It’s time to give yourself a big, fat raise.
A new study found that employees with skills in artificial intelligence (AI) can earn salaries as much as 40 per cent higher than peers without AI skills. But the real value, they found, was combining AI skills with a wide range of other skills. The secret to commanding higher salaries is something called “complementarity” — the ability to combine valuable non-AI skills with AI skills. The research was done at the Oxford Internet Institute and the Center for Social Data Science at the University of Copenhagen.
What does it all mean?
In ancient times (before 2022, when the large language model-based generative AI craze hit), we tended to think of AI as a discreet bundle of hyper-specialities. There were AI eggheads who did nothing but AI, and everyone else who never touched it, except as a user or consumer of a product that leveraged AI — no skill or knowledge required.
Now, the reverse is true. Professionals in many fields are using AI tools that require skills and knowledge about AI.
Last year, most professionals needed zero AI skills. This year, many pros are already acquiring those skills. And next year, nearly everyone will benefit from them.
The value of “complementarity” in some jobs is intuitive. Software engineers who excel at leveraging genAI tools are more valuable than those who don’t. But someone with genAI skills who lacks programming expertise won’t succeed at software development because letting AI write code that the user can’t understand doesn’t work. Someone who does programming but has no AI skills will struggle to keep up with an industry that’s using AI to accelerate and improve their work. The most desirable developer is one who combines programming and AI skills creatively and effectively.
I use the software engineer example because it’s intuitive and clearly true. The power of “complementarity” here is clear. The same goes for engineers, generally, and data scientists.
But I would argue that it’s also true for many other roles and industries that may seem less intuitive.
AI is becoming a necessary business skill
By AI skills, I don’t mean the ability to use ChatGPT to write your emails for you. Recruiters and business leaders are looking for people who have real knowledge and skill beyond prompt engineering — people who read publications like, articles like this, and who take an interest in AI research articles and perhaps even do AI-related coursework.
I’m a professional writer. That’s my speciality. But every ambitious person in the business world should (and most do) work on writing better. It’s a necessary skill that should be combined with the skillset of their speciality.
AI is now just like that. Ambitious people need to dig into AI and understand how it can help them do their jobs more effectively.
This is true of C-suite executives, as well. EdX surveyed 800 execs and 800 workers about the impact of AI on work. Surprisingly, nearly half of CEOs said most or all of their job could be automated by AI. (This is far higher than workers on average, where the percentage is 20 per cent.) If half their job could be automated, then I would argue that half their job should be automated. And the CEOs themselves should be learning how to effect that automation, not so they can work part-time, but so they can spend more time on the important things only human CEOs can do.
The workforce of the future will learn AI in school and during the next 15 years, each successive generation of graduates will likely have much stronger AI kung fu than the last.
In fact, my own son owns a Silicon Valley-based startup called Chatterbox, which exists to teach AI literacy to kids as young as eight years old. Learning AI at that age is unimaginable to adults currently in the workforce.
Young workers entering the workforce will have a vastly superior knowledge of, and ability with, AI than the workforce that went to school before the LLM-based genAI revolution of 2022 and 2023.
That’s why one of the smartest things you can do now, regardless of your specific occupation, is to get very serious about learning a lot more about genAI.
“Prompt engineering” — the ability to use words to get output from genAI tools — is the skill of the year. But it’s only a matter of time before basic proficiency in prompt engineering becomes commonplace and banal. It’s important to set yourself apart from the crowd by going further and really studying how generative AI works, its limitations and potentialities, and the ethical and legal issues around its output.
It’s also important to understand how fast genAI evolves and to keep up with the changes. The tools, techniques, integrations and best practices around it seem to change almost weekly.
It’s also crucial to understand that genAI skills are useless or even hazardous in isolation. Just like a high school student who lets ChatGPT write their essay to get a better grade, only to get caught and tank their GPA, AI skills have to be combined with other skills to be effective.
And speaking of job opportunities available to people with AI skills, consider the tech industry itself. While venture funding for products generally is much lower than in the past, the funding for AI-based startups is carrying the whole VC sector.
Though Silicon Valley tech giants are cutting back, killing products and laying off staff, they’re doubling and tripling down on investments in AI. Beyond the obvious demand for genAI specialist engineers, the whole range of employees — from HR to office management to product managers to marketers — will be far more hirable and earn much higher salaries if they also bring AI knowledge and experience to the table.
It’s time to stop thinking about AI as somebody else’s speciality and start thinking about AI as a major skill set that you need to truly succeed in your career, no matter what you do for a living.