Skills Gaps in AI Worry Executives and Stall Progress, Report Shows

August 28, 2023 | What's Hot | 7 min read

Only one in five technology executives feel confident in their workforce’s skill when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

A recent report by Skillsoft, The C-Suite Perspective, revealed that 81% of executives ranked their team’s skills in AI and ML as medium to low.

With the boom of generative AI, many executives feel a sense of urgency to close these gaps and bolster their workforce’s skill. Knowing this, it’s not surprising to see AI as a top investment area for most C-level executives this year.

According to a Deloitte report, nearly all (94%) executives believe it’ll be critical to business success over the next five years. And a Gartner poll found nearly half of executives polled credit ChatGPT with galvanizing investments in generative AI. Yet, 70% of organizations remain in the exploration phase.

“The generative AI frenzy shows no signs of abating,” said Frances Karamouzis, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner in a press release. “Organizations are scrambling to determine how much cash to pour into generative AI solutions, which products are worth the investment, when to get started and how to mitigate the risks that come with this emerging technology.”

Many executives have already started planning investments to train their workforce, especially as the spike in demand for these skills add pressure to the labor market.

A Skillsoft survey found sixty-three percent of executives reported having at least three open positions on their teams, validating the number one issue many face today: talent recruitment.

What this means is that many organizations won’t be able to hire their way out of this issue. Instead, they’ll have to lead their teams to build the competencies they need to remain competitive and take advantage of these technologies.

To help their organizations become more skilled in AI, executives must overcome a series of hurdles. Let’s break them down:

Skills Gaps in AI Add Pressure to Top Workplace Challenges

The AI buzz has fueled public interest and the market is responding. New apps, platforms and tools have launch or integration plans. Word has spread of their ongoing progress — and the pressure is on.

The C-Suite Perspective Report shows these are the top five issues executives struggle with:

  1. Talent recruitment
  2. Talent retention
  3. Skills gaps
  4. Resources constraints
  5. Workload

All of these are getting in the way of deploying and scaling initiatives. A study by Rackspace Technology found one of the leading reasons for slow AI adoption is due to a shortage of skilled talent.

According to Deloitte’s State of AI in the Enterprise survey, 41% of respondents say an insufficient amount of technical skill in AI prevents them from scaling initiatives. The remedy for most (53%) is to look for outside help, while more than one-third plan to retrain existing employees.

“One of the major changes that AI presents to any organization is the need to plan technology and talent investments in tandem, looking at each as a source of critical skill sets — a unified human with machine workforce,” the report says.

Establishing a starting bench of talent has become the priority to kickstart and progress initiatives, and there are added benefits to taking this route. Hiring outside talent means more experts who can train staff.

The challenge with this strategy, though, is hiring in the first place and warding off competitors that are after your talent.

Instead, Skillsoft’s findings show almost half of executives believe upskilling their existing teams is the way to bridge these skills gaps, with 24% planning to hire new talent, and 20% looking to vendors.

“When you hire a new employee, you are essentially starting over. They need time to learn your business and get up to speed,” according to Skillsoft’s report. “You hired them for their hard skills, but do you know their work ethic, their sense of loyalty, or their grasp of power skills, like communication, agility, and resilience? Existing employees have already proven their value. The next logical step is to build on their skill level.”

More and more, organizations are looking for AI skills in these areas, according to Skillsoft’s VP of IT Certification and Developer Products, Mike Hendrickson:

  • Predictive analytics
  • Natural language process
  • Large language models
  • Machine learning
  • ChatGPT (and generative AI in general)

To realize all the great benefits of AI, executives must blend their approach to acquiring these skills — but emphasize learning.

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3 Steps to Close Skill Gaps in AI

Gaps in AI skill have slowed down its adoption, making it harder to realize its full potential. Many are looking to these technologies to help transform their organizations, but it’ll be a long road if executive leadership doesn’t face them head-on.

But where do you start?

In an interview with eWeek, Skillsoft CIO Orla Daly said many are grappling with the fact that “there is a ton of opportunity with AI, how do we think about taking advantage of that in a responsible way, as quickly as possible so we’re not left behind?”

From Daly’s point of view, these are the steps executives should take as they start AI-related initiatives:

Ask Yourself: What Are You Trying to Do with AI?

The crux of AI initiatives that are set to take off is first having a destination in mind. What’s the business value? Ultimately, what are you hoping to achieve?

You must first have a clear, well-documented plan that builds on the organization’s goals and priorities.

Then, Identify What Skills You Need.

Having the roadmap in view, executives must work with talent development and human resources to identify the skills they need to make it all happen. Orla says to ask: “What are the skills I need and what are the skills in my organization that I can bring to bear quickly to allow me to keep pace?”

When writing job descriptions or creating a job architecture, it will help to identify existing roles that may have overlap or transferrable skills that may go beyond the technical nature of AI.

“To really take advantage of AI, it's about creative thinking, it's about problem solving… it’s not just the technical skills,” Daly said. “I think it's really important to start with taking inventory of what it is you're trying to achieve with AI. And then in order to do that, what are the core skills that you need to either augment within your existing organization or upskill individuals?”

Determine How Roles Are Impacted by AI

“AI impacts every role, and I think every role needs to understand how it works with AI and takes advantage of AI,” Daly said. “How do we prepare the workforce for that?”

From business to education, software engineering, health care and beyond, AI has great potential — and virtually everyone will benefit if they learn how it complements their work.

One study looked at the tasks of numerous roles, breaking down each step to determine which was better suited to a human versus a machine. It spanned 950 occupations and 18,000 tasks. The findings revealed that not one occupation was fully replaced by AI, but rather supported by it.

“For instance, in the case of radiologists, machine learning was very good at looking at medical images and increasingly good at diagnosing different pathologies,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, Professor at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI, to the World Economic Forum. “However, it's not good at consoling patients or talking to them after a diagnosis, or coordinating care with other doctors.”

Bridging the Gap: Training is the Way Forward

Today, it’s the tip of the iceberg for artificial intelligence. Until more people are trained on the technology, adoption will remain slower than what undoubtedly many executives hope for.

Before 2027, 60% of workers will require some level of training, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report.

“Training workers to utilize AI and big data ranks third among company skills-training priorities in the next five years,” the report says. “Two-thirds of companies expect to see a return on investment on skills training within a year of the investment, whether in the form of enhanced cross-role mobility, increased worker satisfaction or enhanced worker productivity.”

Skillsoft’s research shows 70% of organizations offer formal training today, leaving nearly one-third without. According to the IT Skills and Salary Report, the main reason why many don’t receive training through work is because “management doesn’t see a reason for it.”

However, executives have an opportunity to transform their organizations by investing in their workforce's development.

Training programs for AI can provide companies with a competitive edge, improve productivity while closing gaps. Therefore, it is imperative that executives prioritize investments in their employees' development and offer opportunities for upskilling.

For more insights, Skillsoft's C-Suite Perspective Report provides an in-depth analysis of the impact of skills gaps and offers guidance on how to tackle this challenge.