Employers across all sectors face a mounting shortage of UK-based technologists specialising in artificial intelligence and related disciplines, Odgers Berndtson has warned.

Although the UK is currently an international centre for artificial intelligence, numbers of top specialists most sought-after by employers are tiny in relation to growing employer demand (see numbers/ details below). This is driving up salaries and threatening the future competitiveness of UK firms, said Mike Drew, Global Head of the Technology Practice at Odgers Berndtson.

“We’re now talking to companies across all sectors about the impact of technology on their businesses – and it’s clear they need specialist skills in key areas like AI, machine learning and also digital ethics to drive and implement change,” Mr Drew said. “Seeing opportunities to digitally transform but not possessing the people to implement change will hold businesses back and create a competitive void”.

Mr Drew said the firm has found it so challenging to identify people for AI-related roles within a business with the right skills, that it has undertaken global research to investigate specialist expertise at over 50 international universities. This highlights the acute shortage of candidates with specialist skills in artificial intelligence and related areas of expertise.

“The UK government urgently needs to encourage substantially more students already pursuing technology-related research to specialise in key areas like artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction and machine learning because this, alongside a critical ability to assess societal impact, is what employers most need and want,” Mr Drew added. 

On the most recent count, just 5.5% of all post-graduate technology research in UK universities is in specialist areas like AI and machine-learning, totalling a mere 225 students. This compares to 4,000 in the UK currently pursuing further degrees in computer science.

In addition, Mr Drew said the UK needs to do far more to encourage arts graduates, notably in subjects like ethics and philosophy, to do further degrees related to AI.

“The reality of artificial intelligence is that it’s not just about technology,” Mr Drew said.

“The social, ethical and philosophical aspects of applying machine learning and AI to everyday situations has major societal implications and increasingly companies want people to help them assess and understand this.”

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