UK lags behind international AI skills development

?The UK is facing an AI skills gap that could leave companies struggling to compete with rivals from across the world, a new Microsoft report has revealed.

The report, AI Skills in the UK, found only 17% of UK employees say they have been part of re-skilling efforts, whereas the global figure sits at 38%.

Just 32% of UK employees feel their workplace is doing enough to prepare them for an AI-enabled future, below the 42% global average.

Microsoft said the findings raise concerns that the UK will fall behind other countries as the world starts its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Just over half (52%) of UK employees are using AI compared to 69% of employees globally.

These UK firms are more likely to be using AI to drive operational efficiency and free up people from basic tasks but less likely to be developing new product innovations or happier customers from AI projects.

UK organisations are also less likely to be classed as ‘AI pros’ compared to the global average (15% vs 23%) and have a higher failure rate of AI than the global average - measured by the number of projects generating no commercial value.

Lord Clement Jones, former chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, said the coronavirus pandemic had accelerated the demand for digital skills.

“Meeting this demand cannot just be a top-down process pushed by business leaders, it requires an enormous bottom-up effort from individuals at all levels who are self-motivated to improve their digital and AI-augmented skills.

“As leaders rethink their business operations, there will be much more focus on staff learning and adaptation to take an ongoing agile approach to this new world of work.”

Analysis from International Data Corporation (IDC) revealed that AI and cloud technology will play a significant role in helping businesses and societies deal with the disruption created by COVID-19, while separate research by Imperial College London highlighted that businesses must ensure they can respond to change and adapt.

Chris Withers, head of AI and advanced analytics for UK financial services at EY, said: “Many companies struggle to move AI projects from proof of concept to production. Firms must put sufficient resources and expertise into educating employees, and help them to embrace new innovations, thereby creating champions for AI-enabled change.”

Previous findings from Microsoft UK showed that organisations embracing AI outperform the competition by 11.5%.

The report looked at the UK-specific data from a global AI skills study led by Microsoft EMEA and included the views of more than 12,000 people in 20 countries.