Employers must engage “head on” with generative AI (Gen AI) to cater for an incoming cohort of workers who, as current university students, are twice as likely to use Gen AI than employees, Deloitte has advised in an inaugural study of Gen AI’s educational impact.

Fully 58 per cent of respondents to the new Deloitte Access Economics (DAE) study said they are already using Gen AI, with students nearly twice as likely as employees to respond in the affirmative.

The results of the Australia-wide survey – which included 550 university students and 2,000 current employees across 18 industries – showed a strong age bias amongst use of Gen AI tools, with students three times more likely to be using the tools compared to mid-career workers.

Access to the technology “makes me feel less stressed and anxious about assessments,” one student said. “I almost feel as though I have a study buddy or friends to help me through.”

Existing users reported strong positive benefits from their use of Gen AI – even after accounting for those reporting Gen AI-use as a hobby – with 68 per cent of students reporting that using Gen AI tools has improved their ability to understand new information.

Among employees who use some Gen AI tools daily, the tools are estimated to be saving 5.3 hours per week – with Google’s Bard AI, for example, speeding the extraction and analysis of business data and “proving invaluable for managing large data sets.”

Gen AI “is creating a more profound relationship between humans and technology than the internet, the smartphone, and the cloud did before it,” the report notes, predicting that “this incredible productivity tool will create disruption on an unprecedented scale.”

“It’s driven by everyday users who are experimenting at the coalface, and leading this revolution is the so-called Generation AI – the group of students and recent graduates who are growing up in a world where AI is already integrated into their daily lives.”

Gen AI set to redefine the workplace

These benefits, the report notes, “could make the four-day working week a reality” – although much of workers’ Gen AI usage remains informal and surreptitious for now.

Although 32 per cent of employees reported using some kind of Gen AI for work purposes, nearly two thirds believe their manager doesn’t know about it.

With today’s university students set to enter the workforce soon – 40 per cent of respondents said they expected to enter professional services jobs, 26 per cent public sector roles, and 23 per cent other services – they will expect to use Gen AI in their everyday work activities.

With 26 per cent of Australia’s economy set to be “instantly disrupted by Gen AI”, the report notes, embracing Gen AI will be crucial to boost Australia’s standing as having the second-lowest Gen AI adoption of 14 major economies.

Yet with two in five employees admitting their business is not ready for AI, employers don’t have long before they will be forced to reckon with a new breed of graduates for whom Gen AI is an everyday work partner.

Gen AI “will no doubt change the way work gets done and test how emerging technology can transform businesses from within,” advised John Mahony, DAE lead partner for technology, who advised business leaders to “take concerted and strategic action” to ensure current employees can work with Gen AI natives when they arrive.

“To realise the benefits associated with Gen AI,” he said, “leaders need to address these issues head on and avoid any knee-jerk reactions.”

Gen AI concerns remain

The findings corroborate a range of recent surveys identifying strong Gen AI usage and support, with two-thirds of respondents to a Getapp survey of 463 Gen AI users admitting they frequently use Gen AI tools at work – and that just 52 per cent say their firm has regulations in place, highlighting the need for companies to get acquainted with the technology's risks.

Similarly, a recent Datacom survey found that 72 per cent of business leaders know AI is already being used within their organisation and 80 per cent feel “well educated” on its security risks – with Datacom director of strategy and solutions Mark Hile noting that “mature data access policies and governance are now critical foundations before AI can be implemented successfully with suitable guardrails.”

Despite their enthusiasm for Gen AI’s benefits, respondents to the Deloitte survey were also worried – with 75 per cent expressing concerns about its use of personal, confidential, or sensitive information and 73 per cent concerned about its tendency to make factual errors.

Fully 70 per cent of executives believe use of Gen AI will create more security risks, with 68 per cent of respondents citing concerns about regulatory uncertainty and a lack of transparency.

And nearly two in three respondents worry that using Gen AI will lead to poor perceptions from clients, managers, or professors.

The findings “stress the imperative of Gen AI fluency,” the report notes, “not just in understanding its ability to hallucinate, but also in how it is and isn’t being used in business.”

“Trust is everything when it comes to AI.”