AI’s Rise: Executives in Transition

AI’s Rise: Executives in Transition

Filter tag: AI and Digitisation, Change Management and Executive Outplacement, Leadership Capability, Strategies for Growth

The Rialto resident number cruncher has been tracking publicly-advertised executive-level vacancies for the past 12 months and our exclusive data for the year to October 31, 2023, reveals a truly worrying trend.*

Our analysis of the last year of publicly advertised senior vacancies looks like a Himalayan mountain range falling down to sea level – wild fluctuations bottoming out almost completely as traditional open c-level level positions all but dry up as the landscape shifts in the face of seismic shocks from the explosion of AI.

Here, Rialto director Richard Chiumento casts his expert eye over the figures –  and finds the bright spots on an otherwise gloomy horizon.


So, Richard, a pretty bleak picture emerging here?

In my 30 years of supporting global business leaders to take their next professional career transition I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it. It reflects what we’ve been hearing from our executive outplacement clients who are exploring moves into similar positions in different companies or sectors. Many come to us having drawn a complete blank with their usual actions of registering with headhunters (who have limited mandates to fill) or approaching target companies. I’m afraid this data only confirms worst fears. The volume of the most senior level positions is reducing quickly and substantially.


Which Executive roles have been hit hardest?

In terms of traditional mid and senior level executives and leaders, the decline in vacancies is across the board CEOs, CMOs, HR directors, NEDs, COOs, etc, and it is global. For example, our data shows that in November 2022 there were 12,761 publicly-advertised UK Chief Executive Officer vacancies. In October, 2023 the number was down to just 115. Non executive directors were down from 4,034 to 42 and chief operating officers dropped from 1,814 to 82.*

We have to be careful as these are not definitive figures but they do show real indicative trends which we discuss and use to plan successful strategies with our clients. We can also see old-style candidate profiles diminishing as traditional executive functions start to disappear.


What’s behind it?

A perfect storm of factors: the legacy of Covid, economic uncertainty, the geopolitical tensions in Russia, Ukraine and now the Middle East; inflation and rising interest rates have led to a cost of living crisis. Consumers are buying less and companies are reacting by investing in pay increases where possible and cutting their own costs where they can. They are accelerating digital transformation and investment in generative AI and other frontier technologies rather than people. Many have imposed a recruitment freeze and are choosing to reshuffle internally or are culling expensive senior staff – particularly those who have failed to stay relevant to organisational, market and customer needs and don’t recognise that they need to stay open to continuous learning.


So should people just hold on and wait for the storm to settle?

It’s not that simple I’m afraid and we tell our clients that doing nothing is not an option. Against the background of this inauspicious economic landscape we find ourselves in the midst of the greatest revolution to hit the workplace in history.

Last week, Elon Musk told Rishi Sunak he believed AI would one day make all job functions obsolete and that we would all get to choose whether we want to work as a sort of recreational hobby. I don’t buy into that though I do agree AI will have a seismically disruptive impact.

Historical projections about AI-related job losses have put the repetitive tasks in the firing line, driving, coding, accounting. However, our data shows that executive segments are equally vulnerable.

Senior level individuals are better off actively taking control of their career asset and driving assertively into the future instead of sitting back and allowing their value to rust and  depreciate.

I’ve been talking about the transformative impact of AI for a long time and it’s no co-incidence that we started tracking this data in November, 2022 when ChatGPT launched and changed the way work is done. The generative AI that powers it and other models such as Bard, Perplexity, Cohere Generate, AlphaCode, Synthesia, will have more of an impact on our lives and workplace than any other technological development in history. Companies are already drastically reducing and rebalancing their workforces as they adopt these efficient new technologies. Where they are recruiting in numbers it’s in these new technology-led spheres.

This is not like the previous downturns we have seen – this is the dawn of a new era and there’s no going back. But there are positives – there are new opportunities opening up which see executives working alongside AI, co-piloting, and these are the roles for the future.


What are the emerging executive roles?

We also analysed emerging roles being created by companies looking for different skill sets as they employ new business models, digital transformation and generative AI applications. They include chief automation officer, chief digital officer, chief data officer and chief experience officer. We are seeing real growth in these roles and a shortage of skills, in contrast to the massive oversupply of traditional senior role skillsets. It’s the new skillsets and opportunities we support our clients to pivot into.


What actions are you taking to enable clients to make the jump.

It’s more of a turn, a pivot, than a jump. We’ve been able to look at the big picture and join up the dots between old world and new.

We help senior executives realise how they need to adapt and evolve, upskill or reskill; that’s whether they wish to stay in their current role, move to a new company in a similar role or move into one of these new roles I’ve discussed. Some are doubtful, initially, either because they are fearful and overly-pessimistic about being obsolete or over-confident that they can live off past glories. Our market mapping data really supports what we’ve been advising them: they need to be as dynamic as the times, keep moving forwards.

We have a finely-tuned and highly successful programme to help them to stay relevant. We identify and evaluate their aspirations and risk factors against our knowledge and research of current market trends.

We identify the priorities, actions and opportunities that would best suit each individual according to their own unique set of goals, skills and experience. We encourage our senior level clients to feel positive and confident about their place in this new world and to be proactive about positioning themselves as the best, most informed, stand-out candidate when they set their sights on a new position.


How do you see the picture developing?

The existing world of work is dying and the skills that made people attractive to employers are dying with them in most sectors and in most functions. The pace of change is faster than I think almost everyone realises. The World Economic Forum says 1.1 billion workers will need to reskill before 2030. Our core message to clients is this: the executive job market is moving faster & is more disruptive than at any time in history – if you stand still, you’re going to get left behind.


Figures are not 100% accurate and should be read as a trend rather than as definitive data.

*Sources: LinkedIn up to July and Adzuna from August to October 2023. Figures are not 100% accurate and should be read as a trend rather than as definitive data.

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