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UK already lacking skills for AI revolution, report says

·2-min read

Artificial intelligence could make the UK’s skills shortages worse, a Government report has warned.

The report, prepared for ministers by consultants at PwC, said that while AI should create jobs as well as displace them, the sectors most likely to see a rise in vacancies were those where the UK was already lacking in skills.

It said: “Almost all occupations on the current Government shortages list are projected to show net increases due to AI.”

As well as skills working directly in the AI industry, these include skills in health and social care, science, engineering and programming, all of which appear on the Government’s Shortage Occupation List, meaning there are not enough British workers to meet demand.

Other workers will have to learn how to work with AI as well as develop their abilities in areas where humans will retain the edge over machines, including “empathy, building relationships and collaboration”.

The report’s authors said: “The UK is already facing important skill shortages in a series of occupations.

“Our estimates of the net effect of AI on occupations suggest that these shortages may tend to increase further unless appropriate action is taken to develop the relevant skills of current and future workers.”

Overall, the report’s authors did not expect AI and automation to cause mass unemployment, with roughly as many jobs being created as being lost.

However, they said the types of jobs would change, with more educated people seeing job opportunities increase.

They also predicted jobs would mainly be created in major cities, particularly in London and the South East, while losses would be more likely in the North and Midlands.

Customer service jobs are thought to be particularly at risk, with three-quarters likely to be replaced by automation in the next 20 years.

Health and social care are likely to see job opportunities expand significantly, however, with AI helping workers to do their jobs rather than replacing them.

In the care sector, the demand for a “human touch” is also likely to limit the appeal of automation while an ageing population will add to the need for care workers.

Both main political parties have previously spoken about the importance of investing in skills to cope with the expansion of AI, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak announcing a £34 million fund to support 2,000 new scholarships in AI and data science for disadvantaged students.

The PwC report suggests investment in AI skills or skills in growth areas will not be enough, adding: “Instead of simply promoting the skills needed today, many experts argue instead for promoting resilience and adaptation (‘learning how to learn’) because the process of upskilling is expected to become a more regular need for the majority of people.”

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