UK businesses must embrace AI and automation or risk being left behind

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By Kevin Ellis, Chairman and Senior Partner, PwC UK

As the fourth industrial revolution gathers pace, business leaders need to start addressing how AI and automation will impact their business and workforce. Emerging technologies are fundamentally disrupting how we live and work, and their future impact cannot be ignored.

Only half of UK CEOs are currently addressing the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) or automation on their organisation, according to the PwC CEO Survey, published at the World Economic Forum in Davos. This puts the UK behind countries such as Germany, the US and China in responding to how emerging technologies will redefine businesses. Only just over a quarter of UK bosses say they are considering the impact of AI on their future skills needs, compared to almost 40% of CEOs worldwide.

There is no doubt that the emergence of AI and automation will shift the balance of work between human and machine. It will mean some jobs changing, but also new jobs emerging, such as AI programmers and new regulatory roles. There will be tasks that are ripe for automation and businesses should respond by up-skilling the people that work in those areas. Skills such as adaptability, problem-solving, leadership, creativity and innovation have never been in higher demand.

As the UK negotiates its exit from the EU it is the perfect time for the government and business to work together to position the UK as the place for technology investment and innovation. This means putting in place a flexible regulatory framework, addressing skills shortages,, investing in research hubs and supporting start-ups to scale rapidly. All parties have a part to play to create the right environment to build trusted and transparent AI systems to support future economic growth and jobs.

However, our survey suggests a shortage of tech skills is holding back organisations as they look to strengthen their digital and technology capabilities to drive new growth opportunities. Two thirds of UK CEOs say recruiting people with digital skills is difficult, compared with only 43% of CEOs in the US and just 24% in China. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills appear harder to find in the UK than elsewhere, with over half of UK business leaders rating these skills as difficult to recruit.

For the UK’s future prospects it is vital that our organisations are able to attract people with the right tech skills, but also to develop those skills internally. In the tech talent race, UK organisations must be viewed by the rest of the world as leading the way in emerging technology development.

As well as recruiting people with digital skills, organisations need to focus on training their people to be adaptive, creative and critical thinkers. With the current pace of technological change it is hard to predict what jobs will look like in the future, so it is important that employees are able to respond to the next skills challenge. Those that can display these skills will be in high demand.

The emergence of new technologies will require diverse thinking to ensure that the fourth industrial revolution is representative of the population and doesn’t leave anybody behind as we reshape our economy.

Contact us

Mike Davies

Mike Davies

Director, Global Communications, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 7803 974136

Andrea Plasschaert

Andrea Plasschaert

Senior manager, Global communications, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 79 599 9567

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