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How GenAI will revolutionize the workforce: Automation vs. Augmentation
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The rapid advancement of technology has ushered in an era of unprecedented change, challenging traditional notions of work and the role of human employees. One of the most significant developments in recent years is Generative AI, a powerful tool that has the potential to reshape the workforce landscape. The debate surrounding the impact of Generative AI centers on whether it will primarily augment or automate existing jobs and how this transformation will influence industries, companies, and employees. Generative AI, often referred to as "GenAI," encompasses a range of AI technologies that create new content, mimic human thought processes, and enhance human capabilities. When utilizing Generative AI to reshape the workforce, a key differentiation between augmentation and automation needs to be kept in mind.
Augmentation: Empowering Humans with AI
Augmentation, in this context, refers to the integration of AI technologies to empower human workers, making them more productive, efficient, and effective in their roles. Proponents of augmentation argue that Generative AI can revolutionize how employees work. By collaborating with AI, workers can delegate repetitive and mundane tasks, allowing them to focus on more complex and creative aspects of their jobs. This approach not only boosts productivity but also enhances job satisfaction, as employees engage in more meaningful and intellectually stimulating tasks.
Automation: The Challenge of Displacement
On the other side of the debate lies the concern that Generative AI might automate tasks previously performed by humans, leading to job displacement. While automation has the potential to streamline processes and reduce costs, it also raises questions about the future of certain roles that could be outsourced to GenAI. The fear of job displacement is a valid concern, especially in industries where routine tasks dominate. However, this narrative may be overly pessimistic - Generative AI has shown its effectiveness in tasks that require creativity, problem-solving, and empathy, skills that are uniquely human. Rather than replace employees, AI could enhance their capacity to tackle more complex challenges.
For example, apps like SeekOut which support recruitment professionals to contact potential candidates in a personalized way enhance their capacity - this allows significantly more time to be spent instead on later-stage candidates where greater value can be achieved, for example by optimizing robustness of screening or improving the candidate experience. Similarly, as Finance departments progressively focus more on business partnering and value creation stewardship, the use of AI-enhanced automation tools to accelerate financial planning, cashflow operations, and payroll / tax processes is a key enabler to develop capacity without sacrificing lean team structures.
Navigating the Uncertain Future
As Generative AI continues to evolve, its impact on the workforce remains uncertain. There are valid arguments on both sides, highlighting the importance of a nuanced perspective. Some roles may be augmented, allowing employees to thrive in symbiotic collaboration with AI, while other tasks might be automated to streamline processes. There are certain functions within a company that are more suitable for augmentation vs. automation.
For example, engineering (coding roles), marketing, and PR / investor relations are great departments that can leverage GenAI for higher efficiency within existing roles. In the case of the latter two, GenAI can be used to generate ideas, suggestions, and initial drafts for editing as the foundations to support content creation at scale; organizations will be able to leverage this advantage to increase outputs (e.g., reaching more consumer sub-segments with targeted marketing materials) or enable more time for higher value tasks and cross-functional collaboration.
A key implementation consideration is the need for reskilling and upskilling initiatives. Organizations can leverage the increased capacity from productivity gains to unlock new sources of value, but only if this capacity is able to pivot towards new jobs & roles that service different strategic priorities. As such roles evolve, individuals must have access to training programs that enable them to adapt to changing workplace dynamics. The ability to learn and adapt will become a crucial skill in the age of AI, ensuring employees remain relevant and valuable in the ever-changing job market.
Similarly, certain functions are more suitable for automation. For example, accounting, administration, and HR departments are great examples of those that can be at least partially automated. There is significant potential for manual, repetitive, and time-consuming tasks within these functions to be instead performed by GenAI tools, from automated report & document generation to risk assessment. There are also roles, such as those within customer service and advertising departments that can be both augmented and automated with GenAI.
The debate over Generative AI's impact on the workforce raises thought-provoking questions about the future of work. Rather than a one-size-fits-all scenario, the reality is likely to be a blend of augmentation and automation. The imperative then is for companies to analyze their own workforces, especially identifying structure (e.g. overweight functions) & core tasks performed, and customize their workforce strategy accordingly, prioritizing the areas where GenAI can reasonably be implemented based on potential use cases and industry context. Workforce analytics tools, including those enhanced by GenAI itself, are therefore pivotal to better understand what the opportunity presented by GenAI is and to size this opportunity in the context of the company’s individual business circumstances. Ultimately, the success of Generative AI's integration into the workforce depends on how organizations, policymakers, and individuals navigate the delicate balance between harnessing the potential of AI and safeguarding the human workforce. As we move forward into this new era, the augmentation vs. automation dilemma serves as a reminder that technological progress is an opportunity for evolution, adaptation, and innovation.
In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, understanding the impact of new technologies and trends on talent is essential to harness the full potential of the workforce. At AURA, we support this effort by making workforce data & analytics readily available, enabling comparison of relevant metrics against industry peer benchmarks and exemplars to drive meaningful change.
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Jennifer Xu / Matthew Chan
Product Manager / Product Economist, AURA

With special thanks to Bain's Gene Rapoport and Richard Lichtenstein for their materials and support in this article.

Note: All information mentioned in this report comes from publicly available data; if you believe the information on your company is incorrect, please reach out to us at:
aura@bain.com
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How GenAI will revolutionize the workforce: Automation vs. Augmentation
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