Millennials and Boomers should take note of GenZ’s approach to work, says a labour skills expert, otherwise they risk becoming an ‘impediment of change’

Fortune· Cole Burston/Fortune

Young staff are often told they should learn from those with more experience. Yet in an increasingly shifting labour market, older employees might actually want to take inspiration from their junior counterparts as well.

That is according to Michael Howells, president of the Workforce Skills division at education and publishing company Pearson.

Speaking on a panel at Fortune's Global Forum in Abu Dhabi this week—hosted by global freelance network Toptal—Howells said introducing new technologies like AI might be disconcerting for people who have spent decades committed to a certain way of working.

For GenZ however—who have grown up with a carousel of new software, hardware, apps, and social media—speedy evolution has become part of normal life.

Howell said he and the rest of the panel—which included Toptal’s Taso Du Val, Honeywell’s Anant Maheshwari and ServiceNow’s Cathy Mauzaize—previously discussed "how different people at different points in their careers" react to change.

"GenZ gets this totally, they know they live in a world of perpetual change," said Howell. "They know that the only way to stay ahead of that is to really immerse yourself in it, consume the data, be familiar with the services and take advantage of them yourselves."

Getting to grips with AI—whether it's being familiar with large language models like ChatGPT, cloud computing, bot services, metrics, or intelligence and insight—is increasingly a demand businesses will have of the workforce.

A November study from Amazon Web Services (AWS) of 1,340 organizations across the U.S. found that three in four companies can't currently find the talent they need.

What's more, hiring managers will actually pay more to get the skills they need. In the IT industry employers are willing to pay an average of 47% more for workers with AI skills. However this trend transcends the workforce: bosses would pay a premium for AI skills in sales and marketing (43% higher salary); finance (42%), business operations (41%), legal, regulatory, and compliance (37%), and HR (35%).

It's for this reason that Howell suggested older employees look to GenZ counterparts to seek inspiration from their approach: "We have people who have maybe spent 20 years of their career invested in a particular domain area and who can see change coming and are very worried about it.

"They may, because they're in a position of authority, become an impediment to that change."

Skills will remain 'uniquely human'

Despite fears about how significantly AI will change the jobs market—predictions range from Goldman Sachs estimating the loss or degradation of 300 million jobs, to Jamie Dimon's hypothesis it will result in a 3.5-day working week—top skills employees need remain distinctly human.

"The thing that I actually find quite encouraging ... is that if you look at what the data tells us, both today and five years from now the top five in-demand skills, in any industry, are all uniquely human," said Howell.

These include communication, collaboration, leadership, cultural and social intelligence, and personal learning and mastery.

On this final point, Howell added: "This is the ability to recognize that learning itself is a skill, and being skilled in it is necessary if you wish to remain flexible and stay ahead of these change curves."

Indeed, a report published earlier this month by the Harvard Business Review found that in a world of increasing technology, human skills are becoming even more critical.

Nada R. Sanders and John D. Wood wrote: "It is the human ability to understand context—which AI tools lack—that necessitates the need for greater human skills."

"AI is still a tool," they added. "The centerpiece are people, but with enhanced human literacies, a well-thought-out business model, and superb processes that integrate humans with their AI co-pilots."

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