start building it into the very way we work and build teams.”

When companies understand their talent DNA, they don’t have to choose one or the other with man and machine. Instead, they can utilize authentic human skills and automation concurrently. This will help organizations manage their workforce intentionally, equitably, and robustly—ultimately helping to build new symbiosis for the future of the workforce.

Emily Senkosky

Emily Senkosky is a writer, editor, and reporter living in Medellin, Colombia. She has experience in topics from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to environmental justice and is a strong believer in the power of an Em Dash. She loves the outdoors, and when she isn’t writing she can be found there.