AI skills shortage means Europe lagging on adoption

As AI adoption goes mainstream, tech recruiters are struggling to find employees with the right skills, with the UK particularly lagging

Europe’s tech sector has a problem, one that could undermine digital innovation and suppress economic activity if not addressed, and quickly.

According to new research by IBM, there is a large and growing skills gap in Artificial Intelligence across Europe, with the sector struggling to find workers with enough AI knowledge or experience.

Nearly 7 in 10 tech job seekers and tech employees in Germany, Spain and the UK believe that potential recruits lack the skills necessary for a career in AI, reveals the new study.

This comes as the war on talent continues to rage on, and at a time of increasing global competition, with skills shortages in tech, and AI in particular, likely to have a major impact on companies and countries.

“The growing importance of AI across so many industries should provide ample scope for tech sector growth,” says Sharon Moore MBE, Global Technical Lead for Government, IBM Technology. “Unfortunately, a shortage of AI skills means that these opportunities are hard to seize… [and] advances in AI are being slowed by the shortage of workers with skills and experience.”

Soft skills are as important as technical skills

So, what are the skills needed for AI specialists that are so lacking?

Technical capabilities are of course vital for such a role, with 40% of tech job seekers and employees noting that software engineering and knowledge of programming languages are the most important technical capabilities for the AI/tech workforce to have.

But as AI moves into the mainstream, tech leaders become more important in company leadership, and specialist tech staff work ever more closely with business leaders, demand is rising for tech people with both the technical capabilities and soft skills too.

Because, in order to secure the best possible outcomes, soft skills of interpersonal communication, strategic problem solving and critical thinking are required across all disciplines to help ensure the most beneficial personal interactions.

However, they are severely lacking. According to 37% of tech employees in Europe, problem-solving is the most critical soft skill needed for tech roles, but nearly a quarter of tech recruiters (23%) have difficulty finding applicants with this aptitude. It’s not the only soft skill where there are shortfalls with critical and strategic thinking also in high demand but difficult to find.

Tech firms need to plug gap with education and skills training

According to IBM’s research, demonstrating these skills can greatly improve employability and career developments in AI, and to fill the gap, education and training is vital.

“There’s a clear and disadvantageous gap in the education syllabus,” says Moore, with the report showing that “offering education and skills training is seen as a top priority for companies looking to improve AI recruitment in the future”.

And many tech firms, including IBM, are getting on board with future skills training programs. More needs to be done, especially in the UK.

While 42% of tech employees in Spain and Germany now give training opportunities on topics including programming languages, data engineering/analysis and software engineering, the UK falls behind, with just 32% of staff receiving such training and with just 27% specifically focused on software engineering, a key AI-related skills.

“With the right training, education and upskilling, we’ll be able to leverage AI to its full potential and as a result generate further value for companies and society,” says Moore.

IBM offers free online courses and resources focused on AI

IBM has already taken proactive steps to help applicants and employees enhance their AI skills, with the launch of SkillsBuild, a free programme that contains an AI skills module for secondary education students and adults seeking entry-level employment.

The tech giant also has a Skills Academy, designed for academia and available to universities worldwide, that helps university faculty to provide students with additional skills, giving them an advantage in the job market. It offers job role-based training aligned to market demand with a blended learning approach.

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