By Joe McKendrick
There’s no doubt business leaders see artificial intelligence as the way to get more things done around their organizations. A majority of executives in a recent survey, 62%, believe AI will help drive efficiency and competitiveness. The only catch is, to get to this point where machines are picking up the cognitive work previously employed by humans, they need more humans who can build these systems.
That’s one of the takeaways from an EY study of 800 CEOs and business leaders, who are all excited about AI. At least 84% believe AI is important to the future success of their company. At least three in five respondents (62%) said that AI will have a major impact on creating efficiencies at their company, remaining competitive (62%) and gaining a better understanding of customers (60%). In addition, 55% of respondents believe AI will have a major impact on reducing costs and driving new revenues.
However, there aren’t enough people with the talent and skills to build these systems. Nearly one in three respondents rank lack of skilled personnel (31%) as one of the two greatest organizational/people barriers to AI adoption in their company, making this the leading challenge ahead of lack of compelling return on investment (27%), and lack of management understanding (24%).
What skills are we talking about here? It goes beyond basic technology know-how, and may get at the additional challenges of lack of management understanding, or even building a business case. Another study, this one from AT Kearney, bears this out, finding that executives also seek non-technical and interpersonal skills such as creativity and leadershipv— and these skills are just as hard to find. “This perceived scarcity suggests that demand to develop AI endowed with emotional intelligence could intensify.”
As a result, executives are getting back to the basics, they note — “to re-emphasizing the importance of workforces in their operations.” Why, because the success of AI — and other technology-driven endeavors — requires an ability to cultivate relationships with customers and suppliers. The AT Kearney researchers find that the skills executives identify as being the most scarce in the talent pool —technology, creativity, and leadership — “are the very same skills that they anticipate will be most important to their companies over the next five years and beyond. In turn, the perceived scarcity of interpersonal skills may amplify the demand for AI endowed with emotional intelligence.”
The survey results show “that the skills required for innovation — including creativity and problem solving—are becoming more difficult to find. While executives are more confident that they can adopt new technologies, they are far less confident about building a workforce that can leverage these innovations,” the survey report’s authors state.
“There will heightened competition for such talent, and technology and AI will not even make a dent in workforce sizes. Ninety-one percent of respondents expect that their workforce will remain the same size or even grow in the next five years, the AT Kearney survey shows.
To find the people they need, executives say face-to-face interviews and in-person training are of the greatest value, rather than virtual skills acquisition strategies. They are relatively confident they can find the people they need at this time. Nearly two-thirds report that their company is able to find the talent it needs, and 57% say they are able to retain the talent they need.
However, for the future, those with a blend of technical and business skills will be in high demand. “Strong executive skills will be required to navigate technological changes and shepherd diverse workforces into the future,” the authors state. “This perceived scarcity of interpersonal skills such as leadership and management suggests that the demand to develop AI endowed with emotional intelligence could grow stronger.”
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