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Closing the gap on UK AI skills

Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft
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The existing digital skills gap sees the UK lose out on £63 billion every year. And, with increased digitalisation across even traditional sectors, this figure is set to rise unless action is taken soon.

Whilst digital transformation has grown exponentially over the last decade, nobody expected the hyper-acceleration of transformational forces in 2020, propelled by the Coronavirus pandemic and urgent shift to remote working. Across every industry, evolving technologies have been instrumental in instigating this seismic shift.

However, whilst technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation, and cloud computing enable opportunities for growth, their development also puts greater strain on the already-widening skills gap.

AI is everywhere

Artificial intelligence is all around us. Interfaces such as Alexa or Siri can be found in almost every UK car or living room. And, from behavioural analytics platforms that help cybersecurity teams recognise attackers quicker, to those using AI to automate software development, the business landscape is changing at a rapid pace.

However, Microsoft’s recent AI Skills in the UK report, identified that the UK is facing an AI skills gap that could leave companies struggling to compete with rivals from across the world. Not only are only 15% of UK companies classified as advanced ‘AI pros’ compared to 23% of global companies, but only 52% of UK employees use AI at work, compared to 69% globally.

Employers will have to address the growing skills gap within the workforce to ensure their business is able to fully leverage every digital transformation investment that’s made. After all, with AI technologies becoming as commonplace as word processing or email, employees need to be able to adapt and use these tools confidently – whilst organisations should take every opportunity to remain competitive globally and address the gaps in workforce readiness.

Closing the gap in Four Steps

To close the AI skills gap, organisations need to invest in building the skillsets of their workforce, developing a culture of continuous learning and applying fresh thinking to help employees navigate the next wave of digital transformation. To do this, they should focus on four key steps:

1. Embracing AI

To be truly successful in this new digital era, organisations looking to adopt AI to transform how their business operates will need to prepare their workforces for change. This goes beyond simple learning resources and requires business leaders to focus on developing a real and tangible change in organisational culture to help employees embrace AI technology.

Employers should demonstrate the benefits of AI to their employees, so they understand how new technology makes their jobs quicker and easier, enabling employees to focus on less manual and more strategic tasks. Furthermore, building the breadth of new skills to take advantage of the AI revolution, will itself require AI-powered technology – playing a key part in the delivery of learning and development strategies.

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2. Creating agile workers

As the war for talent intensifies, employee development and talent pooling will also become increasingly vital to building a modern workforce that’s adaptable and flexible. Dell’s Digital Transformation Index study reveals that 45% companies are concerned about becoming obsolete in just 3-5 years, with 73% believing they need to be more ‘digital’ to ensure future success.

As technologies such as AI change the way we work, they will require people and their skills to change with it. This highlights the value of developing an agile workforce, made up of employees who are able to listen to market needs and navigate change.

3. Reskilling employees

Hiring workers with adequate technological skills isn’t always a realistic solution. Instead, organisations should look to reskill from within their organisation, so their employees are able to learn and understand key AI skills. After all, whilst 35% of UK business leaders foresee an AI skills gap in the next two years, only 17% of UK employees are being re-skilled for AI, compared to 28% globally.

Proactivity is key if UK businesses are able to compete with global businesses – and employers should focus on helping employees understand key AI skills to take their organisation to the next level. Business leaders need to work proactively to help their teams stay on the cutting edge, minimising talent gaps by building, extending and expanding the skills of their current team.

4. A dedication to lifelong learning

Ultimately, the most successful organisations embrace adaptability by creating a culture of skills development and inspiring their employees to continuously learn. Lifelong learning gives workers the opportunity to learn new skills that will increase their ability to utilise new technologies and shift into new roles.

This requires new training models and approaches that include on-the-job training and opportunities that support and signpost workers to opportunities to match their skills. Investing in digital talent platforms that foster fluidity will also be key. Adopting a culture of continuous learning refocuses training to develop competencies, rather than job-specific skills, that can be nurtured over time.

The coronavirus pandemic has blown away the barriers to digital transformation, with technologies such as AI developing more rapidly than ever before. But, if businesses do not change with it, then UK businesses risk falling further behind its global competitors. Lifelong learning will create upskilling, reskilling and job transitioning opportunities that will enable employees to embrace new technologies such as AI. This will help cultivate a future-fit resilient workforce that is prepared for future possibilities, working towards closing the skills gap for good.

Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President EMEA, Skillsoft

Agata leads the Skillsoft field operations, to include enterprise and small & mid-market, as well as channel sales and strategic alliances across Europe, Middle East and Africa.

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