A new research study conducted by the Digital Futures at Work Research Center (Digit) warns of a widening gap between organizations in the UK that have embraced artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled digital technologies and those that have not.
The nationally representative survey revealed that only 36% of UK employers have invested in AI-enabled technologies such as industrial robots, chatbots, smart assistants and cloud computing over the past five years.
The survey, carried out between November 2021 and June 2022, also indicated that a mere 10% of employers who hadn't already invested in such technologies had plans to do so in the next two years.
The study, led by academics from the University of Leeds in collaboration with the Universities of Sussex and Cambridge, shed light on a growing skills problem.
Less than 10% of employers anticipated investing in digital skills training in the coming ears, despite 75% of them facing challenges in recruiting individuals with the required skills.
Alarmingly, nearly 60% of employers reported that none of their employees had received formal digital skills training in the past year.
What did the lead authors of the study say?
Professor Mark Stuart, Dean for Research and Innovation at Leeds University Business School and the lead researcher of the study emphasized the need to address the low investment in digital technologies and digital skills in order to harness the potential benefits of digital transformation.
"A mix of hope, speculation, and hype is fueling a runaway narrative that the adoption of new AI-enabled digital technologies will rapidly transform the UK's labor market, boosting productivity and growth," Stuart said. "These hopes are often accompanied by fears about the consequences for jobs and even of existential risk.
"However, our findings suggest there is a need to focus on a different policy challenge. The workplace AI revolution is not happening quite yet. Policymakers will need to address both low employer investment in digital technologies and low investment in digital skills if the UK economy is to realize the potential benefits of digital transformation."
Stijn Broecke, Senior Economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), welcomed the study's evidence-based approach, highlighting the importance of moving beyond hype and fear when discussing the impact of AI and digital technologies in the workplace.
"At a time when AI is shifting digitalization into a higher gear, it is important to move beyond the hype and have a debate that is driven by evidence rather than fear and anecdote," Broecke said. "This new report by the Digital Futures at Work Research Center does exactly this and provides a nuanced picture of the impact of digital technologies on the workplace, highlighting both the risks and the opportunities."
The survey indicated that the primary motivations for investing in AI-enabled technologies were improving efficiency, productivity, and product and service quality.
Conversely, the reasons for non-investment included the perceived irrelevance of AI to business activities, broader business risks, and the specific skills demanded.
Contrary to common concerns about job losses, the survey found little evidence to support such claims. In fact, digital adopters were more likely to have increased their employment in the five-year period preceding the survey.
As policymakers race to keep pace with technological advancements, the researchers behind this study urge politicians to focus on evidence-based discussions surrounding AI's role in the workplace.