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The Talent Imperative

06 February 2024

Sue Turner OBE

Sue Turner Founding Director of AIGovernance.co.uk

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Sue Turner, Founding Director of AIGovernance.co.uk examines how workforces need to be skilled up for the data and AI revolution.

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in our organisations is placing the burden on HR leaders to understand current and future skills needs in areas that are developing more rapidly than anything we’ve experienced before. The potential that data-driven insights and intelligent automation could bring to our work is nothing short of breathtaking. But the yawning skills gap in data and AI threatens to leave many businesses stranded on the digital highway.

We can’t hire our way out of this; there aren’t enough data scientists and AI-skilled people to go round. That puts the onus on HR leaders to work out how to cultivate a workforce equipped to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of data and AI, where every department – from marketing to finance to operations – wants their share of the AI magic.

The Data Deluge and the AI Alchemy

Businesses are awash with data; every click, swipe, purchase and action generates a digital footprint, leaving us with a treasure trove of information just waiting to be uncovered and used. According to the UK Government, 81% of businesses report that they collect data but only 26% of businesses are currently using data to generate insights. Data, like any raw material, needs refinement before it yields its true value. This is where AI steps in, acting as the alchemist, transforming data into actionable insights and enabling us to predict, personalise and automate like never before.

However, the alchemy of AI requires skilled hands. We need data wranglers to tame the data deluge, data analysts to decipher its hidden patterns and AI engineers to build and deploy the intelligent systems that unlock its potential. But these are merely the tip of the iceberg. Every department needs individuals who can speak the language of data, who can translate insights into actionable strategies, and who can champion a data-driven culture within their teams.

Building the Data-Savvy Workforce

So, how do we bridge the skills gap and equip our workforce for the AI revolution? First off, there’s no point joining the war for talent as you’ll simply be sucked into the spiral of ever-increasing wages throwing your pay scales out of kilter, not to mention the chaos constant poaching makes of your attempts to control attrition.

A more reasoned approach will look at:

  • Upskilling and Reskilling: Our existing employees possess valuable domain knowledge and experience. Let’s invest in training programmes that move them up from simply working on spreadsheets and equip them with the fundamentals of data analysis, AI literacy and basic coding skills. This not only empowers them to contribute to the data-driven future, but also boosts morale and engagement for people concerned about being left behind in the AI-enabled world.
  • Targeted Talent Acquisition: Look beyond traditional job descriptions and focus on skills like critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical aptitude. Consider internal talent pools and diverse candidates with transferable skills from other fields like statistics, social sciences or even creative disciplines.
  • Building a Culture of Data: Foster a data-driven environment where data is viewed as a valuable asset, not a burden. Encourage open communication and collaboration across departments, allowing everyone to contribute to data-driven decision-making.
  • Embrace Continuous Learning: The data and AI landscape is constantly evolving. Invest in ongoing learning opportunities, such as workshops, conferences and online courses, to keep your workforce engaged with the latest trends and technologies.

The Challenges and the Rewards

Building a data-savvy workforce isn’t without its hurdles. Cultural resistance, budget constraints and the sheer pace of technological change will all pose obstacles. However, the rewards are undeniable. Organisations that use data effectively gain insights that help them make more informed strategic decisions and improve operational efficiency. In an ongoing tight labour market, for example, being able to find new insights that optimise resource allocation is a major plus.

Whether it’s increased customer satisfaction through hyper-personalisation of interactions, or gaining competitive advantage over competitors through spotting innovations earlier, in our data-driven world, those who can harness the power of data and AI have a significant edge.

The Future: Data-Driven and Human-Centred

The role of HR in the age of AI is not about replacing humans with machines. It’s about amplifying human capabilities through data and technology so you build a workforce that can propel your business into the future of AI and data-driven decision-making.

HR leaders must be proactive and innovative in their approaches. By understanding the skills gap, sourcing the right talent, fostering a conducive environment for growth and learning and embracing diversity, you can help your organisation to stay ahead in the AI-driven world.

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