Global AI Skills Crisis And How Different Nations Tackle The Issue

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Although futurists may disagree about when AI will achieve human-level intelligence, the chances are, it’s not going to happen any time soon.  However, the main reason why it hasn’t been adopted on a large scale across organizations and industries is the shortage of AI talent.  This has attracted the attention industry insiders and analysts.

How many AI talents are we missing?

Tencent Research Institute states there are currently only 300,000 AI researchers and practitioners worldwide but that the market needs millions of jobs to bridge the skills gap.

Although this figure is speculative, the skills gap is only too obvious to all in the industry.  On career websites, AI-related jobs include machine learning engineers, data scientists, predictive modelers, computational linguists, computer vision engineers, and Information strategy managers.  These experts are in high demand on websites like Indeed, which reports the number of job postings for such roles has increased by 119%.

The global machine learning market is expected to increase to $8.8B by 2022 and ML talent is going to be highly sought after.  Qualified experts are rare and because of this can demand huge salaries.  A machine learning engineer earns on average $135,000 — $175,000 in the US with some companies willing to pay even more for the best talent.

In Israel, since 2017, businesses have reported losing AI engineering talent to companies like Amazon, Nvidia, and Intel.  This has become so much of a problem, that in 2019, the Israeli government launched an initiative aimed at overcoming the shortage of tech experts.  Start-Up Nation Central (SNC) and the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) published a joint report in 2018 which surveyed 362 local and multinational companies.  It stated that there were over 15,000 unfilled AI positions in the country.

The UK is also currently on the brink of experiencing a major AI skills crisis.  Indeed suggests that the demand for data scientists, AI developers, ML and NLP talent has increased massively by 485% from 2014 to 2017 and that many jobs are unfilled.  UK Al experts can expect to earn an average salary of £54,366.  Brexit, scaremongering suggests EU Al experts will leave the country.  The UK government initiatives to encourage more young people to study technology, engineering, and STEM courses hasn’t worked.

In the EU things are also not good.  Bitkom conducted a study that reported 4 out of 5 companies in Germany experience problems due to a lack of IT specialists.

Over in South Korea, the problems persist.  The country invests heavily in technology and aspires to rank in the top 4 of the world’s AI leaders by 2022.  However, despite good government intentions to nurture engineering talent, there is still a lack of AI developers and in the country.

Bridging The AI Skills Gap

This lack of resources is something no country is willing to put up with and huge efforts are being made worldwide to nurture AI engineering talent.

These efforts are being applied to three areas:

Workforce

Currently, the workforce is gradually adapting to meet the demand for qualified AI specialists.  10 years ago, only 300 people applied to Berkley’s doctoral program in electrical engineering and computer science.  However, in 2017 this number had increased to 2,700 and more than 50% of applicants were interested in studying AI.

Business

Tech giants are actively trying to maximize their talent pools.  Google announced an entirely free learning course to encourage jobseekers to pursue a career in AI.  Businesses are pairing with universities and creating their own educational programs to nurture as much talent as possible.  Promising undergraduates are actively being recruited while they are still in college.

Government

In the UK, Germany, and Israel, governments are trying hard to bridge the AI skills gap and investing in educational initiatives to nurture talent.  The South Korean government aims to set up a minimum of 6 new AI schools in 2020 and educate over 2,000 AI developers and engineers.  The country aims to become a world superpower.  The Israeli government is less ambitious but aims to saturate the local job market with qualified Al workers.  In 2017, it launched an educational plan which aims to increase the number of tech graduates within 5 years.

However, none of these initiatives will provide a quick fix.  It takes a long time to nurture and grow AI talent.

However, a lot of major companies are in agreement – they simply cannot afford to put off digital transformation until there are enough local experts in their area and many are looking towards offshore AI talent.

India often comes to mind when people hear ‘offshore’, but Central and Eastern Europe is a thriving IT outsourcing hub nowadays and there are many talented experts in countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Romania, and Poland

Ukraine is filled with qualified IT experts who are keen to learn and acquire new tech skills.  Due to the legacy of the former USSR, Ukraine boasts a high level of education and tends to have very strong AI and STEM skills in general.  There are many mathematicians and statisticians who quickly be retrained to become data scientists and AI developers.

In Ukraine, average developers earn about $2,500 per month.  The ITO business is highly developed in Central and Eastern Europe and is the main driver of the economy.  Ukraine has over 245 IT companies with more than 50 staff members.  The industry generates over $2 billion in revenue.

The worldwide efforts to bridge the AI skills gap eventually bear fruit but developed countries will take time to compete with the AI, IT and R&D markets in Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, and Romania.  If your company is not benefiting from AI outsourcing, your competitors most probably are.

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