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Young Workers Worry About Their Jobs in an Era of AI

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Artificial intelligence is always top of mind for Zachary Evans, an investment researcher at Morningstar Research Services in Chicago.

“Our company is talking about it a lot,” Evans said. “It seems like every headline I read is about AI and technology and the disruptive power of it.”

Workers like Evans, 25, have had a new set of work-related concerns since the release of ChatGPT in November 2022.

The age-old fear of being replaced by technology has increased and is now being felt by younger workers. A Gallup poll conducted in August found 22% of U.S. workers fear technology making their jobs obsolete. Although the fear is usually associated with older workers, 28% of people 18 to 34 years old worry about being replaced by technology, an 11 percentage point jump from 2021.

Artificial intelligence is an umbrella term for machines or computers that model human intelligence to complete tasks typically accomplished by people. AI is already present in many people’s daily lives in voice assistants like Siri or Alexa, and many customer service chatbots. Some generative AI algorithms, which produce original content, have scored high on the SAT and passed bar exams.

Because generative AI can create content, process information and analyze data, it has the potential to automate or assist with tasks across a number of fields. But its skill level remains limited, and its output typically requires human oversight.

Investment researcher Zachary Evans, 25, said AI is a common subject of discussion or concern for many workers.

Many researchers have attempted to quantify how AI will affect the workforce. Goldman Sachs in March estimated up to 300 million jobs may be replaced or diminished by AI, a number nearly as large as the U.S. population. Challenger, Gray & Christmas said in an August report that nearly 4,000 jobs already have been cut this year due to artificial intelligence.

President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Oct. 30 directing new standards for AI to promote safety, privacy and equity, among other goals.

Acknowledging the risks to workers of “increased workplace surveillance, bias and job displacement,” he ordered the development of best practices to mitigate these harms. The executive order also calls for more research into AI’s potential impacts on the labor market.

Career coach Tara Perman said clients never brought up AI until about two years ago. Now it’s something that comes up regularly, whether it’s discussing AI’s uses as a tool to help clients or concerns about job stability.

“This idea of choosing jobs for stability is a theme of every single one of my clients right now,” said Perman, who works at Ama La Vida Coaching in Chicago. People are “feeling like, ‘If I choose this job, will I still be in this job in a year’s time?’”

Career coach Tara Perman said she’s seen more clients bringing up AI as a concern in recent years.

Bryan Seegmiller, a professor of finance at Northwestern University, said one reason younger workers feel more threatened by AI is they tend to take jobs that involve more technology and data.

Seegmiller co-authored a study released in December that found a significant pattern of job loss was what they described as skill displacement. New technologies and tools change how jobs are done, and workers have to learn new skills to keep up.

“AI isn’t able to do everything humans can do, but a lot of what it’s really good at are things that some people might be able to use as a tool,” he said. “It’s going to require people to adapt and learn to use AI to complement their skills, and if they can’t do that, employers may demand people that are able to utilize it.”

Bryan Seegmiller’s research has found that older workers and more highly skilled workers are typically at higher risk when new technologies are introduced.

South Loop resident Hannah Kim said AI was “really shocking” at first, but she’s become more comfortable with it.

Kim, who graduated this year with a computer science degree and is looking for work, said she expects certain jobs will disappear over time, but overall, the number of opportunities will remain the same.

“As an industry, it’s kind of hard to have such rapid change over such a short period of time,” Kim said.

She expects AI to have a “profound impact” on work.

Jordan Johnson-Wojnicki, 24, uses AI in her day-to-day accounting and auditing work at Ernst & Young. She said it has allowed her to focus more on client relationships.

“This has been a great help in my opinion, because it’s helped streamline some processes, helped make sure that I don’t need to be, maybe an expert, in some fields,” Johnson-Wojnicki said.

The introduction of AI might affect some outsourced teams that do some manual work, she said, but she doesn’t think it will affect most jobs at the auditing firm.

“It’s kind of taking our job from more of a sitting in the corner crunching numbers or looking at code or different types of things and making it more focused on the client relationships,” she said. “There’s always still going to be that human interaction, but I think some of the mundane aspects might be able to be best benefited by computers or AI.”

Interpersonal interactions are an area where humans surpass AI. Focusing on these areas, Perman and Seegmiller said, can help workers keep their jobs.

Perman encourages her clients to focus on skills like creativity, problem-solving and strategic thinking.

Seegmiller added that communication skills and collaborating well with teammates are also areas where AI struggles.

“What comes back again and again,” he said, “is specializing and being uniquely human.”

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