27 Jul 2022

How Tech Sector is Significantly Disadvantaged by an AI Skills Shortage

Guest blog: Sreeram Visvanathan, Chief Executive of IBM UK and Ireland, exposes a worrying shortfall in skills required for a career in AI.

I believe that the last two decades in enterprise computing has been the prequel to the main act to follow.  In this main act, the winners will be enterprises willing to change, to question everything, to leverage the latest in digital innovation to scale the impact of AI, Hybrid Cloud and automation on every aspect of their business. 

The Covid pandemic disrupted business-as-usual for most companies, and several spined to digital technology, containing AI, to sustain operations. Earlier this year, IBM launched a study that revealed the size of the AI skills gap across Europe that found the tech sector is struggling to find employees with adequate AI knowledge or experience. The research found nearly 7 in 10 tech job seekers and tech employees believe that potential recruits lack the skills necessary for a career in AI. The impact of this deficit has the potential to stifle digital innovation and hold back economic growth.

Mind the gap

The IBM report, ‘Addressing the AI Skills Gap in Europe’, exposed a worrying shortfall in skills required for a career in AI. Although technical capabilities are vital for a career in the sector, problem solving is considered the most critical soft skill needed for tech roles among all survey participants (up to 37%). However, around a quarter of tech recruiters (23%) have difficulty finding applicants with this aptitude along with shortfalls in critical and strategic thinking. Along with soft skills, 40% of tech job seekers and employees noted that software engineering and knowledge of programming languages are the most important technical capabilities for the AI/tech workforce to have. 

How to address the issue

As AI moves into the mainstream, specialist tech staff are working more closely than ever with business managers. In order to secure the best possible outcomes, the soft skills of interpersonal communication, strategic problem solving, and critical thinking are required across all disciplines to help ensure the most beneficial personal interactions. Demonstrating these skills can greatly improve employability and career developments in AI.

The report showed that offering education and skills training is seen as a top priority for many companies looking to improve AI recruitment in the future. As a result, IBM have already taken proactive steps to help applicants and employees enhance their AI skills.

IBM launched IBM SkillsBuild, which brings together two world-class, skills-based learning programs—"Open P-TECH" and "SkillsBuild"—under one umbrella. Through the program, students, educators, job seekers, and the organisations that support them have access to free digital learning, resources, and support focused on the core technology and workplace skills needed to succeed in jobs. SkillsBuild is a free programme which contains an AI skills module for secondary education students and adults seeking entry-level employment.

Further concerted effort

A great deal remains to be done to solve this skills gap. However, I believe we can agree that a solution is achievable. What’s required now is for industry, government and academia to work together to put existing ideas into practice and to think of new ways to solve the challenge. At the start of the year, the DCMS announced £23 million of government funding to create 2,000 scholarships in AI and data science in England. The new scholarships from this funding will ensure more people can build successful careers in AI, create and develop new and bigger businesses, and will improve the diversity of this growing and innovative sector.  I hope to see further investment and programs such as ours with SkillsBuild as key drivers in change. Finding solutions and initiatives such as these will ensure we are providing a significant boost for the UK while providing a rewarding career for many.

This article was authored by Sreeram Visvanathan, Chief Executive of IBM UK and Ireland

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