Bridging AI skills gaps to fuel business growth

AI is a powerful technology that can help companies enhance every aspect of their business by increasing efficiency, productivity, and profitability. However, it’s also time for a reality check regarding the broader challenges and limitations in AI adoption.

A critical area is skills. Although there is a huge investment in nurturing the talent of the future, there exists a disconnect: the time required to cultivate specific AI-focused technical skills versus the immediate need to implement AI strategies today.

The development of the talent pool is not keeping pace with most businesses’ needs to benefit in the short term. What steps can we take to act now and leverage the benefits at this peak of innovation, while also positioning ourselves for future growth?

APAC’s AI boom 

APAC is at the forefront of AI adoption, with businesses and governments across the region investing heavily. According to the latest IDC Worldwide AI Spending Guide, AI spending in APAC is projected to grow to US$78.4 billion by 2027. The region is emerging as a hub for AI innovation.

Governments play a leading role, with many developing national AI strategies and investing heavily in public-private partnerships for research and development. In Singapore, the National AI Strategy aims to support the deployment of AI solutions and identifies talent and education as key drivers in preparing for an AI economy. Similarly, Indonesia has initiatives that include partnerships with leading AI vendors to help upskill its workforce.

There are also AI hubs — areas where clusters of AI technology innovation and businesses that are leaders in research and deployment are concentrated. For example, CBRE lists Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Australia as such hubs, where talent will inevitably emerge.

Nurturing talent takes time

Many of these initiatives or trends were already in place before the recent AI boom, yet the growing focus on AI has intensified demand. Recruiting the right people to drive AI-assisted digital transformation has become a key priority for businesses across almost every industry.

The rise of democratised AI usage has spurred the creation of novel roles in functions beyond IT, such as AI trainers and AI compliance specialists. However, there is a gap between the demand for AI skills and the availability of talent equipped with the necessary knowledge and abilities to fill these roles. LinkedIn data indicates that AI talent hiring outpaces overall hiring in Singapore. A McKinsey report echoes this, identifying the limited skills pool as a major factor restraining AI from reaching its full business potential.

Businesses could, of course, take matters into their own hands by developing their talent pool through training and recruitment programmes — and indeed they should — but this is a long-term strategy. The talent pool needs time to evolve, and businesses must act swiftly to capitalise on the AI opportunity. Thus, we advocate a quick-win approach.

The AI skill set in demand is evolving to require less specialisation and more a case of applying AI in various business areas, extending beyond the data scientist role. This includes so-called augmentable jobs, where the skills to utilise AI form part of the role, rather than solely advancing AI innovation.

Starting now for the future

The practical solution is to start by dipping one’s feet in the water. Trying to implement AI for everything could be counterproductive for unskilled or inexperienced teams. It’s crucial to delve deeply into business needs and clearly identify the areas where AI can have the biggest impact. Then, businesses can explore two approaches to achieve the fastest impact:

  • First, use low/no-code platforms. They enable businesses to develop and deploy AI solutions swiftly and effortlessly without needing large teams of AI experts. With a range of tools and resources, including pre-built models, drag-and-drop interfaces, and visual programming tools, businesses can create a wide variety of applications tailored to their needs without starting from scratch.
  • Second, partner with experts. Another way for businesses to quickly make an impact with AI, without a large talent pool, is to partner with specialists in AI consulting and development. These experts can help businesses in identifying and implementing targeted and tailored AI solutions.

Jobs will change in the long term, but these are cost-effective, fast, and proven ways for businesses to accelerate their AI adoption journeys, while still allowing time and effort to nurture talent and upskill employees for the future. By focusing on specific business problems and starting easy, businesses can kickstart their AI strategies in a realistic way that delivers impactful results. Results won’t be achieved overnight, and it will take time to reap the full benefits of AI, but a steady and thoughtful plan is sure to win the race.