Action Plan for HR as Artificial Intelligence Spreads

Strategic workforce planning takes on new urgency as AI changes the complexion of the workforce. Here’s what HR leaders need to know and think about.

Will robots take my job? Yes, there’s actually a website that indicates the likelihood of you being displaced by a bot. (Here’s another in case the first bot took the day off.)

Gartner TalentNeuron data shows that by 2020, artificial intelligence will be pervasive in new software products and services and AI will become a positive net job motivator, creating 2.3 million jobs while only eliminating 1.8 million jobs.

“Beyond the net impact on employment numbers, AI is changing the skills needed to perform today’s jobs,” Scott E. Engler, Gartner VP, Advisory, said at ReimagineHR 2018 in Orlando, FL.

Roles are shifting to focus more and more on social-creative skills (which AI can’t perform) and digital dexterity skills (the skills for working with technology and its outputs). HR leaders urgently need to plan for how AI will change their workforces.

“HR leaders need to know, given the growth in AI, what skills their company has now, what it will need in the future and how they will prepare for tomorrow’s needs,” says Emily Rose McRae, senior principal at Gartner.

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AI will most affect roles with few social-creative skills

Today, there are four types of skills in the world. Demand for these skills will change as AI becomes more pervasive.

  • Expiring: Technology can perform these skills — and will increasingly do so, completing them more cheaply yet faster than humans. Examples are cold-calling, forecasting, cost estimation.
  • Social-Creative: Aesthetics, creativity and social interaction are difficult to automate. It’s tough to teach a robot to be creative, team- or customer-service-oriented, or to coach. As the use of AI expands, nonautomated roles will increasingly shift to focus on social-creative skills, and the scale offered by technology increases the demand for these skills even further.
  • Digitally dexterous: In its most limited sense, digitally dexterous employees are adept at using technology, e.g., word processing, inventory management, computer and internet research, staff scheduling. More broadly, employees with high levels of digital dexterity are open to technology’s potential, willing to flex roles and take risks, adept at iterative and collaborative ways of working, and possess strong technology- and data-savviness. The more technology is implemented, the more demand there will be for people who can use that technology and its outputs.
  • Technology development: These are the skills for building, maintaining and implementing technology. Demand for these skills will stay flat, as some of these skills will themselves be automated.

Over time, demand for social-creative skills has been increasing. AI has actually increased demand for the skills it can’t replace. Over time, the lower the percentage of social-creative skills required for a role, the more likely that role is to be impacted by AI.

For example, that software developers for applications have one of the lowest percentages of required social-creative skills, so companies should monitor the role to gauge the impact of AI on the skills needed. In short, the AI impact will be high on roles such as web developers, accountants and electrical engineers.

Read more: Digital Dexterity at Work

At ReimagineHR 2018: Demand for social-creative skills is rising and cannot be easily replaced by AI
At ReimagineHR 2018: Demand for social-creative skills is rising and cannot be easily replaced by AI

Action plan for HR leaders

HR leaders need to take a leadership role in discussing AI strategy, and what that strategy means for the current workforce — and for potential employees. Every element of HR is necessary for success:

  • Talent management must be involved in scenario and workforce planning to recruit and build the skills most needed in the future
  • Learning and development teams must build digital dexterity in the existing workforce
  • Recruiters must plan to acquire the skills that cannot be built in the existing workforce
  • Compensation and employee engagement initiatives must be effective in nurturing the desired roles and employees

Here’s a guide to help HR to prepare.

Monday morning

  • Identify your organization’s digital strategy and verify to what extent it incorporates AI. Assess to what degree the digital/AI and business strategies are integrated. Identify who is responsible for driving and maintaining the strategy.
  • Assess the maturity of your organization’s current strategic workforce planning approach. Is it aligned with business strategy? Does it plan for roles and skills needed in the next 12 months and in future years? Does it take into account how work will evolve with AI?

Next 90 days

  • Set out a plan to align strategic workforce planning with business, digital and AI strategy.
  • Gather intelligence about how companies in your industry and beyond are adopting AI in various parts of their business and gauge the workforce implications.

Next 12 months

  • Segment your workforce based on the extent and nature of the AI impact on roles. Identify skills that will be taken over by AI vs those that require more social-creative skills.
  • Start implementing your action plan to build the workforce skills you will need in the future, either through development or hiring.

This article has been updated from the original, published on August 27, 2018, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients.


Gartner for HR clients can learn more by attending the webinar What to Do and Not Do with AI and reading Future of Work Scenarios 2035.


Other Gartner clients can read more in the Future of Work Scenarios 2035: How Will Leaders Manage in a Majority-Bot Workforce World? by Helen Poitevin et al.

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