What’s the best way to make sure you’ve got the right AI skills?

While most organisations are looking externally for talent in the artificial intelligence (AI) field, they would be better served by looking within for the talent that will enable them to stay ahead of the AI curve, writes Aaron McEwan.

In early 2017, Lemonade, an insurance company based in the United States, used their artificial intelligence (AI) robot to process an insurance claim in just three seconds. As soon as word got out, the entire business community was on a mission to find out how they could use artificial intelligence to their advantage.

Business processes, ranging from customer services and sales right through to supply chain management are being transformed by AI. Current applications focus on speed, accuracy and productivity gains. However, revolutionising the customer experience is where the real competition is set to take place.

Autodesk’s virtual chatbot, AVA, is powered by IBM Watson and can already handle 40,000 help requests per month. Next year, she’ll be given a hyper-realistic, 3D rendered makeover that enables her to use simulated empathy and emotion to deliver “as close to a human experience as possible”.

AI has the potential to solve many of Australia’s productivity challenges. It can accelerate our transition from a resource, to a service based, economy and position us as a genuine innovation hub. However, Australia’s ability to embrace AI and exploit the coming AI revolution may be limited.

Where to source AI skills?
Australian organisations have been slow to adopt the use of AI due to a shortage of skills, such as coding, analytics and research skills, which are needed to successfully understand and apply the technology.

Currently, there is a talent pool of just 3370 AI skilled workers in Australia, most of whom are located in Sydney. This is compounded by the fact that the search for AI talent locally has grown by more than 50 per cent in the last 12 months.

Traditionally, organisations looking to acquire sought-after skills have looked at borrowing talent from overseas markets, however, the 457 visa restrictions set to be imposed from March 2018 are likely to have an impact on the free-flow of talent to Australian shores. Others have gone as far as buying talent, increasing wages and benefits in a bid to offer the most competitive salary in the marketplace.

Both strategies are unsustainable for businesses trying to achieve long-term growth and transformation.

Furthermore, relying on an increased supply of AI skilled graduates from university is also not a viable option. Seventy per cent of the top 20 most in-demand skills in Australia are technology-related, yet graduates from traditional technology-related degree programs remain underemployed. This points to a gap between what business is looking for in tech talent, and how graduates are being prepared.

While businesses are busy scrambling to find the right AI talent, they have an untapped pool of talent at their fingertips.

Uncover your hidden talent
Organisations don’t need to borrow or buy talent to successfully develop AI capabilities within their organisation.

Instead of recruiting candidates based on traditional technology backgrounds or training, progressive business leaders report they’ve seen success from hiring workers with related business or industry experience with the capacity to be upskilled in specific technology needs.

Candidates with this profile are able to quickly adapt to and navigate their organisations and can provide a unique lens on operations to identify new opportunities for innovation.

By choosing to build talent internally, organisations can capitalise on engaged and willing employees who want to learn new skills. Even the most pessimistic estimates suggest that between 10 per cent and 50 per cent of employees impacted by automation could be retrained and redeployed into emerging technology focused roles, including those working with AI.

Research by CEB, now Gartner, shows that employees want proactive career development. By providing staff with new opportunities to learn, organisations can boost productivity, engagement, retention and tap into a talent pool they never knew existed.

A hands-on approach
A build strategy goes beyond traditional learning and development; it’s a strategy that truly brings on the job learning to life, and is one of the most powerful ways to develop skill capability.

On-the-job training can also boost employee productivity and confidence while being tailored specifically for the organisation and its needs.

In the case of developing AI talent, on the job training may include:

  • Accelerated learning programs for hard skills (such as coding and analytics)
  • Opportunity to shadow people in roles that apply tech skills
    Involvement in projects that can accelerate technological understanding
  • As digitalisation embeds itself into the heart of all business and job roles become more dependent on, or entwined with technology, organisations must look within their four walls for the talent that will enable them to stay competitive, relevant and revolutionise their customer service.

Career Advice