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AI skill shortage a major threat to UK tech leadership ambitions

Posted: 9 March 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

The UK’s ambitions to become a global leader in AI and technology, could be at risk due to a major shortage in qualified candidates in the current market.

According to recruitment firm Jobsite, who serves more than 120,000 jobs to seven million candidates per month, the number of vacancies related to AI, automation and machine learning posted on its website, have increased by nearly 30 per cent between 2015 to 2016. A figure is expected to continue to rise steeply in the coming months and years.

However, feedback shows that 60 per cent of recruiters who have already begun to adopt new technologies into their business, are struggling to fill those positions as a result of inadequate and under qualified candidates – threatening progress.

Speaking excuisvely to Access AI, Jobsite head of marketing, Fiona Rigby said: “Given the skill shortage across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions in general, it’s perhaps unsurprising that over 60 per cent of recruiters we spoke to aren’t confident the candidate pool is sufficient to fill these roles at the moment.”

“It’s perhaps unsurprising that over 60 per cent of recruiters we spoke to aren’t confident the candidate pool is sufficient to fill these roles at the moment.”

Skill-Up

Last month, the government announced it was to launch a review into its AI and robotics strategy with an aim to make the UK a world leader in the tech space. It has so far committed £17.3 million in university research in driving advancements in the technology and software.

A recent report from consultancy firm Accenture, titled ‘AI is the future of growth’, forecasts that AI could add around £654 billion to the UK economy.

To help ensure opportunities are maximised, Jobsite is encouraging the UK public, be it those in current education or those currently in work –  including those in their 30,40,50’s – to boost their skillset now to safegard their future – particulalry if their jobs are replaced by AI.

It’s never too late,” said Rigby. “People are working later and, unlike previous generations, are sometimes having two or three careers in a lifetime. It doesn’t even have to be as radical as that: as we’ve seen, the overall feeling is that AI will enhance existing jobs so, as long as workers remain open to embracing that, they can utilise the freed up time to add back to the business in other areas.

“People are working later and, unlike previous generations, are sometimes having two or three careers in a lifetime”

Attitude to AI / job fears

In February this year (2017), Jobsite, conducted a survey of more than 4,000 employees on their attitudes towards AI being implemented in the workplace

The feedback was “overwhelmingly” positive towards the implementing new technology, particularly around automation. Something it says differs heavily from the often negative perception in the press.

The results showed that 54 per cent of the 4,000-plus questioned, believed that advances will actually enhance their existing jobs, compared with only 33 per cent who fear jobs to be at risk.

Respondents believe AI could enhance their work by helping them perform tasks quicker (63%) and allowing them to focus on more meaningful work (55%). Of the tasks expected to be assisted by automation, customer billing (52%), cybersecurity (49%) and administration (46%) came out on top.

However, some surveyed showed concern for negative implications such as their skills becoming obsolete (37%), two thirds of respondents were already taking practical steps to pursue education in this area to improve their prospects.

Most impacted

Industries expected to be the most affected by automation, based on the results, were listed as: manufacturing and banking. Meanwhile in sectors requiring a more hands-on, human approach such as social care and management, the risk appears to be minimal.

“The age of automation is fast approaching and, although we’re beginning to hear stories of this impacting jobs overseas, it appears Britain believes that AI is friend not foe,” said Jobsite CEO Nick Gold said. “This technology is a powerful tool to create efficiencies but, like other technologies have done before, new opportunities and jobs will be created in its wake.

“One thing is clear – automation is here to stay and is only going to become more accessible. We’d advise workers to proactively skill up, in order to keep up!”

“In a job market riddled with skill shortages workers should be embracing automation, as businesses use advances in technology to bridge the skills gap. Research conducted by Jobsite, for example, showed cybersecurity staff were expected to be among the most in-demand for 2017, but perhaps this is a problem artificial intelligence can solve.

“So far this mirrors what we’re seeing on our website; with vacancy numbers steadily rising, it would seem that job losses are a way off. As such, candidates should not be discouraged. Whether you’re a fan or a critic, one thing is clear – automation is here to stay and is only going to become more accessible. We’d advise workers to proactively skill up, in order to keep up!”

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