The past six months have witnessed a surge in the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on our lives, ushering in a transformative era in the workforce. The sheer power of AI has unleashed a torrent of breakthroughs and efficiencies across sectors. Governments are scrambling to control its influence, while businesses are caught in the grip of its capabilities. Employees, meanwhile, are increasingly apprehensive over the fate of their jobs, pondering how they can protect their roles.
of STEM professionals are worried about losing their jobs to AI and automation
of young STEM professionals feel at risk with AI
This fear is borne out in our ‘How the STEM World Evolves’ study, which finds that more than a third of STEM professionals across the globe are worried about losing their jobs to AI and automation (Figure 1). Delving deeper, it’s clear that the dance between AI and employment is reshaping our professional realm. To capitalise on its potential, businesses need to take a proactive approach, upskilling and retraining workforces to secure a future in which they can thrive.
While it’s important to recognise and mitigate risk, the fear of AI, promoted by potential job losses, could become problematic for many reasons, including:
- Rejection of the technology and protest behaviour that will slow technological progress.
- Exacerbating the skills gap if STEM professionals have not been given the opportunity to learn how to work with the tool.
- Losing competitive industry advantage through underuse.
- Overuse by relying too much on AI for complex issues that need human intervention.
"AI and automation are causing a lot of excitement and nervousness about their impact on the global workforce. The media and public discourse show a seesaw of acceptance and anxiety. As these technologies become a part of everyday life, it is important to understand how professionals may feel threatened and what they can do about it." Timo Lehne, CEO, SThree
Tech innovation is creating global career uncertainty for STEM professionals
It’s not just AI and automation that is a cause for career concern. STEM professionals believe their careers will be more challenged by digital transformation of services and processes within their industry followed by their ability to keep pace with the level of industry innovation. AI and automation making their roles obsolete and redundant is a close third (Figure 2).
This data suggests that AI is not the only concern among STEM professions. There also is apprehension around general tech advances impacting careers. Professionals don’t feel certain that their roles will necessarily become redundant or obsolete, but they do feel that these developments will negatively impact their careers. To what degree remains unknown, leading to a rise in the overall global and public uncertainty and apprehension around AI.
Tech professionals are on AI tenterhooks whilst healthcare workers take it in their stride
Perhaps unsurprisingly, tech professionals who responded to our 2021 ‘How the STEM World Evolves’ study are significantly more worried about AI and automation than in other sectors (Figure 3). This trend is across all countries except Japan where engineering professionals are the most concerned (23% agree in tech vs 25% agree in engineering).
Tech jobs such as software and web development, data science and coding are amenable to AI due to the tools ability to crunch numbers faster than humans and with relative accuracy. But SThree’s Nicholas Tsappis believes that AI will help coders rather than replace them, offering optimism to tech communities.
"Technology is changing, and old economy industries are now racing to keep up. It’s good news for contractors who are in high demand, including those whose roles will be aided by AI and automation." Nicholas Tsappis, Senior Group Director Technology, SThree
Engineering professionals in the Netherlands (36% disagree vs 15% agree) and Germany (31% disagree vs 13% agree) feel there is little to worry about when it comes to automation and AI. However, engineering respondents in the UK (13% disagree vs 28% agree) and US (29% disagree vs 24% agree) share concerns relatively high compared to other countries.
While no sector will be unaffected, healthcare professionals are most confident they'll remain relatively less affected. This is perhaps due to greater reliance on social skills and the human touch within the industry as well as heavy regulation and governed environments for devices and technology, resulting in slower adoption of new tech. AI and robots set to work alongside these professionals in back-office roles rather than in place of the soft skills required by humans.
- UK – disagree 30% / strongly disagree 19%
- US – disagree 24% / strongly disagree 30%
- DE – disagree 29% / strongly disagree 31%
- NL – disagree 28%/ strongly disagree 17%
- JP – disagree 29% / strongly disagree 14%
44% of young STEM professionals feel at risk with AI
Despite the stereotype, it’s not the older generation who are most worried about technological advances. Surprisingly, it’s STEM professionals aged 29 and under, followed by 30-39 and 40–49-year-olds. Older employees feel the most confident in keeping their jobs in the face of tech advances (Figure 4). The adoption of AI and automation in businesses is still in its infancy, reducing AI-driven concerns among older professionals today. Whereas younger professionals are dealing with the unknown of how this fast-evolving tech will impact their future career paths.
Furthermore, it’s also young professionals who express the strongest desire to work on projects that keep them updated in terms of skills and want to work for employers or clients who are innovating and embracing new tech (Figure 5). This interest in professional development when faced with earning more is notable when compared with ages 50+:
- Given the choice, I would like to work on projects that help me develop in my career, even if it means earning less (55% vs. 36%)
It’s up to businesses to protect STEM skills
Businesses must safeguard hard-to-find STEM skills in the face of tech advances by offering reskilling, upskilling and retraining programmes that enable professionals to work with new tech rather than against it. Continued development alongside tech innovation will help professionals feel secure and relevant in their roles and expertise – a sentiment that might improve their engagement and want to continue in the workforce until later life. See 'Employers are focusing on the wrong demographic to get the most from the ageing workforce' section.
