Recruiting, Technology

5 Critical Skills HR Leaders Must Hire and Train for in an AI-Dominated Workplace

There is no question that virtually every job will eventually be affected by AI. Forrester predicts that approximately 8% of US knowledge workers will leverage Gen AI as Microsoft begins rapid roll-out of Microsoft 365 Copilot. In some ases, AI will simply be complementary to the job as AI helps reshape workflows, assists with task completion and enhances productivity. A study by the University of Pennsylvania and Open AI found that approximately 80% of the US workforce could have at least 10% of their work tasks impacted by Gen AI. The same study found that nearly 20% of employees might see at least 50% of their tasks impacted. Many historically important “hard” skills and hiring credentials will rapidly become obsolete. This should put HR leaders on notice.

As organizations look to augment with AI, they must ask themselves if their employees possess the necessary skills to support this augmentation? While most attention on hiring for AI is directed toward scarce and expensive talent with hard AI coding skills such as AI developers and engineers, data scientists and data modelers, etc., there is not enough emphasis placed on which broader workforce skills HR should prioritize against the backdrop of AI. What skills should HR departments hire and train for most in this rapidly evolving AI landscape? These are the five skills that rise to the surface for HR.

Social Interaction Skills

In a world of AI many jobs will continue to require advanced social skills.  Whether it is about emotional self-regulation, listening to others in meetings or collaborating with team-mates under pressure, social skills reign supreme in the modern workplace. According to a 2015 working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, almost all job growth since 1980 has been seen in jobs that are social-skill intensive, while jobs that require minimal social interaction have been in decline. Studies have shown that the use of AI material reduces the performance gap between employees with different levels of aptitude and seniority. The drop in that gap makes any gap in social skills more pronounced, emphasizing the importance of interpersonal communication, teamwork, and emotional intelligence in today’s workplace. Those who never learned how to play well with others in the kindergarten sandbox have some significant ground to make up, while those who excel in this arena will reap increasing benefits.


The broad generalization that AI will replace humans in the workplace is incorrect, but it’s very likely that humans who leverage AI will replace humans who fail to do so. A recent study found that knowledge workers who used Chat GPT 4.0 completed 12.2% more tasks, 25.1% faster and with 40% great quality over those who did not use AI to perform their work.[i] That’s astonishing data, especially the data on the increased quality level of work output. And human workers who leverage AI and who demonstrate a combination of strong creativity and critical thinking skills will fare the best. Why? There is a significant degree of creativity involved in engineering AI prompts that result in the more fruitful responses. Designing AI prompts is not just a matter of simple instruction; it is an art that requires a significant degree of creativity. Prompt creation can involve engineering prompts to perform multi-step instructions, generate hypotheses, engage in Socratic questioning, etc. The success of an AI-generated output is directly tied to the quality, specificity, and ingenuity of the prompt it receives. A creatively-crafted prompt acts a catalyst, steering the AI towards more insightful, relevant, and nuanced responses. Conversely, a vague, poorly engineered prompt often leads to generic, off-target output. Crafting effective prompts requires an understanding of the AI’s capabilities and limitations, a clear vision of the desired outcome and a heavy dose of creativity. As AI becomes more integral in the workplace, the ability to design impactful prompts will become a crucial skill, marrying the realms of technology and creativity. A creative human mind lies at the center of brilliant prompt engineering.

Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking must be then be applied to evaluate AI responses. Not all responses will be valid, unbiased, factual or error-free. It’s in the evaluation of prompts where human logical reasoning, reflective thinking, rational thought, and unbiased evaluation come into play. While AI can generate vast amounts of data, analyses, and potential solutions at unprecedented speed, the veracity and applicability of generative AI’s responses are not guaranteed. Employees are pushing generative AI systems to take on more monumental tasks, but many important questions about the performance of these systems remain because generative AI solutions like ChatGPT can generate coherent nonsense. These technologies, while sophisticated, base their outputs on patterns identified from vast datasets, which may contain inherent biases and inaccuracies.

This is where the uniquely human skill to think critically becomes indispensable. Logical reasoning enables us to dissect AI outputs, identifying potential flaws or inconsistencies. Reflective thinking encourages employees to consider the broader implications and contexts of the information presented to them. Rational thought allows us to weigh the evidence, discerning between the relevant and the extraneous. Unbiased evaluation ensures that we remain vigilant to potential biases, both from the AI and from our own preconceptions. Employees cannot afford to be passive of generative AI output. They must become active evaluators, synthesizers, and decision-makers. An employee’s ability to critically assess, challenge, and refine AI outputs will determine the success of the human-AI collaboration. And yet, organizations may have a lot of work to do to prepare employees to think more critically about AI-generated output. According to Forrester, only about half of employees today believe they know when to question the outputs of AI and this may be an unrealistically optimistic finding.


Curiosity is an innate drive to explore, understand, and seek information about the world around us. An eagerness to discover leads an employee to ask questions, probe into things, challenge assumptions and delve deeper. Curiosity encourages individuals to venture outside their comfort zones and engage with unfamiliar concepts, ideas, and experiences. In the age of AI, where algorithms and machines can rapidly process and present vast amounts of data, curiosity becomes more important than ever. Curiosity drives problem formulation, and as generative AI systems become more adept at understanding the intent behind Gen AI prompts, formulating the “problem to be solved” becomes more valuable than engineering the prompt itself. While AI can identify patterns, predict outcomes, and automate complex tasks, it lacks a depth of understanding that stems from genuine human curiosity. Employee value shifts from simply having knowledge to applying curiosity: the ability to question, interpret, and reimagine that knowledge. By constantly asking “why” or “how,” curious people arrive at the kinds of novel solutions and innovative ideas that companies need in the age of AI.

