As artificial intelligence alters the educational landscape, the way workers earn credentials and qualifications could change as well.
Accessible generative AI has the potential to help people see new possibilities for themselves and upskill their professional expertise at a faster rate, experts predict, potentially making career transitions more achievable across jobs and even industries.
According to Lareina Yee, senior partner at McKinsey, people with less tenure or years of experience are particularly embracing AI technology. “It accelerates their ability to demonstrate expertise,” Yee said. Strategic AI usage can speed up the time it takes for workers to reach peak performance in their role, which often makes up the first year of a job in corporate America, she said.
“If you’re able to climb that expertise ladder faster, you’re able to meet your objectives better, you’re able to do a better job,” Yee said. “Maybe it helps you with your performance review. Maybe it helps you get promoted faster. Maybe it just helps you enjoy your job.”
According to a McKinsey report from 2022 based on a decade of data, role transitions are inherent in labor markets. With increased human capital (or what McKinsey defines as “knowledge, attributes, skills, experience and health” of the worker) comes greater potential for upward mobility. The report found that about half of people who moved roles got pay increases; those same people increased their earnings upwards of 45% with each transition.
Karen Panetta, a fellow at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, and dean of graduate education at Tufts School of Engineering, agrees that AI is going to change the nature of work in the future. She says one thing AI will succeed at is removing the obstacles to exceptional learning. With these technological advancements, the barriers to entry may lower for fields that currently require expensive schooling to achieve. “That’s definitely going to be a game changer,” Panetta said.
Sal Khan, founder of the free online non-profit educational platform Khan Academy, recently launched Khanmigo in partnership with OpenAI. The generative AI platform dubs itself a “tutor for learners” and an “assistant for teachers.” In the podcast “Unconfuse me with Bill Gates,” Khan cites the inaccessibility of live tutors for all students as a key reason why AI assistance can help students reach their educational benchmarks and, eventually, access professional opportunities they may not have otherwise been able to know about.
Meanwhile, nonprofit organization All Star Code had a scholar visualize themselves progressing in their tech career over the next decade by creating a 30-second video using generative AI platform Runway. Sometimes, simply envisioning possibilities is enough to make a difference in a young person’s long-term trajectory.
The importance of successful career transitions
Career transitions positively impact people’s lives through increased job satisfaction and upward class mobility, and AI has the potential to help people achieve this by democratizing learning. “It’s so accessible to everybody,” Yee said. “It’s not something that just data scientists have access to, which is how analytical AI felt before last year.”
It will take time for the reshaping of credentialing to catch up and for hiring professionals to make room for AI-enabled learning in lieu of traditional educational systems. Even then, becoming qualified for a role and finding your way into the industry are two different things.
Even with AI assistance, it’s humans who make the final hiring decisions. To fully transition careers when not self-employed, one must be hired. There lies the ultimate caveat in AI-enabled career transitions. Panetta feels like the human role in hiring — regardless of the qualifications of candidates — will play a potentially bigger role in career transitions. “At the end of the day, it is a human being that decides whether or not to hire someone,” she said. “Bias gets propagated to the output.”
Panetta says the bias that humans feed hiring-assistive AI to note desirable characteristics in employees doesn’t always capture the full breadth of success scenarios. “They haven’t built the ground truth of training the AI to see all the different scenarios,” she said. “That’s where we see it falling apart.”
Still, with the increased capabilities for AI to help people envision new futures — whether those people are young students or well-versed professionals — there is a brick knocked down on the wall between what is and what is possible.
Yee says people can even use generative AI to figure out the steps it takes to embark on a particular career (ask ChatGPT what it takes to become a software engineer, for example) or start the learning journey with a platform like Inflection AI and Pi AI.
In her own work as an educator and engineer, Panetta defines AI as “systems that allow us to explain, explore and expand the knowledge of our universe.” As vehicles for that knowledge, people may be inclined to expand what they thought possible for themselves.
This blog originally appeared at CNBC on January 24, 2024.
About the Author: Rachel Curry is a journalist based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her work focuses on finance and technology on a global scale, as well as local issues impacting her community.