Businesses lack AI skills

A lack of home-grown talent is among the factors that mean British businesses are facing a shortage of AI skills. Other worries include a possible loss of skilled staff when the UK exits the European Union.

Many workers in clerical roles fear for the future of their jobs as artificial intelligence takes off. For the technical staff involved in creating AI systems, the opposite is true, with more vacancies than there are people to fill them.

Demand for people with AI skills has taken off since 2014 and there currently around two jobs for every candidate. This has led to a parallel rise in the salaries being offered to those with machine learning and AI skills. Although the Government has launched initiatives to encourage more people to study STEM subjects, these have yet to filter through to the workplace.

The shadow of Brexit has added to concerns over AI skills too. Research in 2017 by Deloitte [1] revealed that although the UK is still seen as one of the most attractive places to work, 65 percent of skilled workers from the EU now say they see its attractiveness reduced. There is a flip side, however, as Deloitte points out that for lower-skilled work, the three sectors with most EU workers are in the top four with the greatest potential to be automated.

While there’s some reassurance offered by the news that EU workers arriving in the Brexit transition period will be allowed to stay, it’s still too early to know what the full effect of leaving the EU will be, but it’s an area that businesses are watching closely.

The AI advantage

There’s interest in using AI in many areas. The cybersecurity industry, in particular, has been quick to see the benefits it can offer, such that it has become a priority for both developers and those looking to buy security products.

Search giant Google has also been keen to adopt AI, particularly in areas such as image recognition. As early as 2015, Google’s then engineering director Mike Warriner was warning that finding AI experts was one of the company’s greatest challenges. [2]

In some ways, AI can help to solve the skills shortage in information security. It can take on the tedious and repetitive tasks – such as analysing security logs and network traffic or spotting suspicious user behaviour patterns – and allow human workers to concentrate on the items that need intervention. AI can help in the handling of big data too, finding patterns in unstructured information, for example, which can help to drive marketing and finance systems.

All of these areas have potential to gain from the introduction of AI, but could, of course, be held back by a shortage of skills. This is not only a UK problem, Australia [3] and other countries around the world are facing similar problems in finding the AI skills they need for projects. If ever there was a time to consider a career in AI, it’s now.


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