AI and cyber skills worryingly lacking, say business leaders

by Pelican Press
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AI and cyber skills worryingly lacking, say business leaders

Tech companies across Europe are suffering from a worrying lack of skills in artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber, according to research by Computer Weekly.

The annual Computer Weekly/TechTarget IT salary survey asked IT workers the areas of their organisations where skills are lacking to a problematic degree, with cyber and AI topping the list.

Almost 40% of European IT workers said a lack of AI skills was a problem, and 37% said the same for cyber security skills, though 8% claimed not to have any skills shortages at all.

Not surprisingly, these subject areas are the most popular when it comes to possible certifications in the future. Some 42% of those asked said one of the next certifications they pursue would be in cyber, while 35% said AI would be a focus.

Brian Allen, CEO and co-founder of Rovco, claimed all staff should be given training in generative AI (GenAI), regardless of where their role sits in the business.

“Nearly half of European IT workers lack AI skills, threatening to leave behind entire industries that otherwise have much to gain from rapidly advancing AI technology. In sectors like offshore wind, for example, using AI and automation to support the workforce isn’t just an option but a necessity to bridge the shortage of 70,000 workers,” he said.

“Four in 10 companies are considering turning to AI to address similar challenges, and 17% are already using AI to plug skill shortages in their workplaces. However, long-term success in any AI strategy will be determined by how well the workforce is upskilled in key areas such as data science, machine learning and advanced analytics,” Allen added.

Skills shortages in the technology sector are nothing new – especially in areas such as AI and machine learning – with a lack of skilled workers for roles forcing companies to make increasingly competitive offers as they fish in the same small pool for talent.

Long-term success in any AI strategy will be determined by how well the workforce is upskilled in key areas such as data science, machine learning and advanced analytics
Brian Allen, Rovco

When it comes to tech skills, 27% of those asked across Europe said they have no IT-specific certifications, though a large number said their employer encourages tech workers to gain IT-based qualifications, and a fifth of IT workers have more than five tech-based certifications.

Fortunately, the skills IT workers are seeking match the hiring needs of firms in the near future. Of those looking to earn a new certification, 30% said they would do it in AI, 30% said they would pursue a certification in cloud and 41% would be interested in gaining skills in cyber.

There has recently been an emphasis on lifelong learning for all workers as technology rapidly develops to ensure people’s skills are keeping up with the demands of their current and future roles, and while many companies are willing to hire people with the potential to perform a role and train them on the job, it is usually more beneficial for companies to hire someone who already has the skills needed to jump straight into a job.

“Companies across Europe and the UK today face an increasingly competitive race – and demand – for digital-savvy talent,” said Cathy Mauzaize, president of EMEA at ServiceNow. “With skilled tech workers in short supply, businesses will need to amplify investments in upskilling and reskilling talent to build capabilities internally, especially around AI.”

When it comes to hiring over the next year, 17% of IT workers said their company was aiming to hire people with skills in AI, machine learning and data science, while 19% were looking to fill cloud roles and 19% planned to hire cyber specialists.

The tech hiring landscape has varied over the past five years, with the Covid-19 pandemic seeing a spike in tech hiring as digital kept the world turning when people were forced to stay indoors, followed by the “great resignation” where swathes of tech workers left their jobs looking for new opportunities both in and outside the sector, and most recently there has been talk of the tables turning, with tech workers worried about redundancies and budget cuts threatening their jobs.

The Computer Weekly/TechTarget IT salary survey found the temptation of new skills was a big driver for those looking for new jobs, with 32% stating that as the reason. But while only 11% of those asked said they were actively looking for a role in another company, over 40% said they were open to new opportunities, either inside or outside of the organisation.

Gaining seniority and responsibility in their roles is another reason people are looking to move, with 21% of tech workers tempted to move for more responsibility, with a higher salary to match.

The average salary of general IT staff members across Europe is £48,356, whereas C-level IT staff or executives average an annual salary of £194,681.

Moving up the ranks between these roles sees salaries rise too, with senior non-managers averaging a salary of £60,767, managers across Europe making an average of £67,963 a year, team leaders averaging £83,294 and directors earning an average of £104,393.

But Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, called on businesses not to forget the benefits diverse hiring can have, and suggested skills bootcamps or skills development programmes as a way to bring in talent.

“The skills shortage in the tech sector presents an opportunity to improve DEI standards, whilst also upskilling the workforce for future generations,” he said. “17% of those surveyed declared their firm is currently using GenAI to combat skills shortages, and a striking 40% are thinking of doing the same, compounding an already significant skills challenge facing the industry. More diverse recruitment strategies can help to combat this.”

A shortage of skills is not the only worry though, with 13% of people in tech extremely worried that AI will take their jobs in the future and a quarter having concerns about AI potentially affecting their roles.

GenAI is dominating tech conferences and headlines this year, with use cases ranging from making art to automating tasks.

The salary survey found some planned to use GenAI to tackle the skills shortages they are seeing, with 17% of those asked saying their firm is currently using the technology for this, and 40% thinking of going in this direction soon.

When it comes to the expectations for GenAI in the workplace, the most mentioned were time saving and efficiency, with 59% saying they believe task automation will help save them time and 39% saying it will make them more efficient in their roles.

But there are also concerns about having to use GenAI in their roles, the main one being difficulty staying compliant and within data privacy guidelines.

As always, this year’s salary survey highlighted some of the more popular technologies causing excitement and concerns in the sector, as well as how some of the more advanced firms are coping with their adoption and use. This year, these technologies are AI and GenAI, but who knows what next year will bring?

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