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The augmented future: How AI is reshaping entry-level professional roles

by Barry Whyte October 16, 2023
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We've all heard the alarmist predictions: "Robots are coming for our jobs!" 

Pick up any newspaper on any day, and you’ll most likely come across an article predicting mass unemployment due to AI.

Much of the panic should provoke a sense of déjà vu: concerns about automation displacing humans have been voiced since the Industrial Revolution - imagine the steam engine replacing water wheels. 

Some roles will disappear, but new ones will emerge. Jobs that we can't even imagine yet. Social media managers and app developers would have been unfathomable a couple of decades ago, and their AI counterparts will inevitably emerge in the coming years.

It’s easy to shrug off this reshaping of the job market as an inevitable consequence of progress, but it does have one interesting implication that is often overlooked: what happens to entry-level roles? 

AI tools can quickly analyse vast data sets, automate repetitive tasks, and craft better emails than some workers can. These are all tasks that often fall on the shoulders of more junior team members – ergo, perhaps you can make do with less of them? 

But if organisations cut back on hiring for junior roles, what impact will that have on the labour market 10 years from now? Are we at risk of an AI-generated jobs vacuum in the UK and beyond?

Augmentation versus replacement 

At General Purpose, we firmly believe that AI is not a threat to human labour. It’s an augmentative tool that complements human ingenuity when deployed correctly – helping us all work more efficiently and ultimately lead more fulfilling lives.

It's essential to remember AI is really good at specific tasks, not all tasks. Contrary to dystopian sci-fi portrayals, AI is not a self-aware entity that can out-think us all. Rather, it's a tool built by us, to help us. 

Working with AI requires a new set of skills, but not necessarily the ones you might imagine. Beyond the technical proficiency, it's the intrinsically human skills - creativity, empathy, critical thinking - that will be paramount. Machines can replicate patterns, but they can't replicate human creativity.

The end of ‘grunt work’? 

The narrative shift from replacement to augmentation is particularly relevant for entry-level professional roles. The automation of tedious, time-consuming tasks could mean the end of traditional 'grunt work', but it opens a window of opportunity for junior employees to engage in more meaningful work right from the start. 

I remember my early days in strategy consulting, ordering late-night room service to my hotel room in an industrial estate, crunching numbers and preparing endless PowerPoint slides. 

If AI had been around to take on some of that load, my learning curve would have looked different - steeper, perhaps, but also more enriching. Picture a future where our new recruits are freed from the shackles of administrative burdens, and able to contribute strategically, creatively and effectively from day one. 

But this isn't just about making life easier for the fresh-faced university graduates landing their first jobs. The AI revolution has broader societal implications, transforming how we perceive and value work.

Perhaps it's time to think about reshaping our approach to education and training, focusing on human skills that complement AI's capabilities. 

Leadership, communication, empathy, creativity and critical thinking will be more important than ever. To some degree, this is reflected in the data below. 


The AI era will demand adaptability 

Utilising AI doesn't look the same for every worker; it requires context - ensuring you are tailoring the tool to best accomplish your work needs.

We had an MBA graduate join us for AI Essentials who had tried to immerse herself in learning about AI from online tutorials but struggled to get a grasp of technical concepts. 

During our workshop, she quickly realised that she was focusing on the wrong thing. Mastering AI was more about her understanding of how to use AI tools in the context of her day-to-day workplace tasks rather than mastering technical details. By the end of the session, she was brimming with ideas on how to use AI to streamline processes at her entry-level job. 

It’s this kind of openness to learning, coupled with creativity and critical thinking, that will be the currency of future job markets. In a world where AI takes on an increasing share of analytical tasks, those who can synthesise information to draw meaningful conclusions, lead teams and empathise with clients will be in high demand. 

How will this impact some key roles at consulting firms? 

Analysts: AI tools can automate routine tasks like data collection, cleaning and processing. A plethora of startups are attempting to automate the creation of slides. None are quite there yet, but they will be within a year or two. Nevertheless, uniquely cognitive skills like critical thinking and creative problem solving – the ability to think outside the box – remain firmly outside AI capabilities. 

Graphic Design: By automating the routine aspects of design, AI fundamentally redefines the role of junior graphic designers. AI's involvement with the mechanical elements frees up designers to focus on ideation and creative storytelling. While technical proficiency with graphics tools such as Photoshop (now AI-enabled itself) remains important, a designer's unique creative vision and their ability to streamline messaging may become the real differentiator. 

Knowledge and Research: AI tools such as Claude are great at taking long documents and summarising the key points. Its ability to scan data, spot patterns and synthesise information is unmatched by humans – and it does it at speed. This shift means researchers will spend less time on data interpretation and more on prompt engineering to enable AI systems to deliver at their full potential. Or, put more simply: the ability to ask the right questions.

Where does that leave hiring managers for consulting firms and corporate companies? 

For consulting firms, this change in work delegation makes sense in terms of the current organisational structure, as most strategy houses are predominantly using a pyramid-based staffing model. 

The jobs that typically go to junior people, whether it’s analysts at a consulting firm, junior lawyers at a law firm, or junior illustrators at a design agency - are the easiest to replace with AI. And it does raise really serious questions about how we will train up that next generation of associates or, indeed, partners. Is this risking a future internal talent gap? 

The best place to answer this concern is by looking back at history. Before PCs were widely adopted in the business world, there was a plethora of junior roles, whether it was typesetting at media houses or, indeed, “human calculators” (Calculator was actually a human job before people invented the electric devices).

Their vital yet underappreciated work often remains a footnote in history. The widespread adoption of the electronic calculator was unquestionably a good thing for society, and that in no way undermines the work and legacy of these people. Both outlooks can coexist.

AI can be compared to these transformative technologies. While entry-level workers may find that their roles shape-shift into something slightly more skilled and complex - perhaps even managing the tech that automates their previous task load. I think that’s what we’re going to see with AI - it won’t always replace entry-level workers, but it may transform their day-to-day taskload.

Where does this leave recent graduates? 

If you’re a recent or soon-to-be graduate looking for your first entry-level job, don't lose sight of the uniquely human abilities that AI cannot replicate: creative problem-solving and effective communication. Nurture these skills, for they will serve as your competitive edge in an AI-augmented world. 

The future of work is here, and it's not a dystopian landscape where robots have replaced humans. It's a brave new world where AI serves as a tool, a partner that frees us from monotonous tasks and helps us to focus on what makes us innately human. Embrace it.

Freshminds has joined forces with General Purpose to offer access to discounted workshops in 2023. If you are interested in using AI tools to improve your productivity and get a head start in your knowledge of AI, sign up now and use code "FRESHMINDS" in checkout.

"This AI crash course is a quick but comprehensive dive into AI's backstory and what the future might hold. It's perfect for anyone keen to get their head around AI - and fast. I feel confident I can write better Chat GPT chat prompts that will help boost my efficiency at work."

-- Sylvie Francis

Barry T Whyte is co-founder of General Purpose and was previously an independent consultant within the Freshminds network. General Purpose helps professionals to quickly build AI skills and helps businesses understand how AI will impact their future. 

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