The number of employers seeking candidates with knowledge, skills, or experience related to artificial intelligence is on the rise. Why do they want to hire AI-savvy applicants over anyone else?

The rise of AI in the workplace

Since AI is capable of unparalleled versatility, it is present in almost every industry. In other words, its impact isn’t limited to tech-centric occupations. Consequently, it is reshaping hiring requirements in many industries. Employers are increasingly seeking college graduates with expertise or skills related to this technology.

According to a report from Washington State University’s College of Business, seven in 10 employers agree college graduates should have AI experience before entering the workforce — and 88 percent believe colleges and universities should be responsible for providing resources and opportunities to help students learn about this technology. However, less than 10 percent think those institutions are heavily involved in offering education and training on it.

Even though AI isn’t currently a priority for colleges and universities, it is still pervasive in most institutions. For instance, 56 percent of college students have admitted to using it to complete assignments. Educators also use it to create lessons, automate grading, detect plagiarism and develop personalized curricula.

AI’s impact on the college experience directly connects to its rise in the workplace. Students’ reliance and knowledge of it affects how well-prepared they are for their future careers. More importantly, it can also influence which job opportunities are available to them. As this technology grows more prominent, its impact will become more noticeable.

Why do employers want applicants with AI experience?

The number of employers seeking college graduates with AI expertise and skills is on the rise.

Accelerated onboarding

AI is quickly becoming an everyday tool in many occupations. Although critics are quick to claim it is hype, technological innovations like this — namely computers and the internet — have become the multi-industry standard before. Employers want knowledgeable candidates because it will accelerate onboarding, meaning employees can generate value faster.

Skills gap bridges

AI makes significant productivity gains possible. By 2030, generative models could automate 30 percent of all hours worked today. In other words, employers seek candidates with AI expertise because many basic job responsibilities will be entirely automated or substantially augmented. College graduates must upskill to remain competitive in the labor market.

Process improvements

If candidates are well-versed in AI rather than simply familiar with it, they can help identify process improvements to optimize their workplace’s use of this technology. It’s similar to how many employers prefer an employee proficient with Microsoft Excel over someone who only knows the tool’s basics.

Competitive advantages

Unlike many other modern technologies, AI is incredibly accessible. In other words, organizations seeking to outperform their competitors who have the same tool must hire people with better skills and more experience. Employers want candidates with expertise because it may grant them a competitive edge.

Colleges should prepare students for AI in the workforce

Colleges and universities are supposed to ready students for what’s next in their professional lives, so it’s only natural they prioritize AI education. Plus, many college students — about 75 percent of them — believe their curriculum should prepare them for the rise of AI in the workplace.

Crucially, higher education might be some students’ last chance to properly learn about AI. Entrepreneurs who become their own boss won’t have the option to learn from on-the-job training like their peers. Besides, graduates are now expected to have relevant expertise already — meaning they may lose job opportunities to those who received training in college.

While six in 10 educators currently use this technology in the classroom to some extent, many use it for administrative or operational process improvements. Since the demand for AI expertise and skills in the workforce is on the rise, they should consider shifting their priorities and providing educational material. Training, certificates, and upskilling courses would be ideal.

How AI impacts the long-term value of college degrees

Many college students are concerned about AI’s impact on the value of their degree. After all, about 57 percent of employers are second-guessing if they need as many new hires if they can just use AI to replace individuals — even entire teams — in entry-level roles. Unless graduates upskill within the next few years, they may lose their competitive edge in the labor market.

While those without formal AI training or certification may lose their competitive edge, those with expertise will become much more attractive to employers. According to a global study of 30,000 people, nearly six in 10 workers believe having AI skills will give them new career opportunities.

Do current college graduates have enough AI expertise?

Many higher education institutions share the same dilemma — their curriculum is too far removed from real-world applications. When asked if universities prepare graduates for success in the current workforce, 45.7 percent of college students in the U.S. strongly or moderately disagreed. In the U.K., 24.6 percent of college students felt the same way.

Since most higher education institutions haven’t yet made AI education a priority, many current college graduates may be unprepared to meet their potential employers’ expectations surrounding AI expertise. This issue will worsen unless colleges and universities adjust their curriculum.

That being said, formal education is not always required. Current college graduates can get by even if they are self-taught. After all, the speed at which AI is advancing can easily render in-class training outdated within a few years. Besides, many employers understand humans remain essential because they’re capable of things algorithms aren’t — and may never be.

In fact, 98 percent of the 10 highest-employment occupations in sales, health care, logistics, manufacturing and computer science consider the skillsets set to be displaced by AI to be somewhat or very important. In other words, they value uniquely “human” skills and believe algorithms are augmenting people rather than replacing them.

The impact of AI on the workforce

As so many employers adopt AI, they’re seeking candidates with the right skill set and expertise to get the most out of their investment. Consequently, college students would be wise to upskill or reskill — whether they go through their school or become self-taught — to retain their competitive edge in the labor market.

Zac Amos is the Features Editor at ReHack, where he covers business tech, HR, and cybersecurity. He is also a regular contributor at AllBusiness, TalentCulture, and VentureBeat. For more of his work, follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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