AI skills demand grows but ethics lag

Over half of organisations do not have a policy to ensure the safe and ethical development of artificial intelligence (AI), even though three quarters of business leaders report that AI is fundamentally changing their organisation, according to research from Deloitte

The firm’s latest Digital Disruption Index is based on responses from 158 digital leaders from FTSE-listed companies, large private companies and large UK public sector organisations with a combined market value of £1.38 trillion.

Overall, 44% per cent of executives have already invested in AI, while a further 37% expect to invest in this technology over the next two years. Just 42% say they have a policy in place to ensure the safe and ethical deployment of AI and data-driven technologies.

Dr. Matthew Howard, director of artificial intelligence at Deloitte, said: ‘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. 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.’

Digital confidence

Overall Deloitte found business leaders are becoming more confident in their own digital skills and those of their workforce. Over half (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, with 18% now saying school leavers and graduates are entering work with the right digital skills and experience, up from 12%.

In addition, 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% since spring 2018.

Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, partner at Deloitte and author of the report, said: ‘Companies across the UK are investing significantly in digital technologies in order to transform their businesses. The simple truth is that without ensuring that teams have the right experience, knowledge and abilities to make the most of these technologies, these investments will prove worthless.

‘While it is promising to see improvements in leaders’ confidence in their workers’ digital abilities, there is a lot more that still needs to be done and, if left unaddressed, the skills gap could grow to a level that’s hard to fill. Failure to do more to educate both those in the workforce and those in the classroom will leave the UK trailing behind our global peers in the rapidly expanding digital economy.’

Response to the survey suggest more internal training is needed, with 65% of executives reporting that their organisation’s learning and development does not support the current digital strategy.

Richard Coombes, leader of HR transformation at Deloitte, said: ‘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.

‘As such, the importance of lifelong learning and reinvention is crucial for every individual.’

Skills shortages

Separate research from recruitment specialist Robert Half UK shows analysts, accountants and digital marketing specialists top a list of in-demand roles in 2019, as employers focus on navigating an increasingly digitalised business landscape and a shortage of key skills among the UK workforce.

Its 2019 salary guide reports more than half of CEOs (53%) admit finding candidates with data analysis and digital skills – as well as softer skills, such as resilience, adaptability to change and critical thinking – a challenge in the current market.

The ongoing skills shortage has intensified competition for top performers in accounting and finance, with financial planning described by 40% of CFOs as one of the hardest roles to hire for. As automation and digitisation reach new heights in 2019, commercial skillsets within finance will become even more sought after in the coming months, and financial planning analysts can look for salaries of between £47,500 and £80,000.

Matt Weston, UK Managing Director at Robert Half said: ‘As traditional roles become increasingly digitally-focussed reflecting the changing business landscape, businesses face a talent dilemma; they must attract professionals with the skills they need while also identifying opportunity to upskill their existing employees. While attractive salary and benefits packages continue to attract and retain top talent, training and development is vital for employers to win the ongoing war for talent.’

Robert Half 2019 Salary Guide is here

Report by Pat Sweet

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