Paving the way for generative AI proficiency in the workplace

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Generative AI applications like ChatGPT have become household names in the same way “to Google” has become a household verb. Employees who don't adopt this new vernacular and study the real-world uses for this emerging technology will fall behind the rest of the class.

Grace Gibson
Grace Gibson
Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Global Innovation Strategic Initiatives
May 16, 20245 mins
Paving the Way for Generative AI Proficiency in the Workplace

I was recently at a dinner party where another guest asked me to explain what I do for work. When I mentioned that part of my job involves thought leadership around digital trends like generative AI, the first comment was, “Wow, you must be busy this year.”

It’s a natural conclusion to come to: even for those of us who don’t work with emerging technologies day to day, the speed at which headlines come out means it’s been almost impossible to avoid conversations and debates about the rise of generative AI. Applications like ChatGPT have become household names in the same way “to Google” has become a household verb. Adobe Photoshop now includes a “generative fill” option to let AI take a pass at edits.

According to research sponsored by Iron Mountain, 93% of organisations are already using generative AI in one way or another. In under a year, generative AI has secured a spot as a defining element in the technological zeitgeist. To borrow the cliche being used in newscasts around the world, Pandora’s box is open, and we’re well past the point of trying to close it.

  • 93%

    of organizations are already using generative AI

*Based on global research with 700 IT and data decision-makers conducted by Vanson Bourne, sponsored by Iron Mountain, October 2023.

New ways to get answers

In the same way that my current generation of young professionals learned to search for immediate answers on the Internet, the next generation of young professionals in the workforce must know how to get the answers they need through generative AI prompt engineering. Since January, I’ve noticed my own first instinct shifting from looking up instructions on Google to asking ChatGPT for an answer – after all, with an increasing number of demands on workers’ days, software that can provide time-saving shortcuts is a welcome addition to the corporate tool-kit.

I wanted to put the scope of ChatGPT’s on-the-job training to the test. Early on in my career, whenever I was responsible for setting up a meeting, I would “google” step-by-step instructions on how to accomplish that task. When I asked ChatGPT for the same information, it gave me an identical set of instructions – not totally surprising. Where ChatGPT got the edge was its ability to answer queries beyond my original question. What should I include in the body of the message? What’s the appropriate tone to take if it’s a call with my peers and my supervisor? Can you write a meeting description that fulfills the requirements listed above? In a matter of seconds, ChatGPT had written a professional and succinct meeting invite that would have taken me multiple revisions to get right.

Early literacy creates effective users

Starting in early elementary school, computer classes were a mandatory part of the curriculum, the expectation was that as soon as a student could read a sentence, Mavis Beacon would teach them how to type it into a word processor. When I started my first corporate job, digital literacy and applications like Microsoft Office were second nature because I’d had exposure to them throughout my entire education. The same can be true for generative AI, and based on the number of resources available specifically to train educators, it already is. The largest variable remains the question of how. How schools choose to introduce generative AI into their curriculums, as either a friend or foe, will make a difference in the way the next generations of professionals approach and engage with it. If a person is empowered to use generative AI for good, there’s no limit to the innovative ideas that can be fostered.

The adoption of generative AI tools is not and shouldn’t be limited to students; it needs to go beyond and be included as part of a robust workplace strategy. The value that generative AI holds at every level of work can’t be ignored or brushed under the rug. According to McKinsey, “Generative AI has the potential to change the anatomy of work…automating work activities that take up 60-70% of peoples’ time today.” AI is the solution to the increasing number of hours people spend on mind-numbing tasks. Reducing the amount of time spent on processes that can be automated empowers existing employees to focus on the jobs that they were hired to do without the weight of busy work.

Going forward with confidence

It’s important to look critically at new and developing technologies, especially in cases like generative AI that necessitate a discussion about ethical training and use. However, that doesn’t mean that organisations should create strategies that exclude or prevent usage. From both an education and enterprise perspective, students must be informed about the technology and the impact that implementing–or, conversely, not implementing–will have on businesses. Generative AI is here, and once new technology is introduced, it’s almost always here to stay. What will change is the way that jobs are performed and the people who have the skills to hold those jobs. In the wake of emerging technology, employees who are unable to adapt are going to be at a disadvantage as the next generation of professionals enter the workforce.

So, whether you’re building proficiency through a more formal education from a university or simply taking a professional development class from providers such as Coursera or LinkedIn, there are ways to stay ahead of the curve – and you may just find a new topic for discussion at your next dinner party.

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