Upskilling Global Workers in AI with EY’s Beatriz Sanz Saiz

We speak with Beatriz Sanz Saiz, EY Global Consulting Data and AI Leader, about how AI shapes the global workforce and how EY is harnessing ethical AI

With AI set to continue evolving, there are plenty of opportunities for generative AI (Gen AI) to revolutionise the global workforce. However, in order to achieve maximum benefit from Gen AI, research has suggested that a people-first approach will allow enterprises to thrive.

AI Magazine speaks with EY Global Consulting Data and AI Leader Beatriz Sanz Saiz about how the technology can help workers solve business problems in numerous ways.

She believes that Gen AI will ultimately shape the workforce and will be dependent on how businesses choose to embrace it. Most significantly, putting people at the centre of AI is the key to its success.

How do you see AI shaping the workforce currently? 

I often say that the era of AI can be likened to the industrial revolution, which was a period that delivered irreversible transformation to the labour market, while also advancing society and stimulating economic growth. Like the Industrial Revolution, AI is evolving our workforce, and entirely new frameworks and opportunities will emerge from it if we handle it correctly from the outset.

Personally speaking, I am excited about the potential of AI to promote a real change to work-life balance, propelling us forward in terms of efficiency and giving workers more freedom and choice, by removing time-consuming routine tasks.

What we are seeing is that the lowest skilled workers are the ones that are benefiting the most in terms of productivity improvements. There is already evidence emerging which indicates that Gen AI workplace tools are helping to push lower-skilled workers up the productivity ladder by improving the quality of their work and the volume of output, so that they start to operate alongside high-performing or skilled workers.

My long-term hope is that Gen AI, if implemented ethically, will drive opportunities across the workforce and promote inclusion by opening new roles and jobs and breaking down traditional barriers for workers.

With greater democratisation, the talent pool should widen, improving the diversity of people working in industry to promote a more inclusive workforce, whilst continuing to stimulate productivity, output and economic growth.

What AI trends are you seeing currently through your work with EY? 

EY has invested US$1.4bn globally to support our workers with leading-edge technology platforms and AI capabilities to better support our clients and the work we do.

AI is already transforming how we work at EY, allowing teams to automate basic, yet time-consuming tasks, or by helping to find information quickly for our workers. This is where we see the most opportunity - where worker ingenuity joins forces with AI, and helps teams solve problems – such as finding ways to reduce the time spent on low-value time intensive work. 

For example, at EY, our Payroll Chatbot helps our global employee base access relevant payroll information in a simple easy-to-read format at a time that works for them – making the process faster and more efficient.

And with Ey.ai, our own unifying platform that brings together AI and human capabilities, as well as EYQ, an AI assistant to allow our employees to harness large language model (LLM) capabilities securely and safely at EY.

With our clients, we are seeing rapid adoption of AI to assist customer support teams via ERPs, so I would expect functions such as finance, supply chain and operations will soon follow. I see areas such as law, education, manufacturing and sustainable energy all having endless opportunities when it comes to the creative opportunities provided by Gen AI.

Why is it important for businesses to upskill employees in AI?

I can’t imagine a bigger technological force than AI which has the capability to alter the way we work so significantly. Its implications mean that AI should not be seen in isolation from the workforce, and to that end, reskilling and upskilling should be viewed as a priority for companies and industries. 

We know that workers and employers want to skill-up, yet a recent EY survey highlighted that just 17% of employees and only 22% of employers prioritised Gen AI related skills training.

To realise the full potential of Gen AI, businesses must take a holistic, people-centred approach that considers the operational and experiential realities of the “new normal” for the workforce. The more comfortable workers become with Gen AI tools, the greater the understanding, trust, adoption, and safe application of them.

If employers do not help workforces adapt, there is a risk of leaving workers behind in terms of skills. 

Why is it so important for organisations to have clear and robust AI strategies in place?

AI and LLMs bring new opportunities, but also expose us to new risks that we must learn to manage such as bias, synthetic data, compliance and cyber to name a few.

We need to have ethical and robust AI strategies and frameworks to guide us on how we apply AI tools within an organisation. This is particularly the case for industries that handle sensitive information, such as healthcare and financial services. Without strong governance, frameworks and strategies, we will not be able to safely harness the full potential of AI and many economically valuable applications of AI will remain unattainable.

For this to be achieved we need constructive dialogue between regulators, software developers, the public and the private sectors. These parties need to come together while AI is still in its early stages and prioritise a collaborative and proactive development of AI governance. For me, it is about how we encourage these parties to work hand in hand over the course of this new AI journey.

What is EY doing to digitally upskill its employees?

We are invested in providing our employees access to training programs and on-the-job learning to equip our workforce with the tech skill sets to help deliver long-term value to our clients. For technologies like AI, we see it as an opportunity to expand the workplace experience for our employees.

We offer every employee the chance to explore new digital opportunities and work with cutting-edge technologies that go beyond formal learning. Initiatives include EY Badges, where individuals can earn digital credentials in future-focused skills – in fact, we have recently launched a set of AI EY Badges that offer a range of learning opportunities for every skill level to help our people learn about the responsible development and application of AI in the workplace. 

The EY Tech MBA, in collaboration with Hult International Business School is designed to equip employees with technology, leadership and business skills. And beyond that, we have a range of leadership development programs and digital learning platforms that are made available to employees to access as they need.

How can businesses ensure that AI is harnessed ethically? How is EY working towards this?

Education. I cannot emphasise this enough. For executives and consumers, Gen AI is a technology that requires people to understand it and its associated opportunities and risks.

The second is governance, as business needs a clear set of risk frameworks in place with established guardrails from the outset.

At EY, we are committed to the ethical use of AI and advocate strongly for transparency, fairness, reliability, privacy and security when working with AI systems. To do this, we’re working to educate and empower everyone at EY to expand their AI literacy, with a focus on ethical application with a focus on guardrails and frameworks that protect ethics, equity and wellbeing.

We are already rolling out bespoke learning for all 400,000 EY employees, to expand their AI awareness and we remain committed to empowering everyone at EY to expand their AI literacy and EY experience through the responsible use of AI. 

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