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UK at risk of AI skills crisis

The UK is at risk of being left behind when it comes to artificial intelligence advances, with the current shortage of AI skills likely to get a lot worse

The UK risks a huge shortage in artificial intelligence (AI) skills because of a lack of home-grown talent and the possibility of an exodus of skilled workers when the UK leaves the EU.

Demand for AI is growing as businesses see its value and the technology becomes more mainstream, but the education system in the UK has yet to catch up and AI specialists from the EU who work in Britain could leave the country en masse after Brexit.

While back-office workers fear for their jobs as artificial intelligence takes over their roles, the people who create the robots are in demand in the UK, with more than two jobs available for every qualified person.

Since 2014, demand for the software developers and machine learning engineers who create AI software has increased five times over – by 485% – and today there are twice as many roles available than there are people to fill them. In fact, according to data from job site Indeed, there are 2.3 jobs for every qualified candidate in the UK.

According to job adverts on Indeed, suitable candidates usually require previous experience and a degree in maths or physics. Indeed said the average salary advertised for AI and machine learning jobs was £54,366.

Indeed’s data revealed that attempts by the government to encourage more people to take up science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects and degrees were yet to feed through to the AI front line.

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An economist at Indeed, Mariano Mamertino, said employers in every sector were keen to use AI technology, and needed to hire people with the right skills. “Our data shows that competition for this shallow pool of candidates is fierce, with the numbers of available roles outstripping potential new hires.

“The AI sector is likely to keep growing as the potential for the widespread application of the technology, across different industries, becomes clear. Investing in education and the right skills needed to propel the industry forward will be key to its growth in the coming years,” said Mamertino.  

A report from IT security supplier Cylance, following a survey of IT leaders in the US, UK, Germany and France, backs this up. It found that AI was already improving cyber security and would create new jobs in the future.

The study revealed 60% of respondents already had AI in place, and 79% said AI was a top priority for their boards. AI products they have used had lived up to their promises, according to 86% of those surveyed.

But as demand for AI increases, the gap between people with the skills and advertised roles could get a lot bigger, especially if EU citizens continue to the leave the UK after Brexit.

According to a Deloitte report published in June 2017, 47% of highly skilled workers from the EU who are currently working in the UK are considering leaving in the next five years, and 15% are planning to leave in the next 12 months. Brexit is also a concern for UK IT startups, some of which develop AI software and rely on skills from EU nations.

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics