Students should be taught AI to prepare for the workforce, says expert

Ahead of A Level results day, one training expert says AI is now as crucial to school leavers as learning English and maths.

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Helena Young

Ahead of thousands of sixth form students receiving their A Level results this week, one expert says the next generation of workers needs artificial intelligence (AI) training to educate the future workforce.

Multiverse, the apprentice training organisation set up by Tony Blair’s son Euan Blair – and winner of the Startups 100 Index 2021, recently found that AI training is now a top priority for firms. The technology’s rapid development is outpacing the amount of available, job-ready talent who are confident with using AI tools.

Rebecca Agostino, vice president of delivery at Multiverse, said: “We’ve been working on AI for many years at Multiverse, supporting some of the most exciting AI companies with their skills strategies.

“In the coming years, I strongly believe that AI skills will be just as important for workers as English and maths are today.”

Not using AI “a missed opportunity” for businesses

AI is expected to change the world of work unrecognisably. Amongst the many business perks it is predicted to bring, the technology can help automate decisions and processes, predict future outcomes, and optimise resources to ensure employees are focused on high-value work.

Sadly, these advances are being slowed by a general lack of talent in AI areas such as deep learning, prompt writing, and natural language processing. Research by Salesforce, conducted this year, found that just one in ten workers have in-demand AI skills.

Of course, this is partly due to the newness of the tech. With the sheer number of articles and headlines discussing AI tools like Google Duet and Microsoft Copilot, it’s easy to forget the current wave of AI tech picked up speed only as recently as last winter.

Agostino says that Multiverse had previously polled its apprentices to find out how many were using ChatGPT,  the popular generative AI tool, in their daily work. Some 50% said they did not use it in their daily work.

Describing this finding as “a massive missed opportunity”, Agostino comments that companies which do not adopt the technology swiftly face being left behind.

“We shouldn’t leave it to chance, and instead go out of our way to ensure workers have the skills they need to capture the benefits of these tools” she continues.

Companies should run to AI, not from it

While the Multiverse research finds that 50% of employees say they are not using ChatGPT at work, there is a risk that the figure is being underreported more widely.

Evidence suggests that workers are lying about not using ChatGPT at work to bosses, believing that it could result in disciplinary action. One report by Fishbowl estimates as many as one-in-seven employees could be hiding this information from their employers.

Many businesses believe that digital adoption is critical to the future of their business. But some are still wary about the role that AI will play in that future, as company owners question the ramifications of introducing a technology they are unfamiliar with.

Scepticism is not necessarily a flaw. Still, the many opportunities that AI presents – combined with the substantial growth already being exhibited by early adopters – should warn leaders against discouraging its use among staff.

As a long-term solution, Multiverse has announced a new training programme from September. It says the course will give thousands of apprentices across the UK on-the-job experience in using AI, helping workers to feel comfortable with emerging AI tools.

In the short-term, however, organisations need another approach. One option is to hire new, AI-literate experts to join the team and lead the charge. But with the AI hype bubble in full swell, many roles are out of SME price ranges and practical needs.

Instead, those who are struggling to hire AI talent might consider a solution closer to home – ‘upskilling’, or arming current staff with expertise that will help to bridge the digital skills gap.

AI upskilling: benefits for all

A recent Multiverse report found 70% of senior leaders think the current higher education system is leaving graduates underprepared for the workforce. The same poll revealed that AI training is a top priority for firms, with 83% planning to introduce ‘urgent’ training for staff.

By investing in AI training skills, companies can future-proof their workforce and focus on the specific skills required for their own business objectives – rather than wait for AI-trained graduates to enter the workforce in two decades time.

Deploying AI has advantages for every department. For example, human resource teams could more effectively track employee progress, productivity and feedback.

Marketing teams might schedule and send social media posts at a rapid rate, while AI in project management could keep tasks on-time and under-budget.

Even teams based in sectors considered more traditional, such as retailers, can use AI to transform their operations and better forecast demand for products and services.

Before these benefits can be enjoyed, however, companies must first design a well-defined educational framework for staff that addresses ethical, legal, and practical considerations.

Anthony Quigley, co-founder and chairman of The Corporate Governance Institute, explains: “AI literacy is crucial for businesses that want to use AI tools effectively. Training programs help staff understand AI concepts, their potential applications, and limitations.”

Read our guide on how to prepare your office for AI, for more information on how HR teams can address the AI skills gap.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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