Lack of skills a bump in the road to AI adoption

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

According to Peter Pugh-Jones, head of technology for SAS in the UK and Ireland, organisations will need to hire people with a diverse skill set in order to advance their artificial intelligence capabilities. He said that, for SAS, the ideal person would have a grounding in an area such as analytics and have the willingness to diversify into other areas.

Peter Pugh-Jones, head of technology UK and Ireland, SASHis comments come after the publication of a survey of enterprises about AI-readiness carried out by SAS that revealed a sense of optimism, but also organisational challenges that would accompany adoption. One of the biggest challenges was reported to be jobs - both the loss of existing jobs due to AI and the difficulty in filling the new jobs necessary to develop AI capabilities.

When asked, "what are you experiencing or expect to be the biggest challenges with deployment of AI in your organisation",’ 26% said it was a skills challenge or the lack of data scientists and 19% reported that they have no data science team in place. According to job site Indeed, for every artifical intelligence or machine learning job advertised, there are fewer than half the qualified candidates needed available.

"You may not need to be a specialist in AI because it is such a broad area."

When asked about the type AI practitioners organisations would need as they bring AI into their strategies and day-to-day business, Pugh-Jones said that they will need people who are very well versed in AI and all the different pillars within it. These are areas such as chatbots, deep learning, machine learning and natural language programming. However, he added that it is not necessary to be an expert in one area, but one would need to be adaptable.

“You may not need to be a specialist in AI because it is such a broad area, but you just need to be able to work with different parts of the technical world in an integrated way and to be able to make the best of AI and to have areas of AI that you can contribute to,” he said.

He also said that curiosity and passion are important qualities for AI professionals to have, as he has met very few people who work in computing that do not have a side project or a hobby that makes use of their skills.

"There is a decent amount of people who are excited by AI."

AI robotAlthough he is aware of the data skills gap, Pugh-Jones is optimistic that there is talent in the marketplace with analytical knowledge, a tendency towards technology and the desire to pursue a career in AI. “There is quite a decent amount of people that I’ve come across who are really excited and interested by the world of analytics and AI,” he explained.

With specific reference to his own company, Pugh-Jones said the people there who are classed as data scientists nearly all have analytical backgrounds and have experience of areas such as machine learning and deep learning and tend to be fairly technical. “Those people are quite rare because they have to span business, analytics and technical as three divisions,” Pugh-Jones said.

"Brexit is a little worrying."

With regard to Brexit and its possible effect on talent for the AI industry, Pugh-Jones said he expects there to be some movement of people once we leave the EU, especially of those who come from the mainland Europe, although migration to the UK from other parts of the world, like India, might increase. “Everybody is waiting to see what happens and many of us are hoping that it won’t affect everyone too adversely, but it is a little worrying,” he said.