Readying our Workforce for an AI World

Kristen Peikert · December 19, 2023

Kristen Peikert blog post

Since its explosion over the last year, AI is no longer a distant, futuristic concept. It's here, woven into our daily lives in ways we might not even realize. From voice assistants guiding our mornings, to algorithms helping us choose what to watch or buy, AI is everywhere, quietly shaping our world. But how do we prepare our workforces for this new era?

Macmillan Learning CEO, Susan Winslow, recently described her AI journey akin to processing the stages of grief; I see some of our teams having the same experience - denying the impact AI will have on their workflows, hoping it will go away, or angry at being asked to evaluate processes that seem fine already. It is clear to me, however, that we all need to embrace the AI learning curve. That extends beyond our tech talent and coding gurus and starts with seeing AI not as a replacement for our jobs, but an opportunity to enhance human potential.

At Macmillan Learning, we are providing our teams with foundational courses to get them started, including content explaining what AI is to understanding the various ways that AI can be leveraged as a learning tool. We’ve been training best practices of good prompting and creating guidelines on how to ensure safety and ethical use along the way. These basics are followed with a challenge for each of us to keep an open mind, take initiative, and experiment.

Our leaders are not exempt from this. It’s proven important for each of us to lead by example, rolling up our sleeves and diving in to set the tone for our teams. I recently took a hands-on approach to testing HR use cases for generative AI and even dug into the development of an employee self-service chatbot. The insights that I have gained from both successes and failures have helped me to communicate, first hand, insights to hopefully make it a little less scary for our teams to take a first step.

But change is hard and saying “this will be a fun adventure” doesn’t always quiet the fears people have about the unknown. That’s why we have to continually remind ourselves that people will always be at the center of successful evolution. AI can handle repetitive tasks, and serve as a great starting point for ideation; but empathy, creativity, and intuition? Those are OUR superpowers. That's what sets us apart from the algorithms.

As a People & Culture leader, I talk every day to our team about jobs, and AI has left a big question mark for a lot of people as they worry about proficiency or replacement. I have told our teams to try not viewing AI as competition, but a collaboration between human ingenuity and AI efficiency that frees us up to focus on what we do best—using our creativity, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving skills. Incidentally, those are the skills I’m leaning into to get the most out of using AI tools too.

Our approach may not be perfect, and I keep reminding myself that it will take resilience to stay energized about the possibilities when advances in tomorrow’s technology require us to retool our thinking all together. I will challenge you, just like our teams, to embrace the potential of AI, learn from it, and together, let's shape a future where technology empowers us to be the best versions of ourselves. As one of our core values reminds: learning is a journey we are on together.