A recent report by Pew Research Center revealed that Asian American employees are more exposed than other racial groups to artificial intelligence.
The survey of about 11,000 employees found that 24 percent of Asian American workers are in fields categorized as “most exposed” to AI, followed by white (20 percent), Black (15 percent), and Hispanic (13 percent) employees.
Jobs are considered exposed to AI if the technology can either perform the roles’ most important activities entirely or help with them, the report stated. Jobs with a hefty paycheck were found to be especially at risk.
“The most exposed workers earn more than the least exposed workers, no matter their demographic characteristic,” Rakesh Kochhar, a Pew senior researcher and author of the study, wrote in the report. “The gap is especially striking among men, Asian workers and foreign-born workers.”
A 2022 study from McKinsey & Company found that Asian Americans are overrepresented in high-wage technical fields such as software development and computer programming—jobs often associated with job displacement caused by AI.
Linda Cai, former vice president of talent development of Linkedin, said many people in the Asian American community in the last few decades have entered these technical fields. But AI can now match the high level of education and specialized skills they’ve achieved.
“Asian Americans should take this as a wakeup call,” she said. “Although AI will impact different demographics or generations differently, ultimately no one is immune to this sweeping change.”
Cai said Asian Americans in low-income professions should also be concerned about AI disruption. Jobs that make under $38,000 a year, such as food service representatives, are up to 10 to 14 times more likely than the highest-earning positions to be eliminated by generative AI technology by the end of the decade, according to a 2023 McKinsey report.
“We are reaching an inflection point to confront the issue of inclusion and equity for Asian Americans,” she said. “AI just accelerated the urgency of that.”
Switching Careers: A New Normal?
The 2023 McKinsey report stated that activities accounting for up to 30 percent of hours worked across the U.S. could become automated by 2030. Twelve million workers in professions with shrinking demand may need to change jobs within the next seven years.
Cai said employees highly exposed to job loss due to AI might want to consider a career switch with re-education and re-training. While the idea may sound intimidating, changing careers is common among workers today.
A 2019 Indeed survey of 662 full-time U.S. workers from a variety of industries and educational levels revealed that nearly half (49 percent) of respondents made a dramatic career shift—such as from marketing to engineering or from teaching to finance.
“I’m at the division line of Generation X and Y—many of my generation already have on average three to four different careers in our lifetime,” Cai said. “I believe this will become norm for future generations.”
She added that employees of all backgrounds, particularly Asian Americans, can prepare for a more AI-oriented workplace in several ways.
“It starts with a mindset shift,” she said. “Jobs and skills are not going to last; even hard-earned, well-paying jobs may not be here next year, so we need to operate with a sense of urgency and take initiative and accountability for our own careers.”
Employees can also try entrepreneurial ventures, honing their leadership skills by going into management positions or developing a portfolio of skills “so you’re not putting all eggs in one job basket,” Cai added.
AI Adoption: Questions HR Should Ask
Cai advises companies to take a principled, strategic approach to integrate AI into their workforce. She said chief talent officers and CHROs should drive dialogues internally with businesses about:
What are the critical roles key to business strategy? For example, customer service representatives have a high degree of exposure to AI, but a company may decide that it will not replace humans with AI chatbots because personalized experience and human interaction are what differentiate its brand.
What is the unintended consequence of AI adoption? Determine the impact on diverse representation at different job levels. Be sure you have good metrics on the demographic makeup of your workforce. If a company doesn’t know their Asian American representation, it’s hard to say which direction it’s trending.
What can we do to support workers impacted by AI? Compare your employees’ current skills with the tasks you’ll need to accomplish in the future, and make sure your workers have the training budget necessary to accomplish those tasks.
What changes will management require throughout the journey? Engage and motivate workers, get actively involved to support them, and make sure senior leadership supports the effort.