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AI skills crisis must be prioritized by businesses worldwide

The AI skills crisis must be prioritized by businesses worldwide
(Image credit: Pixabay)

AI is permeating every part of our lives – from supply chains to customer service and with promising impact. By 2030, AI is projected to add US$15 trillion to the global economy and boost enterprise profitability by an average of 38% by 2035 . However, the AI skills crisis is recognized as the biggest barrier for wider AI adoption, preventing it from fulfilling its true potential. The gap has emerged because of the accelerating pace of digitalization in the workplace, challenging our education system to prepare and train students with the skills needed to meet the demands of today’s world.

This year, COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change, with organizations across sectors looking to innovative technologies and new platforms to minimize disruption. As businesses consider how they can safeguard against future disruption it is clear that AI skills are needed to bridge the knowledge gaps that will enable business continuity.

Which industries are set to benefit?

AI is already providing solutions to highly complex challenges. For the Health and Life Science industry, the promise of AI is extensive. It can help physicians and researchers prevent disease, speed recovery, and save lives, by unlocking varied data sets to develop new insights. AI can enhance genomics processing and make medical image analysis quicker and more precise for personalized treatment. Elsewhere, the retail sector is set to be revolutionized by AI innovation. AI technologies are identifying and modifying large amounts of inventory distortion and internal loss, while making supply chains and product development more efficient and cost-effective.

The automotive industry is also set to benefit with car manufacturers looking at using AI for both navigation purposes as well as in-car virtual assistants. Car manufacturers have already started embedding AI services such as Amazon Alexa into vehicles to allow passengers to control technology in the car through natural language voice commands.

AI also offers governments opportunities to utilize the data at their disposal for social good. Globalization, urbanization, an aging population and complex socio-economic problems are a few of the issues putting pressure on public services. With impending budget cuts from the COVID-19 pandemic, governments need to find solutions that are both cost-effective and sustainable. AI can help governments solve these challenges by streamlining processes and enhancing the work that humans do allowing them to focus more on the innovation side of things.

How to close the AI skills gap

Although most organizations are investing in AI, more than half don’t have the required in-house skilled talent to execute their strategy. However, simply increasing the number of students in STEM and computer science subjects will not solve the issue – the number of computer science graduates in the UK would need to rise ten-fold to meet 2022 demand.

Other than increasing resources for STEM subjects, organizations and public sector bodies large and small have a role to play in reducing the AI skills shortage; from international collaborative efforts to internal programs. For example, there are many measures that companies can take to reduce the AI skills gap themselves. These include creating courses that support learning among the existing workforce, offering lessons and hands-on opportunities with digital tools and skills, and striking a balance between hiring external experts and recruiting existing staff when implementing new smart technology projects. 

This creates opportunities for people to learn on the job and transition with the business. However, these ideas need to be actioned urgently. According to The World Economic Forum report highlighting Economic Commission figures, 37% of workers in Europe are not digitally literate, nor do they have the more advanced and complex AI skills companies need to successfully adopt new technologies.

Digital literacy is an ongoing issue in the UK and globally, which has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. The pandemic has highlighted our reliance on virtual communications, but it has also served to shine a spotlight on the UK’s digital divide, which has been the reality for 22% of the UK’s population who lacked basis digital skills long before the pandemic. Looking to the next generation, we have a responsibility to ensure that young people from all backgrounds and regions have the skills they need to take part in, and benefit from, the AI-driven economy.

AI for education

Over the last couple of years, we’ve started to see commitments being made from governments and organizations to bridge the skills gap. In 2017, the UK government launched a “£1 billion” sector deal for AI as part of plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business. The deal involves establishing a technical education system including investment in math, digital, technical education helping to address the STEM skills deficit. Additionally, plans to create a new National Retaining Scheme that supports people to re-skill, beginning with a £64 million investment for digital and construction training.

At Intel, we recently launched a comprehensive AI-readiness program called ‘Intel AI for Youth’. The broad goal of the program is to empower 30 million students globally at K-12, vocational schools and colleges across 30 countries with AI skills. The aim is to integrate AI across subjects like Math, Science, Language and History.

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted every aspect of education from the initial shift to online learning, teachers dealing with slashed budgets and reduced resources to readjusting to in-person teaching with a whole host of new restrictions and guidelines to adhere to. Schools, colleges and universities continue to be under immense pressure to combat the challenges of protecting learning in the face of unprecedented disruption. In light of this, preparing for the academic year ahead will be done through a slightly altered lens. It’s anticipated new learning initiatives such as this will provide a useful option for educators who want to introduce their students to the world of AI and help prepare them for the workplace of the future.

Over the next decade, there needs to be a commitment across industries to demystify AI and democratize our understanding by introducing AI readiness programs for current and future workforce and wider citizens. Empowering and upskilling today’s workforce will the lay foundation for growth and enable the economy to adjust to future disruptions. For governments, businesses and education institutions, the urgent need to further help members of society understand and embrace the digital revolution and address the duality of the AI skills shortage and digital literacy has never been clearer.

  • Nina Woolvett, Sales Director, Intel Technology UK (Enterprise) at Intel.