Here’s an alarming statistic - while over half of US senior IT leaders says their organization is using or experimenting with generative AI, two-thirds of that number (66%) don’t believe that their workforces have the necessary skills to leverage such technology.
That’s one of the findings that emerges from Salesforce’s Generative AI in IT survey of 500 tech leaders that find that over half (57%) deem generative AI to be “a game-changer”, with 67% of respondents citing adoption of such tech as a business priority over the next 18 months.
Why? Some 84% believe generative AI will help organizations to serve their customers better while 80% see it as a way to take better advantage of data. Other perceived benefits to be had include operating more efficiently, reducing workloads, serving customers more quickly and helping organizations to sell more efficiently.
While a third of respondents believe generative AI’s potential is over-hyped, that’s still an enticing list of benefits to aspire to, albeit with the usual caveats thrown in here around concerns about the tech, such as trust, ethics and bias. But if organizations are to overcome those uncertainties and tap into the undoubted potential of AI overall, there’s an urgent need to ramp up workforce skills around the technology.
A second Salesforce study, based on polling 11,000 people across 11 countries, finds that although 25% of respondents cite AI skills as among the top 3 digital skills needed, only one in ten currently have such skills at their disposal. Some 80% reckon that they do use digital skills in their day-to-day work, but these are typically centered on collaboration tech, digital administration and digital project management.
By sector, this skills deficit varies. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the tech sector reports the highest level of AI skills, but even here the percentage of respondents is just over a quarter (27%). That’s still a heck of a lot better than, for example, healthcare on eight percent or public sector on six percent.
Interestingly, scaremongering about AI’s potential to ‘steal’ jobs from human beings doesn’t seem to have much traction among this particular poll group. Some 60% of respondents globally characterize themselves as excited about using generative AI, with 58% enthusiastic about its role in the workplace. Only 42% expressed concerns about AI replacing their jobs.
Given the dearth of AI skills, it’s hardly surprising that workers want to tap into some up-skilling around the topic. An overwhelming majority of people leaders (82%) cite relevant skills-based experience as the most important factor when evaluating potential candidates. They cite data security skills (60%), ethical AI and automation skills (58%), and programming skills (57%) as particularly important.
Almost all respondents (97%) want businesses to prioritize AI skills as part of their employee development programs as economies shift towards skills-based hiring at all organizational levels. This is true around the world in different markets. For example, in the UK, 87% of workers polled put skills ahead of an academic qualification in terms of landing a new job.
Zahra Bahrololoumi, CEO, Salesforce UKI sums up the current position well:
AI is only as good as the data that serves it and the people that work with it. Without the necessary skills and knowledge of how to use generative AI and integrate this technology effectively and responsibly, businesses will continue to face barriers to successful implementation.
In over three decades of writing about the tech sector, I’ve lost count long ago of how many articles I’ve put together around the digital skills gap and its negative impact on economic growth and business success. It would be good not to say, ‘Here we go again!’ one of these days.
This time around there’s an added element that needs to be factored in - the positive potential of generative AI can be clearly seen, but so too can a lot of downsides if the tech is not applied and implemented correctly and with all necessary care. While I’m not in the Elon Musk camp of hysterically seeing robot revolutions around every corner, there are practical, societal and ethical considerations around AI developments that need to be front of mind. If we don’t have a skilled-up workforce in place to take those on board, there’s clearly trouble ahead.