Mark Kashef had long considered finance the most stable, lucrative field you could work in — until the release of ChatGPT.
On Nov. 30, 2022, the public gained access to OpenAI's chatbot, which could create human-like responses to simple prompts from users. Some people dismissed the chatbot as a fad, but Kashef, then 27, looked at the technology and saw only dollar signs.
The Ottawa native had recently left a career in finance to work in data science. He was happy in his new role as an engineer at Amazon but felt like he had hit a lull at work and craved a new challenge.
So, three days after ChatGPT was released to the world, he decided to cash in on the AI hype: He set up a profile on Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace, and started offering consultations on using generative AI for productivity and chatbot development.
"That's when the floodgates opened," he recalls. "I started getting dozens of requests per day and working 7 p.m. until 1 a.m. almost every night after I got off work on this new career as an AI consultant."
He had some experience working with emerging AI technologies: Kashef finished a master's degree in artificial intelligence management from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, in 2020 as he transitioned from working in finance to data science, which he says has also helped him set more competitive rates.
Kashef continues to run his AI consultancy on Fiverr outside of his day job as a data science manager at ODAIA, an AI-powered data analytics firm for pharmaceutical companies based in Toronto, charging as much as $750 per project.
"AI is still on the tip of everyone's tongue these days," he says. "Overall, it's been a nice market to work in." Kashef adds that, in the long term, he wouldn't be surprised if AI surpassed finance in terms of job opportunities and earning potential.
Economists and HR experts say the future of the AI job market is bright — but its success isn't guaranteed.
The introduction of ChatGPT two years ago brought AI to the forefront of public discourse and created new anxieties for workers who wondered if they'd see radical changes in their day-to-day routine because of AI or lose their jobs to a smarter, faster chatbot.
But AI could be creating more work opportunities than it takes. By 2025, the World Economic Forum predicts that while AI may replace around 85 million jobs, it will also create about 97 million new roles.
AI's sudden boom has sparked a wave of investment in hiring across industries.
Job postings on LinkedIn that mention either AI or generative AI more than doubled worldwide between July 2021 and July 2023 — and on Upwork, AI job posts increased more than 1,000% in the second quarter of 2023, compared to the same period last year.
Companies like Meta, Netflix and Amazon have hired more workers to develop AI models in recent years, even offering salaries as high as $900,000, Business Insider reports.
Generative AI has created new types of jobs like prompt engineers and chief AI officers and ushered in an industry of remote six-figure side hustles like AI content editing and graphic design.
Much of the hiring for AI roles including data scientists and software developers continues to be for temporary contract or freelance roles as companies are still figuring out if, and how, they want to monetize this technology, ZipRecruiter chief economist Julia Pollak explains.
"If you look at the descriptions for AI job postings, many of the roles are still very exploratory, alluding to building or testing new products," Pollak says. "A lot of companies still don't seem to know how best to harness these tools in their businesses and are still hiring people who can help them figure it out and decide if they should make a long-term investment in AI talent."
Several industries outside of tech have demonstrated a clear, consistent interest in hiring for AI jobs, including retail, finance, health care and education, Pollak notes. But it will take "at least a few years" for more industries to catch up, she adds.
"There's a pervasive sense of hesitation right now, where companies are waiting to see what their competition is doing and how it benefits their business then deciding if and how they should invest in AI technology or talent from there," says Trey Causey, head of responsible AI at Indeed.
As of December 2023, less than 2% of job postings on Indeed mention AI, and many of those jobs are concentrated in tech, sales, math and science fields — all industries, Causey points out, that have been using AI long before ChatGPT was launched.
While some AI jobs require a bachelor's degree, a growing number of roles place a higher emphasis on technical skills and work samples.
Skills-based hiring is a trend that has staying power in the AI job market, says Ryan Sutton, executive director of the technology practice at the recruitment firm Robert Half.
"Especially in a space that's evolving as quickly as AI, there's a lot of innovators that leave college early or decide not to go at all to work at startups or throw themselves into the field full time," he says. "Companies want to make sure they're hiring the best tech professionals, and that their roles are open to those people."
While Kashef doesn't regret obtaining his master's degree, he doesn't think an advanced degree is necessary to get ahead in the field.
"If I could go back, I probably wouldn't have finished a master's degree," he says. "You can easily teach yourself the skills and programs you need to work in AI online, and mastering those is what helps you stand out."
What's more, freelance job platforms like Fiverr and Upwork are seeing a rise in demand for AI services, many of which can be done remotely, creating new, flexible work opportunities that might not have existed five years ago.
Perhaps the most obvious drawback of working in a new, constantly evolving field like AI is the lack of job security.
"When it comes to working in AI, the upside is high, but so are the risks," says Pollak. "It's not yet a highly professionalized field with role bands, career ladders and title progressions."
Those developments are contingent upon the success and adoption of AI technology. "If the technology is popular and works well, the company will double down and invest in AI talent for the long haul, but if they don't, those teams will likely be disbanded," adds Pollak.
She stresses that people working in AI, at least in the short term, need to be prepared to switch jobs, and even industries, or possess transferable skills extending beyond just AI.
"Don't put all your eggs in one basket," says Pollak. "For example: If you're going to be an AI product manager, it's smart to be a great product manager, in general, who understands user experience, app design, etc. for other types of products as well."
For all the fears and doubts people have about how AI will disrupt the labor market, jobseekers' interest in working with AI has hardly slowed down, Causey notes, citing recent research from Indeed that shows demand for AI jobs is outstripping the number of open roles.
Kashef, a self-identified optimist, anticipates a future in which AI doesn't replace jobs, but is woven into the fabric of existing jobs across a wide range of industries, rather than siloed into a separate category.
Through his work with Fiverr, Kashef says he's excited to see how quickly non-tech businesses have adopted AI, whether it's real estate agents using the technology to generate new listings or executive assistants relying on AI-powered transcription services to summarize meeting notes.
"We don't know what AI is going to take away just as much as we don't know what it will give us in return," says Kashef. "What we do know is that AI isn't going to go away entirely, so it's smart to get comfortable with it — the bigger risk is staying away from AI and not embracing it at all."
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