Career insecurity triggered by tech advances could cause sought-after STEM professionals to pursue other opportunities. So, understanding how tech developments will impact STEM careers and staying cognizant to what that means for sought-after skills and how they’ll evolve in the future is an approach that dynamic employers must take if they want to retain talent. If employers can deliver, both parties could benefit from a longer working relationship together.
"Employers who want to retain talent must adopt a proactive approach towards understanding the impact of technology advancements on STEM careers. This includes awareness of the evolving skills that will be in demand in the future. By doing so, employers can create a longer and more fruitful working relationship with their employees, benefiting both parties." Nick Folkes, CTO, SThree
AI and automation fear increases where social inequality increases
A study by researchers with the University of Central Florida (UCF) found that AI, robots and automation will have more impact on jobs in countries with greater amounts of income and social inequality. The study’s co-author and professor of psychology at UCF, Mindy Shoss said
“The US always ranks pretty high on inequality and societal inequality. Given that, I would suspect that there probably are, on average, similar negative views of AI and robot technology in the U.S.”
This means in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, AI and automation would be met with more acceptance than in countries such as the UK and US, where there is more inequality.
This was supported in our research ‘How the STEM World Evolves’. The UK and US are most likely to feel worried about AI and automation posing risk to their jobs and becoming a challenge in their career, when compared with Germany, the Netherlands and Japan (Figure 6).
This fear is further underpinned in the US-based respondents' strong desire to upskill through projects or working with organisations that are embracing new technologies and innovating, so they can benefit from the exposure. They also want to work on projects that will help develop their career even if it means earning less, indicating desire to ‘not get left behind’.
STEM professionals in the Netherlands also believe that they need to upskill to progress in their career, so they want to work on projects that’ll do this. However, they don’t think they’ll lose out to AI or automation, suggesting more confidence in or willingness to work alongside tech advances.
Similarly, Germany and Japan don't hold much concern around AI and automation, and they’d both prefer to earn more money than work on projects that help them develop their career. This supports the data in our 'STEM professionals value career security over a pay rise' section, which finds that STEM talent in Germany and the Netherlands feel confident in their job security.
Respondents in Japan don’t feel the same job security but their disregard for AI and automation impacting their careers might be due to their understanding of what it is, says a new report by Ipsos for the World Economic Forum.
Furthermore, PwC research suggests that 30% of jobs are at potential risk of automation by mid-2030s and our data clearly shows this is felt by some STEM professionals. It’s not all doom and gloom though – this presents opportunities for economies and organisations to ensure the tech is integrated into society without it affecting workers’ livelihoods.
Our research ‘How the STEM World Evolves’ finds that worry around AI, automation and technological advances is not equal across STEM sectors, age or countries. This highlights the need for a better understanding and monitoring of affective fluctuations across demographics and geographies to combat fear, promote progress and protect STEM professionals.
It's critical that we find the balance between utilising human skills and technological capabilities. Organisations must think strategically about how to work with STEM professionals to ensure they remain a predominant and core part of the workforce, alleviating any extra strain on the widening STEM skills gap. This could be through recognition and reward, upskilling and policies aimed at retaining some of the most progressive, sought-after and hard to find skills out there.
Historically, automation has caused mass extinctions of jobs and led to profound societal changes. But these job losses have been compensated with roles created in the newer industries such as high-tech. Employers must find a way to help STEM professionals create an augmented and symbiotic partnership with these machines and tools and find the next high-tech iteration of their role, rather than be automated out of a job.
Dive deeper into How the STEM World Evolves
Uncover how the STEM world is changing in our new study How the STEM World Evolves! Discover:
- How important security is to STEM professionals
- What STEM professionals want from their role
- How purpose is influencing careers
- How attitudes to wellbeing are evolving
- What impact the ageing population will have on employees
- Whether attitudes to AI and Automation are changing
Discover the other sections in our study
STEM professionals value career security over a pay rise
In today’s economic climate, labour market shifts and megatrends are revolutionising the working world and influencing professionals' needs.
STEM professionals want more from their roles than employers are offering
Apart from attractive salary rates and benefits, candidates continue to want flexibility. But how that looks has changed.
Purpose is the key driver in STEM professionals’ careers
Purpose at work has become more important, and intrinsic personal purpose far outweighs organisational extrinsic purpose.
Concerns over wellbeing rising among STEM professionals
An increasing sense of pressure has caused a rise in specialists worrying about wellbeing in the past 12 months. What are the solutions?
Employers are focusing on the wrong demographic to get the most from the ageing workforce
A generational phenomenon, underpinned by increased life expectancy and decreasing birth rates, is sweeping across global markets.
Summary of findings
Dive into the attitudes and expectations of STEM professionals as they try and make sense of our rapidly changing working environment.
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