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AiThority Interview with Dr. Karin Kimbrough, Chief Economist at LinkedIn

Hi, Dr. Karin. Welcome to the Interview Series. Please tell us about your role at LinkedIn. How did you arrive at LinkedIn?

I’m LinkedIn’s Chief Economist, leading a team of economists and data scientists who track, analyze, and report on key workforce and labor market trends unfolding on LinkedIn. Before joining LinkedIn in 2020, I held a variety of positions, including Assistant Treasurer for Google, Managing Director, and Head of Macroeconomic Policy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and I worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for about a decade. What excited me about joining LinkedIn was the mandate to explore the wealth of data on the global labor market and to apply our insights toward LinkedIn’s mission of creating economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.

How do you differentiate AI skills from non-AI skills? Which skills would likely improve the quality of life of employees and workers in 2024?

LinkedIn members self-report their skills on their LinkedIn profiles. Currently, more than 41,000 distinct, standardized skills are identified by LinkedIn. These have been coded and classified by our skills taxonomists into 249 skill groupings, which are the skill groups represented in the dataset. AI is one of these groupings in which we track 121 distinct AI skills. The top, most popular, skills within the AI skill grouping are machine learning, natural language processing, data structures, computer vision, and image processing among others.

There is a broad range though, and AI skills can include everything from the skills needed to build and finetune AI models and tools to the skill of knowing how to apply AI tools for various business purposes.

What we’re seeing at LinkedIn is that while AI skills are on the rise in terms of demand, people skills are gaining importance right alongside them. So when we look at the U.S. specifically, the most in-demand AI skills are machine learning, data structures, and natural language processing, while some of the most in-demand people skills across many large economies are communication, analytical skills, and leadership. And employers are increasingly looking for talent who combine these two types of skills –AI and people skills– together.

To prepare for the changes AI and Generative AI (GAI) are bringing to the world of work, businesses will need to thoroughly understand the skills they have and the skills they need. Professionals will need to focus on acquiring and developing AI literacy skills to better position themselves as they go forward in 2024.

AI adoption has grown at lightning speed. How are AI conversations on LinkedIn and other networking platforms shaping the business landscape?

Conversations around AI on LinkedIn have increased by 70% globally since GAI sparked in popularity — a very significant jump when compared to other recent tech advancements like cryptocurrency (which saw a 19% increase at its peak in November 2021) and augmented and virtual reality (which experienced a 5% increase at its peak in October 2021).

We are seeing these conversations being driven in large part by millennials, professionals in executive or engineering roles, and people based in industries like professional services, technology, and education.

Interestingly, conversations around AI aren’t just happening within one industry or organization — these conversations are top of mind across genders, generations, occupations, and industries. I believe these conversations are helping to bring what used to be a somewhat niche topic into the mainstream, and it’s driving excitement to explore and adopt AI tools. It’s also demonstrating just how widely applicable AI can be — professionals across almost every industry and position can find ways that AI can help them become more productive at work.

Could you highlight key takeaways from your Future of Work Report? Should business owners embrace AI more freely in 2024 to become more competitive?

In general, business owners, business leaders, and professionals at all levels should be developing their understanding of AI and embracing their AI literacy. These are the skills of the future, but they’re also quickly becoming the skills of the present. As of September 2023, 74% of U.S. executives see at least one way GAI will benefit their businesses and employees — including increasing productivity and unlocking more growth and revenue opportunities. But the plans themselves are still very much being formed.

We’re at an exciting place right now where business executives are enthusiastic about AI and plan to increase their use of AI in their organizations within the next year, but more than half of executives do not yet know exactly how their organization is going to use it. It’s very much at a point where businesses are still figuring it out — and like most new technologies, the early adopters will likely have a leg up on the competition. This is why my team at LinkedIn is focusing on this topic — to help business leaders abstract from all the noise and acquire a structured and data-driven way of thinking about the impact of AI on their organizations.

The fear of job losses is getting real. And, so are the dangers of abusing the powers of AI, especially when we talk about deep fakes, ransomware attacks, and copyright infringements. Could you tell us how AI leadership can bring more transparency to the whole job marketplace to meet the above-mentioned challenges?

As an economist, I’m probably not the best person to weigh in on trust and security-related topics, but as we consider business leaders’ responsibilities as this AI transformation begins, there are a couple of things I’d like to mention.

We are just starting to scratch the surface and many companies are just starting to invest in AI training. Employers must be thoughtful about what AI means for their employees, ethical about how they bring in AI, and invest in the needed training for their employees. It is also critical to ensure cross-sector outreach to diverse communities and to invest in skills that can help lead to expanded access to opportunity. Employers will need to be conscious of training both more senior and junior employees in AI.

It’s also important that mitigation and strict guidelines are in place to ensure that AI is not disproportionately impacting one group of people over another. As one example, in terms of representation right now in AI, we are seeing that the artificial intelligence sector is overwhelmingly represented by men (70%) compared to women (~30%) — this makes men more than twice as likely as women to be in the AI industry. So these are some of the things business leaders need to consider and be thoughtful about moving forward as AI becomes more mainstream.

Age is just a number in the digital space. What does your Future of Work report state about the excitement around AI among different age groups?

When it comes to conversations around AI and overall excitement for AI, we see that younger generations are particularly excited about AI and how it could help them in their careers.

We know that Millennials and Gen Z are driving the bulk of conversations around AI on LinkedIn (45% and 26%, respectively). At the same time, Millennial and Gen Z survey respondents globally expressed noticeably higher excitement than their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts when it comes to AI’s ability to provide access to knowledge and information faster, improve the quality of their work (copywriting, creating presentations, etc.), and help them summarize a lot of information quickly.

In addition, Millennials and Gen Z professionals globally are the most likely to say they’ve begun experimenting with AI tools like ChatGPT and Microsoft Copilot at work, as well as most likely to say they’ve taken an online course to better understand AI. In the U.S., Gen Z are 1.6 times more likely to want to learn AI skills than Boomers and 1.1 times more likely than Gen X.

Your predictions on AI’s role in democratizing workplace equality globally?

Unlike the rise of machinery and automation, or any number of technological advancements that have largely displaced select subsets of workers, the AI revolution is poised to transform over 50% of jobs across all professional levels, education levels, and industries. So, the impact of AI will be felt more evenly across the workforce than we’ve seen in the past, which is worth noting.

We at LinkedIn believe that the rapid rise of AI will produce opportunities for professionals of all levels of education and years of experience to not only find but excel in their roles. Over the past decade, and particularly during the pandemic when employers were deeply struggling to fill open roles, we’ve observed a steady move away from relying on degrees or years of experience in a hiring situation and towards skills-first hiring among business leaders.

The rise of AI is accelerating this shift. Employers are increasingly looking for professionals who can demonstrate specific skills — both hard skills and people skills. With AI being so new and rapidly evolving, professionals who embrace it early on and begin to gain AI literacy will have the upper hand when looking for a job, even if they don’t have the strongest “traditional” professional background (like a four-year-degree or a decade of experience).

We also believe the rise of AI within the workplace will in some ways reduce the need for specialized knowledge on a certain topic or industry overall, thereby making job mobility more possible. For instance, having the AI skills and literacy to draft a white paper, create a promotional video, or translate a company-wide memo into different languages may become just as valuable to an employer as having a background in film production or fluency in several languages. It therefore becomes a matter of knowing how to use AI to create those things, rather than necessarily needing to know them themselves. If you can acquire those AI skills and learn how to generate the end-result you need, in many ways those skills become industry- and role-agnostic and can be applied very widely.

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Additionally — and this is one of the things LinkedIn members are most excited about when it comes to AI — tapping into AI tools can remove much of the day-to-day busy work that many professionals do regularly. By automating many tedious and time-consuming tasks like note-taking in a meeting, researching, summarizing documents, and scheduling, AI can enable us to unblock our schedules and to-do lists and give us more time to hone our creativity, passions, and people skills. The hope is that AI will ultimately bring us greater satisfaction in our jobs and enable us to make a greater impact in our careers.

Thank you, Dr. Karin! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

Dr. Karin Kimbrough is LinkedIn’s Chief Economist, leading a team of economists tracking, analyzing, and reporting on key workforce and labor market trends unfolding on the platform. Prior to joining LinkedIn in 2020, she served as the Assistant Treasurer for Google and the Managing Director and Head of Macroeconomic Policy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Additionally, Kimbrough worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the Markets Group and as an Economist and FX Strategist at Morgan Stanley in London.

Kimbrough currently serves on the boards of Fannie Mae. She also serves on the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Academic Advisory Council, the Economic Advisory Panel of the New York Fed, and is a member of the Board of Directors at NBER and SIEPR. She holds a Bachelor’s from Stanford University, a Master’s from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Oxford.

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