How to compete with AI and win in the job market

By Carolyn Ali

An image of a human with long hair in a bun and an AI robot facing off
Critical thinking is even more important in the workplace now as artificial intelligence tends to make up facts. Photo: iStock

These human skills and qualities will become more valuable as AI changes the way we work

You’ve seen what ChatGPT can do. It’s impressive. It’s scary. And while it’s not perfect by any means, artificial intelligence appears to be coming for your white-collar job. So what can you do to stay relevant, or better yet, get ahead of the game as AI automates your skills?

First of all, relax. We asked two UBC experts how we can make ourselves more valuable in the age of AI, and what human skills will be in demand in jobs of the future. The good news? Just being yourself is an asset.

Think collaboration, not competition with AI

An assistant professor at the UBC Sauder School of Business, Dr. Sima Sajjadiani researches “human capital” in organizations; that’s the knowledge, skills and abilities that workers bring to their jobs. Dr. Sajjadiani urges people to embrace AI as a tool to help make them faster and more productive.

“It’s important to have the mindset that we are not competing with machines, we are using them,” she says. “AI will be our assistant; we can use its input and bring to it our own judgment and critical insights.”

Dr. Vered Shwartz, an assistant professor in the UBC Department of Computer Science, also emphasizes that AI won’t replace humans but will be incorporated into our work. “There might be some jobs that will be completely automated, but that’s hard to predict,” she says. “There will also be new jobs created, just like during any kind of technological advancement in the past.”

“For all kinds of sensitive applications, there are still going to be humans involved.”

— Dr. vered Shwartz, UBC Department of Computer Science

Dr. Shwartz’s research focuses on developing software that uses natural language to interact with people. She doesn’t believe that AI is going to change jobs to the extent that some people might think—at least not in the near future. “It’s very useful, but it’s not magic,” she says of ChatGPT. “It’s a really nice, really impressive autocomplete that was also further trained to follow human instructions and has knowledge in various domains, and some versions also have access to the Internet.”

So while AI language reads very confidently, the content isn’t necessarily accurate nor reliable. “They tend to make up facts because they’re trying to maximize the probability of the next word in the sentence,” she explains. “So they respond with something that looks like what the human would like to see, but it’s not necessarily grounded in reality.”

Hone your critical thinking skills and draw on common sense

That’s where human skills come in. “AI still lags behind humans on anything that requires complex reasoning with multiple steps,” she says. It also has challenges with inductive reasoning, math problems and is “very bad at numbers.”

It also lacks common sense. “A lot of human understanding of language relies on using our own prior experience as knowledge and reasoning,” she explains. So when we read a headline that says “Stevie Wonder announces he’ll be having kidney surgery during London concert”, we know that the musician isn’t going to have surgery in front of an audience. But that was the explanation AI gave Dr. Shwartz.

That may be amusing, but the stakes are high with reasoning errors in medical, legal or financial situations. “For all kinds of sensitive applications, there are still going to be humans involved,” she says, both in interpreting data and training the machines.

As well as common sense knowledge, the machines need to be trained on data from different cultures, not just Western culture, something Dr. Shwartz’s lab is working on. Because AI models are trained on English text, primarily written by people in the United States, they have a built-in bias.

“If you ask AI to judge a situation, it answers through a very North American lens,” she says. For example, AI answered a question on whether a customer left a sufficient tip at a restaurant by referencing American tipping standards, without questioning where the restaurant was located or even acknowledging that tipping norms vary significantly across cultures.

A person taps a phone next to an open laptop.
AI often replicates existing patterns and data, which can limit creativity. People with diverse backgrounds can help fill in those gaps. Photo: iStock/UBC

Value your own unique perspective

Dr. Sajjadiani emphasizes the importance of human creativity in the workplace, especially when compared to AI-generated content.

“AI often replicates existing patterns and data, which may limit creativity,” she says. “Its weakness lies in being trained on data frequently collected from historically dominant groups.”

In contrast, individuals with diverse backgrounds and histories can collaborate, drawing from each of their unique experiences to produce a more creative result together. This also helps to address the gaps in AI’s knowledge base. “Our varied backgrounds and life experiences are our strength,” she says.

Learn how to assess AI’s strengths and weaknesses

Dr. Shwartz urges everyone to develop critical thinking skills not only to work with AI but to live in an AI world.

“It was already really important because of misinformation on the web and the echo chambers of social media,” she says. “But critical thinking is crucial now, and not everyone is good at it.” The computer science expert also advises people to learn more about how AI works to understand its limitations.

Within the HR field, Dr. Sajjadiani sees both the limitations of AI in assessing job candidates—for example, through video interviews—and opportunities to help reduce bias in various HR practices, such as hiring, by relying less on human intuition.

“If a manager’s gut feeling is that they should not hire an applicant, without any data backing up that decision, it’s very likely that the decision is based on stereotypes,” she explains. “AI allows us to better inform our decisions with data.”

For example, job applicants are often evaluated for a new job based on their previous job titles. “People who come from a privileged background often follow a very straightforward trajectory in their careers,” Dr. Sajjadiani explains. “They often go to a nicer school, get a more prestigious degree, take a good internship, then go to an organization in their desired field.”

But there are many people who don’t have these advantages and whose career trajectories are not so linear. “They often need to work odd jobs to pay for their school in industries unrelated to their desired field,” she says. “Yet they may have developed valuable skills that their job title doesn’t reflect.”

In her research, Dr. Sajjadiani used AI to analyze job applications and pull out the skills and abilities behind the job titles. This showed that a person applying for a teaching position, for example, might have gained relevant skills and experience through other occupations. For instance, an individual with customer service experience could have gained important and relevant skills for a teaching role, such as learning to be patient with difficult people. Using AI to identify these skills helped to increase the pool of diverse candidates and reduce discrimination in the hiring process.

Keep adapting

As AI evolves, both Dr. Sajjadiani and Dr. Shwartz say that it’s important to stay open to adapting with it. As with other technological shifts, such as the industrial revolution and the advent of the Internet, there’s the prospect of being left behind. But there’s also opportunity for those who embrace it.

Find out if AI could help usher in a four-day workweek.

Carolyn Ali is a writer for UBC Brand and Marketing. This article was published on April 19, 2023. Feel free to republish the text of this article, but please follow our guidelines for attribution and seek any necessary permissions before doing so. Please note that images are not included in this blanket licence.

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