Leaders have increased confidence in digital skills

While Deloitte research shows that business leaders’ confidence in their own and new hires' digital skills has improved, concerns about keeping pace with new technologies and ethical use of AI persist

Business leaders’ confidence in the digital skills of new hires has increased in the past six months, according to Deloitte's Digital Disruption Index.

Now 18% of digital leaders believe that school leavers and graduates are entering work with the right digital skills and experience, up from 12% six months earlier.

The research, which surveyed 158 digital leaders from FTSE-listed companies, large private companies and large UK public sector organisations, also found that digital leaders’ confidence in their own digital skills has improved. Now 60% of executives are confident in their own digital skills and ability to lead in the digital economy, up from 45% who said the same six months earlier.

Those who were more confident in their own skills were also found to be more likely to take responsibility for learning additional digital skills, including through reading non-traditional media and attending their organisation’s internal learning programmes.

When asked about their colleagues, a quarter of respondents (25%) said that their current workforce has sufficient knowledge and expertise to execute their organisation’s digital strategy, an increase from 16% in Spring 2018.

However, despite the perception of skills among new and current workers improving, more needs to be done to keep up with the pace of new technologies, Deloitte stated. While three-quarters (75%) of digital leaders reported that AI, robotics and the Internet of Things are fundamentally changing their organisation, almost two-thirds (65%) felt that their organisation’s learning and development does not support the current digital strategy.

Previous research from Deloitte highlighted that the majority of UK workers think their employer is primarily responsibility for the development of workplace skills.

Richard Coombes, leader of the UK HR transformation practice at Deloitte, said that it’s important to keep up to date with digital skills as business demands are constantly changing.

“Digital skills are not a static set of skills. We live in a world where the half-life of a technical skill is two-and–a-half years at most. On that basis it should not be a surprise that people are coming out of education with skills that are already not relevant to the way we work,” he said.

“As such, the importance of lifelong learning and reinvention is crucial for every individual. Meanwhile, for every business, having a learning and development programme that supports the overall digital strategy will be key.”

The report also found that the majority of businesses using AI do not have a strategy to ensure it is used ethically, with just 42% of leaders saying they have a policy in place to ensure the safe and ethical deployment of AI and data-driven technologies.

This is despite 44% of executives already having invested in AI, and a further 37% expecting to invest in the technology over the next two years.

Matthew Howard, director of artificial intelligence at Deloitte, said that organisational values should inform the responsible use of AI. “While humans continue to write code there is an inevitable risk that their biases will shape algorithms and the decisions made by a machine. However, a policy is not always necessary to ensure AI is properly governed,” he said.

“AI decision-making should be assessed in the same way as human decision-making and in most cases an organisation’s existing ethics policy and procedure should be sufficient. In all instances an organisation’s values should inform how and why AI is used just as those values are used to inform any other business decision.”