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Our growing demand for Artificial Intelligence


Column posted in The Journal

The adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation is a hot topic for businesses at the moment, and last week a group of Chamber members discussed the growing demand for AI skills with the Government’s Office for AI, alongside the North East LEP and Sunderland Software City.

The Universities of Newcastle, Northumbria, and Sunderland all currently deliver degree courses with AI content, and are looking to develop their offer further. The Office for AI pledged to work with them to create additional places on AI Masters courses, and encourage businesses to provide placements for students to gain industry experience.

Some North East businesses are already using AI to improve manufacturing processes, and to make better use of the data they collect to provide new services. However, at the meeting there was a perception that many businesses are not aware of the potential benefits of using AI – even within companies that have adopted the new technology, it had not spread to every department.

Recent news stories about developments in AI have included a focus on the potential risk to jobs, and fears that once routine tasks can be automated, human workers will be replaced by machines. To address these concerns, the Government has committed to introducing a National Retraining Scheme by 2022, with £100 million pledged at the 2018 Autumn Budget to start the roll out of a programme to help adults retrain and adapt to trends including automation and AI.

There is a clear demand for additional support in this area. A recent report by the Social Mobility Commission found that the poorest adults with the lowest qualifications are the least likely to access training – despite being the group who would benefit most. Previous research has shown almost half of adults from the lowest socioeconomic groups have received no training since leaving school.

The impact of the apprenticeship reforms has also caused concern, as the number of entry-level opportunities has declined, while there has been a substantial increase in the number of Higher and Degree apprenticeships – particularly in Management training – offered to existing staff.

We will work with our members and the Department of Education to provide feedback on the design of the National Retraining Scheme, to ensure that it provides relevant training for the needs of the North East economy. Making sure that adults can access careers advice on the opportunities created by AI will be a key part of this.