Here's everything you need to know about the AI talent gap. Source: Shutterstock

Here’s everything you need to know about the AI talent gap. Source: Shutterstock

Everything CXOs need to know about the AI talent crunch

BUSINESS leaders are sold on the potential that artificial intelligence (AI) holds.

Although many organizations have a vision for the AI solutions that can fast-track their digital transformation, the lack of talent makes it challenging for them to bring their vision to life.

To be fair, the lack of qualified talent in the AI space is something businesses, regulators, and analysts have been discussing for a few years now — but not much progress has been made in terms of remedying the problem.

Some experts believe that nobody has worked on a solution because nobody really understands how grave the problem really is.

A new study by Barclays/MMC Ventures is one of the few recent documents trying to really get to grips with the problem. It analyzes the AI talent pool and provides some interesting insights to CXOs (and even regulators) who’re not clear about the gravity of the situation.

The study points out that the demand for AI talent has doubled in 24 months, and that there is a large gulf between demand and supply — with two roles available for every AI professional.

It also points out that the pool of AI talent is quite small, especially because the field demands advanced competencies in mathematics, statistics, and programming. It’s why, the report says, AI developers are seven times more likely to have a Doctoral degree than other developers.

In the short run, the report finds that supply is increasing as a result of the higher pay offered to AI specialists, the inclusion of AI modules in university-run corses, companies training staff in AI skills, and technology companies providing free educational resources to those with an interest in AI.

This is not only true in the US but also in pockets in the APAC. In Singapore and Hong Kong, for example, demand for AI skills are high and AI talent commands a premium in the market, driving university students to pursue courses that make them employable as AI professionals.

Singapore also recently announced two new initiatives to train up to 12,000 Singaporeans in AI skills over the next three years.

“AI Singapore can and will play a key role in this regard by working closely with its research and industry partners to nurture a strong pipeline of AI talent in Singapore,” said the country’s Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.

More recently, the City University of Hong Kong has announced a collaboration with a technology company to equip more students with AI skills.

“Building on our deeply established ties, I expect the collaborative efforts from this Agreement will lead to increased participation of young students in our educational activities which will ultimately cultivate a new generation of engineering leaders in AI,” said CUHK dean of engineering professor Martin Wong.

However, analysts at Barclays/MMC Ventures have an inkling that the struggle for AI talent might be shortlived as in the near future, AI tools offering greater abstraction will make AI accessible to less specialized developers.

In the meanwhile, AI professionals continue to be among the best-paid developers and their salaries continue to increase.

The report found that half of all AI professionals got a minimum raise of 20 percent in the last three years. It also pointed out that up to 60 percent of all AI professionals are currently recruited by technology and financial services companies.

Since several analysts feel AI will have a significant impact on the financial services sector, the strong demand from the industry seems natural. One recent report, for example, claimed that AI will kill 2.5 million jobs and save banks US$1 trillion in the coming years.

Truth be told, despite the challenges, companies must charge ahead with their AI agenda and the inability to find talent to fuel their projects isn’t an excuse that can be given to board members and stakeholders.

Thankfully, the report provides some recommendations to companies looking to overcome the challenges created by the AI talent crunch and remedy the problem altogether in the long run.

# 1 | To attract AI talent, leverage your advantages as a large company. Offer access to vast data sets, the opportunity for impact at scale and high salaries.

# 2 | Develop best-in-class training to up-skill existing developers.

# 3 | Diversity delivers economic value and competitive advantage. Review the culture in your company, AI team and hiring practices to ensure diversity, representation, and inclusion.

# 4 | Collaborate with universities to support your search for talent, strengthen your reputation as a supporter of AI innovation and train colleagues through engagement with university research programmes.

# 5 | Encourage regulators to develop programs and provide funding to support education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.