Unbiased, Ethical Decision-Making

In the age of AI, where decisions are increasingly informed or even made by algorithms, unbiased, ethical decision-making becomes paramount. AI systems operate on enormous datasets and decisions are based on patterns drawn from this data. However, the datasets that AI relies upon can mirror and further amplify societal biases, leading AI to make discriminatory and unfair judgments. When left unchecked, AI biases perpetuate inequities and even lead to new forms of organizational discrimination. The consequences are potentially serious, from who the organization hires to who has access to a product or service. It is only the uniquely human skill of unbiased decision-making, ethical judgment and moral reasoning that can stand in harm’s way, serving as the last bulwark against an era of unchecked algorithmic injustice. It is the uniquely human skill of ethical decision-making that ensures that the AI deployed in the organization is never used in ways that are harmful, invasive, or unjust.

HR leaders must work with talent management and talent acquisition to prioritize these skills. Social skills, critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, and ethical decision-making should be prioritized in existing talent evaluation processes. These skills should also be incorporated and prioritized into hiring processes for new talent acquisition, through both formal and informal evaluation methods.

Formal evaluation methods for social skills can include emphasizing social interaction skills in reference checks, using tools or questionnaires designed to measure social skills and emotional intelligence, and assessment via automated role-playing exercises, for example. For creative thinking, candidates can be asked to respond to unusual or unexpected questions that require “on-the-spot” creative thinking. They can be asked to come up with a new product idea or a novel solution to a common problem in the sector. And more formal tools like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking can be used to assess creativity in a standardized way. To assess critical thinking, presenting candidates with real-world scenarios and asking them to solve problems or make decisions based on information provided can provide great insight into critical thinking capability. Asking specific, thought-provoking questions that require candidates to demonstrate their critical thinking processes and observing how candidates engage in discussions on complex topics are also important.

Interviewers should make note of a candidate’s ability to understand different perspectives and contribute insightful ideas. Asking questions that require more than a yes/no answer is key as this encourages candidates to articulate their thought processes. Tools like the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal assess a candidate’s ability to logically analyze assumptions, arguments, deductions, inferences, and interpret information. To assess curiosity, utilizing standardized psychometric testing designed to measure traits like openness to experience and intellectual curiosity can be helpful. Also, asking candidates questions that directly assess curiosity, such about their learning habits, interests outside of work, or times they pursued knowledge for its own sake is valuable. Talking to candidates about their professional journey, hobbies, or interests can be helpful in seeing the breadth and depth of their curiosity. Making careful observation about howcandidates ask questions or express interest in the company, role, or industry is valuable as well. For ethical decision-making, presenting candidates with hypothetical scenarios that pose moral or ethical dilemmas and asking them to explain their decision-making process is usually quite insightful. And inquiring about past experiences where the candidate faced ethical challenges or dilemmas and how they handled them can reveal fruitful insights.

Beyond training in how to use AI-enabled technologies, existing employees can receive training in these all-important skills, and especially in ethical decision-making, where specialized training developed by AI ethicist subject matter experts will be of increasing importance. For example, the workforce should understand how to identify the group or groups that may be adversely affected by biased decisions, determine potentially favored groups or protected attributes, and define which attributes must be excluded from features affecting model outcomes. Employees can also be trained by experts in understanding the basics of how AI and machine learning algorithms work so they can better interpret and question outputs. Finally, employees can be trained in how to think more critically about AI-generated output and how to question the logic, coherence, and consistency of the information presented by AI.

In conclusion, the rise of AI, particularly generative AI, will fundamentally alter the nature of skills deemed crucial in the workplace. The emphasis will shift towards skills that AI technology struggles to emulate, such as social skills, critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, and unbiased, ethical decision-making. The distinctly human ability to collaborate with others, lead with emotional intelligence, and adapt to rapidly evolving, uncertain environments will take center stage. And as generative AI systems produce vast amounts of content, skills related to curating, interpreting, and contextualizing AI-sourced information will become paramount. Organizational leaders especially require these skills, along with the ability to properly communicate the potential value of AI to employees. While AI will assume many previously prized “hard skills,” in talent management and acquisition, HR must prioritize in the distinctly human skills that allow for relationship-building, innovative thinking, and unbiased, ethical decision-making that will become ever more valued in the workplace.

Heide Abelli is an Adjunct Professor of Management at Boston College where she has taught Gen Z students for nearly a decade. She is also the co-founder of SageX Inc., an AI-enabled e-Coaching and performance support application for the modern workforce and she recently authored “You Got This! – The Ultimate Career Guide for the Modern Professional”. She is an accomplished executive who prior to SageX has held senior leadership positions at leading educational technology and training providers such as Skillsoft and Harvard Business Publishing where she developed award-winning, ground-breaking corporate training solutions. She is a seasoned veteran of product development, innovation and product management in the fields of corporate training and ed tech.

Heide is a globally recognized subject matter expert in the areas of leadership, management, general business skills, the unique skills required for success in the digital economy, employee learning and development and effective corporate training practices.

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