20 Apr 2023
by Zahra Bahrololoumi

Generative AI growth is a powerful reminder of the UK digital skills gap (guest blog by Salesforce)

We live in a world where tech moves fast. The exponential growth of ChatGPT has made that clear, gaining over 100 million users since November. This particular innovation represents a watershed moment for the tech industry, with the potential to fundamentally transform how work gets done.

But as we begin to understand the potential of generative AI, our research has revealed that just one in 10 UK workers feel that they currently have AI skills. It’s another powerful reminder of the digital skills crisis facing the UK.

A lack of digital confidence

Salesforce recently surveyed 1,640 UK adults in a variety of industries on their current workplace skills and attitudes towards AI. Workers agree that skills related to new fast-growth technologies like generative AI are important. Nearly a quarter rank AI skills as among the top three most important digital skills right now, and they believe AI will be the most important skill to have over the next five years.

However, there is a lack of digital confidence. Three in four (75%) UK workers don’t feel ready to operate in a digital world. It’s a reality highlighting to us that we need to do a much better job of explaining just how accessible digital skills can be - especially those related to AI.

UK workers report AI, coding and app development as the fastest growing and most in-demand digital skills today. But not everyone needs to learn how to code in the generative AI era. Generative AI will need storytellers and marketeers as much as engineers. If AI creates a website landing page, for example, then talented humans will be needed to tailor the copy, so that it fully engages the end user. It’s all about showing people where exactly, and often how easily, they can fit into the digital-first workplace.

Recognising the value of AI

More UK workers are excited about generative AI’s use in their workplace (49%) than worried about it replacing them (38%). Half of respondents understand how this new technology will impact their work and industry which chimes with interest from management: almost half (46%) of UK people leaders say that their company is considering ways to use generative AI.

Workers clearly recognise that the path forward requires reskilling and upskilling, and want to be part of it. An emphatic 96% believe businesses should prioritise AI skills as part of the strategy to develop their workforce. How people work, and what they value about their jobs, is fundamentally changing.

Preparing for a skills-based future

The lightening speed of innovation means we have to be more efficient and effective when digitally upskilling people. Therefore, the role of business to provide agile, accessible, ever-evolving skills-based development in the workplace is growing in importance.

It’s imperative if we are to meaningfully tackle the UK’s digital skills gap. And, encouragingly, many companies are already shifting toward skills-based hiring. Most (82%) people leaders we surveyed said that skills are the most important attribute when evaluating candidates, overtaking relevant degrees and qualifications. In turn, the vast majority (87%) of UK workers now consider skills-based experience more important than a degree when trying to land a job in today’s market.

Additionally, people leaders believe that prioritising employees’ digital skills development will have similarly positive impacts on wider business performance - citing including increased productivity (47%), team performance (43%), and problem-solving capabilities (40%).

Tackling the UK’s widening digital skills gap together

Business can further address the digital skills challenge by working closely alongside government, academia and non-profits to raise awareness of the resources already available for people at different points in their careers.

That’s why Salesforce is urging business and government to establish a national online digital skills platform. This would promote the critical long-term value of digital skills, and show people of all ages and abilities how these skills can open doors to all kinds of careers - AI-related or otherwise.

Trailhead is a free and gamified way to learn in bite-sized chunks in your own time, including content on AI. It takes individuals from a low level of technical knowledge to a Salesforce certification across a whole range of skillsets in as little as six months.

Achieving our full potential

The UK government made its commitment to AI innovation clear during the Spring Budget, launching an annual £1m prize for ground-breaking AI technology. But exciting commitments like this will only have real impact if we strengthen our focus on digital skills today.

As the UK’s technological horizons widen, so must those for the millions of people now navigating an incredible new era of digital transformation. That way we will ensure new innovations are developed and used responsibly, and positively impact UK business and society for years to come.

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Zahra Bahrololoumi

CEO, Salesforce UK