Automation anxiety: are tech roles at risk of AI replacement?

As the adoption of generative AI continues apace, tech teams are increasingly concerned about their job prospects. How can businesses calm their fears, keep them engaged with transformation plans, and boost their productivity and creativity? 

A manager addressing a room full of employees

A recent survey paints a dire picture of how technology professionals feel about their career prospects. According to Computer Futures, more than a third (34%) are worried about losing their job because of AI automation, and more than half (53%) prioritise job security over a pay increase. The reasoning is simple: as more businesses turn to generative AI for tasks such as software development, what need is there for in-house specialists?

But there’s another, less gloomy side to this too. McKinsey estimates that improvements in productivity through generative AI could lead to annual gains of between $2.6tn and $4.4tn (£2.1tn-£3.5tn) for the global economy. Given that those gains cannot be realised unless businesses have the right talent on hand – talent which is still in short supply – tech professionals should be in high demand for some time yet. 

Gartner has found that 81% of IT teams are likely to grow this year despite – or rather because of – the arrival of AI. Another study by, a Glasgow-based tech recruitment platform, shows that 72% of UK businesses are engaged in digital transformation, and 30% of those say there’s too much work to do and not enough people to do it.

Why is there this disconnect between tech professionals’ fears and the demand for their skills? Experts say the problem is twofold. There’s a lack of communication on the leadership side as to what role AI plays in their digital transformation plans. And a lack of clarity over how IT roles and career paths will evolve. Both are key to easing some of the concerns and building a cohesive digital transformation strategy.

What does the arrival of AI mean for tech teams?

For Michael Renwick, head of data at asset management firm ICG, AI will take on some of the work that IT professionals do today – and that’s a good thing.

“When you build anything, there’s a small amount of work that’s new, creative or interesting. A large amount is boilerplate, repeated patterns from previous projects and it isn’t interesting work. AI can massively improve our productivity here,” he says.

If enterprises upskill people and enable them to use AI in a safe way, we’ll see a lot of innovation and growth

Renwick argues that this creates space for IT professionals to innovate in a way they haven’t been able to before, simply because they haven’t had the bandwidth. For instance, the accessible nature of generative AI means that commercial and IT teams now have an opportunity to collaborate more regularly. 

“This is one of the first times both technology and non-technology people can experiment with company information, work out where AI will be useful and where it won’t. I don’t think AI will replace people. It will simply allow an IT department that is smaller in size to potentially tackle more,” Renwick adds. 

Meanwhile, Sulabh Soral, chief AI officer at Deloitte Consulting, sees AI as a way to share specialist knowledge. “The IT skill levels in any organisation are quite heterogeneous. Not everyone’s a superstar coder, for instance. Most of the companies that are implementing AI-based coding co-pilots are using them as a force multiplier, not a replacement. They’re effectively democratising the technical knowledge of their workforce.”

Of course, most businesses are in the early stages of using these technologies. Soral thinks that as generative AI evolves and our understanding of its possibilities expands, the focus will shift from increasing productivity to uncovering novel applications. “If enterprises upskill people and enable them to use AI safely, we’ll see a lot more innovation and growth,” he says.

How to keep tech teams engaged as AI rolls out

Another key part of integrating AI as part of a digital transformation is acknowledging its limitations and inviting your tech team to test it and provide feedback. 

Lisa Thomson is an HR consultant to early-stage and high-growth companies and says the secret to success with a transformation project is for employees to feel involved. “You can’t over-communicate. You need to get people on board with you and get them to put forward suggestions,” she says. “Don’t just tell them what to do, make them feel involved.”

Giving employees agency, Thomson says, will help companies bridge the gap between the executive vision of what the technology offers and how its use affects the day-to-day lives of its workforce. Getting employees involved in testing and experimenting also creates a learning environment. 

Rich Wilson, CEO of, says that another way to keep employees engaged in an AI transformation is to examine how the change affects individual roles and to do something about that. “If businesses want to do this right, they need to perform skills-mapping up front to find all the people who will be affected by this change. Get to them early and look at the different ways in which you can engage or reskill them.”

Wilson has seen this work in the energy and banking sectors. When the introduction of chatbots affected helpdesk and call-centre workers, employers identified those whose jobs would be affected and the new skills the business would need. Employees were then retrained to work as UX designers, data or business analysts.

What does the future hold for AI-based digital transformations?

There’s a consensus, then, that the future of the tech profession is bright, but changing. Until March this year, four of the top five skills in demand at were around design and digital marketing. Now, the most sought-after skills are in data and AI. 

Wilson believes that as the AI hype settles, the number of AI use cases will stabilise. We’ll have more clarity around how businesses can use this technology, which will help to define new IT roles and responsibilities. 

Until then, the best thing both leaders and IT professionals can do is keep an open mind, experiment and keep on learning.