2019 has seen the UK comfortably reach an all-time high for AI investment. The changes have been drastic, with UK AI scaleups raising almost double that of Germany, France and the rest of Europe combined last year. The U.S. and China are currently the only two countries ahead of the UK in this regard and it is expected that AI will add an additional £630bn to the UK economy by 2035. To put this into perspective, this would increase the annual GVA growth rate from 2.5 to 3.9 per cent. With the government’s industrial strategy aiming to place the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution, these statistics suggest its strategy is paying dividends.
AI is a friend, not foe
Despite popular belief, UK employees needn’t worry about AI replacing human roles. The UK media is often guilty of stirring the common misconception that strides made in AI and automation directly correlates to job losses. With this in mind, the statistics above may fill many UK workers with fear or unease – but this should not be the case.
Recent research on the Skills Revolution, a survey of 19,000 employers in 44 countries, found that 69 per cent of firms were planning to maintain the size of their workforce, while 18 per cent wanted to hire more people as a result of automation. This is supported by research from Gartner, which indicates that AI will create more jobs than it replaces, adding 2.3 million jobs while eliminating 1.8 million globally.
The same research also reveals a telling disconnect between those who work with AI and those who do not when it comes to the impact of the technology on jobs. Only 16 per cent of people with workplace exposure to AI think it will result in a net decrease of jobs, compared to 77 per cent of people without that exposure. This suggests that the catastrophising around AI’s impact on the workplace may be linked to sensational media coverage rather than real insight.
Undoubtedly, workers will have to be retrained and upskilled in an increasingly automated world, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that job losses will not be as widespread as many fearmongering headlines suggest. Instead, the working landscape will see an evolution of roles rather than a reduction in jobs.
Finding the talent to fill the AI gap
While these findings should dampen employees’ fears, the same cannot necessarily be said for employers. The UK is in the midst of a tech skills crisis, meaning that employers are struggling to fill roles that are becoming ever more pivotal to their businesses. It is estimated that there are 600,000 tech vacancies in the UK, with this shortfall currently costing the country £63 billion annually. While the report highlights the necessity for digital and technical subjects to be at the core of the curriculum, waiting for the next generation to come of age and enter the workplace is simply not an option.
The way that people in these roles are working is expected to change too. With increased roles in the tech sector through AI, companies are expected to increase their use of contractors to make up the shortfall in talent. Most organisations don’t currently have a workforce with the skills to properly utilise the benefits AI will offer, so temporary workers and contractors will be essential to bridge the AI gap.
It’s imperative that organisations look now at upskilling their current workforce too. A survey by IBM has found that more than 120 million workers globally will need retraining due to artificial intelligence’s impact on jobs. Businesses need to look at building the talent that they have within their organisation, ensuring that their people are trained and upskilled for the roles that they will be best suited to, and which the business will need, in future.
The fight for the best AI talent
UK businesses must also be prepared to go out and secure the best talent from within the market, whether that be permanent or contract hires. In a competitive labour market, employers need to work hard to attract the best people. This means developing the brand to be an attractive place to work, as well as being prepared to pay a premium on wages, benefits and other perks for strategic roles. By doing so, employers can ensure access to the tech skills necessary to secure their future in an increasingly automated world.
Companies will also need to ensure they have the soft skills in place needed to cope with digitalisation. With increased investment in AI, job roles will continue to shift, and companies must equip their people to deal with this process. Ultimately, soft skills will always be valued by companies – at least within our lifetimes. There will always be tasks that robots are incapable of, hence the commitment to increasing company headcount.
Embrace the AI revolution
Contrary to large swathes of media rhetoric, job opportunities are set to drastically increase as a result of AI investment in the UK hitting record numbers. While this is absolutely something the workforce should be celebrating, workers must prepare themselves for significantly increased training. Upskilling is inevitable as a result of the increased AI investment coinciding with our current tech skills shortage and organisations are placing even greater emphasis on future workforce planning. Businesses can ensure they take full advantage of automation by training their workers to have the right skills to adapt to the changes, both now and in the future.
Chris Gray is Brand Leader, ManpowerGroup