Businesses Are Counting on AI, But Skilled Labor Is Lacking, Survey Finds

Staff Writer
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Companies in many sectors of the economy are incorporating artificial intelligence into everything from IT automation to security, but they’re also struggling to find talented workers capable of taking advantage of the technology, a new survey finds. 

The survey was conducted in November by the global technology giant IBM of 8,584 information technology professionals working across industries in North America, Asia, Europe, Australia, and Latin America. It speaks to many of the challenges facing companies in the education market, and the challenges schools face in preparing students for jobs in the AI economy.

Forty-two percent of enterprise-scale companies (those with more than 1,000 employees) surveyed in the report are actively using AI in their business. An additional 40 percent are currently exploring or experimenting with AI, but they have not deployed the technology yet — meaning just 18 percent are not using AI and are not exploring it.

1 in 5 organizations surveyed say they don’t have the employees with the right skills in place to use new AI tools, IBM’s report finds.
Of the companies that are already exploring or using AI, 59 percent say they have accelerated their rollout or investments in the technology, according to the survey. 

Yet the survey finds that one-third of respondents say the lack of a trained workforce is a barrier to their organizations developing AI, while a smaller portion cited data complexity (25 percent) and ethical concerns (23 percent) as obstacles.

The data reflects the growing interest among businesses in developing their artificial intelligence capabilities — and their scramble to identify the skills they need and to find workers to fill jobs. The hunger to find AI talent extends to the education sector, where companies of all sizes are searching for workers with both the technical chops and holistic skills to help them produce the next generation of AI products, as EdWeek Market Brief has reported. 

Thirty-three percent of survey respondents in the IBM survey said their businesses are using AI in the automation of IT processes; 26 percent indicated they use AI for security and threat detection; and 25 percent are using it in AI monitoring and governance.

A smaller portion of businesses are using AI for supply chain intelligence (18 percent); financial planning and analysis (18 percent); and human resources and talent acquisition (19 percent). 

Building Up AI Skills in the Workforce 

An EdWeek Market Brief survey taken last year of more than 400 K-12 businesses officials found similarly broad applications of AI within those organizations. 

Fifty-five percent of those surveyed indicate they are using AI in some way. The most common use of AI is in the creation of personalized marketing messages (43 percent of respondents said their organizations are doing that), followed by email writing and response (39 percent), and applying data collection to product development (35 percent). 

“Ongoing challenges for AI adoption in enterprises remain, including hiring employees with the right skillsets… [which] continues to inhibit businesses from adopting AI technologies into their operations,” IBM’s report says. 

Tiffany Hsieh, the director of innovation programs at JFFLabs, said the IBM survey underscores the challenges businesses in education and other sectors face in laying the foundation to develop AI, as the technology continues to evolve. 

The impact of AI is real and significant. Most businesses are either already implementing some form of AI or thinking about it or testing it.Tiffany Hsieh, Director of Innovation Programs, JFFLabs

“We need better AI literacy and upskilling around how to both understand the technology on a foundational level, as well as how to interact with it,” said Hsieh, whose lab serves as a workforce and education technology incubator at Jobs For The Future, a national nonprofit that seeks to promote economic advances through education and workforce policy. 

“The impact of AI is real and significant,” she added. “Most businesses are either already implementing some form of AI or thinking about it or testing it.”

One-in-five organizations surveyed by IBM report that they do not have the employees with the right skills in place to use new artificial intelligence or automation tools, and 16 percent cannot find new hires with the skills to address that gap. 

When asked how their enterprises plan to invest in AI over the next 12 months, 39 percent of the respondents in the IBM business survey indicated that they will focus on reskilling and workforce development. Thirty-eight percent said they plan to build proprietary AI solutions, while 33 percent plan to augment human tasks with digital labor. 

Employers need to make sure workers are getting a foundational layer of AI literacy, Hsieh said. That includes background on what the technology is, how it works at a basic level, what the limitations are, and the ethical implications around it. From there, upskilling can extend to tool-specific knowledge and the specialized skills necessary to build AI technologies and implement them on a day-to-day basis, she said. 

Investing in the Next Generation of Workers 

Employers need to not only invest in helping their employees keep up with AI innovations. They should also put resources into supporting the cultivation of students’ skills, said Lydia Logan, global head of education and workforce development at IBM. 

“We want to make sure students have the skills they need to be prepared for — I would say the future of work — but really, it’s work today,” Logan said. 

At the SXSW EDU conference held in Texas last week, IBM announced it is collaborating with the nonprofit organization, Usher’s New Look, founded by the musical performer Usher, to provide AI training and workplace skills to student learners, especially those from traditionally underrepresented communities.

Education providers right now need to encourage students to learn how to navigate AI because its use will soon become widespread in the workforce, Logan said. 

AI skills are going to be needed across the board because the technology touches all aspects of business operations, Hsieh, of Jobs For The Future, said. 

“We need to double down on human skills because the technology is only going to continue to evolve,” she said. “The best way to prepare our students and our workforce for that change is to ensure people have durable skills like critical thinking, communication — all of which will help you evaluate, work alongside, and adapt to any changes in technology.”

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Image by Getty.

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