Looking Ahead: AI Tops 2024 Investments for Leaders

December 12, 2023 | What's Hot | 6 min read

Most tech leaders say artificial intelligence is their top investment area this coming year, according to Skillsoft's annual IT Skills and Salary Report released today.

That may not come as a surprise.

Given the tremendous wave of news, products and releases over the past year, the technology has grown immensely popular due to its wide applicability and accessibility. AI, and more specifically generative AI, has helped disrupt norms, challenge conventional thinking, and make our lives a little easier.

Investments in this area stand to bring about even more ways the technology can solve problems new and old. But the realization of these investments won't come easily — at least for some.

Sourcing skilled talent will likely challenge many leaders who wish to start and scale projects.

The rise of generative AI (GenAI) over the past year highlights the need for efficient training to simply keep up, let alone get ahead. Engineers with AI skills are also hard to come by these days, and many teams need to sharpen what skills they do have, according to the findings.

And yet, many leaders have set their course and will head into the new year bound and determined.

Keep reading to dive into the key findings of this year’s report. Or, jump into it now:

While Promising, Scaling AI Projects May Cause Headaches

The rise of GenAI has sparked unprecedented interest in the technology, which has helped it become a central focus for businesses.

However, professionals skilled in this area are hard to find. Demand for specialists has reached new heights and likely won’t abate in the near future.

Of those who do employ skilled staff, 43% of tech leaders believe their team’s AI skills need improvement, largely due to the pace of change moving faster than training programs can keep up.

Leaders must urgently focus on equipping their teams with the necessary skills to maximize AI's potential — or risk falling behind. What's more, as AI's influence spreads beyond the tech department, IT professionals must understand its implications for business decision-making, strategy, and operations.

This requires a commitment to continuous learning, adaptability, and bridging the gap between technical and business skills.

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Alongside AI, Power Skills in Tech Have Become More Important

Whether onboarding AI solutions internally or bringing products to market, investments in AI likely impact those across the business and require a collaborative approach to implementation.

What we found is that power skills are becoming increasingly important for IT professionals who are assuming more influential roles at work — or just want to compete in the labor market.

Our research indicates that while technical proficiency is vital, power skills like communication, adaptability, teamwork, and problem-solving are increasingly defining tech professionals' career trajectories. According to the research, IT decision-makers consider power skills more crucial than certifications, portfolios, and even college degrees when hiring prospective job candidates.

As IT professionals take on leadership roles, these skills will help them tackle complex, cross-functional challenges and initiatives. The survey reveals that 40% of respondents believe team communication is the most important skill for leaders, while only 8% think technical skills are the most important.

These findings suggest that professionals with a robust mix of technical and soft skills are likely to excel in their careers and land more opportunities. Therefore, IT professionals should consider developing a balanced skill set to ensure their relevance and success in the field.

Even Still, Tech Talent Is Fiercely Sought-after

Leaders are still struggling to find and retain talent – a challenge that remains despite efforts to address it. About half say hiring is difficult, with only 5% saying it’s “extremely easy” (lucky you!).

The top 5 challenges IT leaders reported this year:

  1. Resource and budget constraints
  2. Talent retention
  3. Developing stronger teams
  4. Talent recruitment
  5. Innovation and change management

This year's research reveals that hiring candidates with the right skills and attracting talent are among the main reasons for this skill gap. The traditional strategy of buying skills on demand has become unsustainable, prompting a shift towards building a sustainable workforce.

This approach focuses on developing existing talent and bridging skill gaps; we’ve seen this trend over the past several years. The lion’s share of leaders report plans to train their teams rather than outsource or bring in new talent.

This method helps ensure a steady supply of skilled IT professionals, allowing companies to adapt to changing technologies and stay competitive.

How do organizations plan to close skill gaps?

Moving in the Right Direction — But the Skills Gap Remains Steady

The skills gap continues to burden decision-makers, with 66% in agreement just like last year, and 56% foreseeing it in the next one to two years.

The rapid evolution of technology, such as GenAI, outpaces skills development programs, causing these gaps. Struggles to hire and attract skilled candidates contribute to this issue, though retention is less of a concern compared to last year.

However, insufficient investment in training has increased, with 36% acknowledging this, up from 26% last year. Proactive companies are encouraged to identify their skills gaps and plan for them.

Investing in education, certification, and training demonstrates a commitment to employees, aiding in keeping and attracting talent, who cited professional development as the leading reason for leaving their post this year.

With high stakes, forward-thinking is essential.

What are the top reasons for skills shortages on your team? Select the top three.
Rate of technology change exceeds skills development programs 43%
We struggle to hire candidates with the skills we need 41%
It’s difficult to attract candidates with the skills we need to our organization's industry 37%
We have not invested enough in training to develop the skills we need 36%
Our current training programs are not effective in developing the skills we need our employees to have 33%
We cannot pay what candidates demand 31%
We struggle to retain employees 30%
We have not anticipated the skills we need 24%
We do not have the ability to assess the skills that exist in our employee base 21%
Other 4%

What’s All This Research and Data Mean for You?

The industry continues to grow, reflected in its expansion across industries and increased salaries for tech professionals. Our report reveals a rising demand for IT skills as companies invest in tech talent to meet their goals.

What this means for tech professionals and individual contributors

For those who want to climb the ladder or become more specialized in their careers, use your time wisely this year as you learn new skills. The report suggests that those who focus on power skills are enjoying more opportunities as a result, given the importance placed on them by those in leadership.

What’s more, a healthy mix of technical and power skills can help remedy common workplace issues we spotted this year, like unclear roles and responsibilities, workload and communication. Technical certifications are still worth your time, but mix in courses or activities that challenge your skills in interpersonal communication, emotional intelligence, time management and conflict resolution.

What this means for tech leaders and executives

Realizing your AI dreams will rudely meet reality if you don’t have the capabilities in-house.

But as mentioned, you’re heading down the right path if you said you’re investing in upskilling and reskilling your teams. Professional development is the leading reason most employees jump ship — even more than compensation this year — so offering more of these opportunities solves for many of the challenges you told us about:

  • Talent retention
  • Talent recruitment
  • Skill gaps
  • Team morale
  • Workload
  • Building stronger teams

And more.

With 56% expecting an increase in both budgets and hiring, the reliance on technology across all business sectors is evident.

Skilled talent is integral to this growth and transformation. Truly, everyone must continually invest in themselves to continue reaping the rewards of what can be a fulfilling tech career. This report proves that.

Dive deeper into the data by gaining access to the full-length report today: