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UK government investigates AI labour market

Survey will seek to discover new requirements and issues posed by artificial intelligence technology

The UK government is carrying out research to understand and mature the national labour market for artificial intelligence (AI).

In the survey, launched this month by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Office for Artificial Intelligence, charities and businesses across the country will be approached by polling firm Ipsos MORI until October 2020, and a follow-up round of interviews will take place between November 2020 and January 2021. There is no indication of when the results will be published.

The idea is to examine the skills relating to AI and data science that organisations need, as well as their approach to employing and training AI and data science professionals. The issues faced by organisations during such processes will also be examined. The first interview with each respondent is expected to last 15 minutes and the second about 45 minutes.

Future policy and strategy will be informed by the results of the survey, in which participants will take part anonymously. The survey is not technical, does not require specific AI knowledge and the government is interested in hearing from all organisations – including those that do not have a dedicated AI or data science team.

When it comes to the types of organisation that will take part, Ipsos and its research partner Perspective Economics have identified businesses and charities that could be contacted on the basis that they appear to use AI or data science technology. These will be included in the survey even if AI or data science is used in only a small part of their tasks.

When approaching organisations to ask about the various aspects of AI in their work environment, the polling firm will want to speak to the person with most knowledge about AI – in some cases this might be the head of a data science team, or the owner when it comes to smaller businesses, or the trustee of charities. In organisations focused on AI and data science, it may be the head of recruitment or human resources.

A study published by Microsoft in August 2020 suggested that the UK’s AI maturity lags behind the global average. According to the study, UK organisations are less likely to be classified as “AI pros” compared with the global average (15% versus 23%). More than one-third (35%) of UK leaders believe there will be an AI skills gap in the next two years, the study noted, and 28% think there already is a skills gap (compared with 24% of leaders globally).

According to Microsoft’s research, only 17% of UK employees say they have been part of reskilling efforts – far less than the 38% globally. Also, only 32% of UK employees feel their workplace is doing enough to prepare them for AI, compared with the global average of 42%.

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