UK professionals express AI concerns

IT staff most concerned by lack of training and risk assessment at C-suite level when it comes to generative AI investments.

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As the UK government prepares to bring together leaders from around the world for the Global AI Safety Summit, new research from O’Reilly, has revealed UK IT professionals’ concerns around advancements in generative artificial intelligence (AI). Nearly three-quarters (71%) of IT teams believe there is a gap between the digital skills available and the UK government's ambitions to become a global leader in AI. 

When questioned about their own companies, 93% of UK IT professionals are concerned with their C-suite’s ambitions for the use of generative AI. Their biggest concerns are a lack of training and understanding at this level (28%), followed by a lack of risk assessments (23%) and a lack of operational understanding (22%).

While the UK government is seeking to develop a positive regulatory environment through the Global AI Safety Summit, 25% of IT professionals say they are not confident in their organisation’s current capabilities to ensure compliance with evolving regulations. A further 51% feel ‘somewhat’ confident that their organisation has the skills needed to keep pace with regulations for the use of generative AI.

Risk for UK workplaces as AI policy and training lags behind enterprise investments

The new O’Reilly research, conducted by Censuswide in September 2023, surveyed 500 UK IT professionals to identify investment in learning and development relating to generative AI and potential barriers to enterprise adoption. The data revealed that more than half (57%) of IT professionals say their organisation has invested over £15,001 in generative AI during the past 12 months. Additionally, 44% confirmed that their company has plans to spend £25,001–£50,000 on generative AI solutions over the next 12 months.

Despite current and planned investments, the research suggests that workplace policies and staff training are failing to keep pace. Even with the UK government’s National AI Strategy to boost business use of AI and develop the next generation of tech talent, a lack of AI-related training for all employees emerged as a major concern for IT professionals.

According to IT teams, staff outside of IT departments have been provided limited (32%) or no training opportunities at all (36%) about how generative AI will impact the workplace. As a result, more than a quarter (27%) of IT professionals identified the lack of training for employees as one of their biggest concerns, which is on par with their fears of more advanced cybersecurity threats posed by such technologies (27%).

Within IT departments, two in five (40%) staff members have received limited training opportunities on how to use generative AI to advance current IT services and practices. A further 30% have been offered no training at all. Worryingly, IT teams have been offered limited training (38%) or no training at all (33%) on how to ensure generative AI solutions are producing unbiased and accurate results.

Meanwhile, 41% of IT professionals say their organisation does not currently have a workplace policy in place for the use of generative AI technologies, and a further 11% are unsure if such a policy exists within their company.

IT professionals are seeking external AI-related L&D opportunities

Encouragingly, the majority (82%) of IT professionals say they would appreciate more learning and development opportunities on generative AI to help advance their current roles. More than two in five (43%) IT employees have sought external training opportunities over the last 12 months. Additionally, the majority (61%) of IT professionals are considering moving companies over the next 12 months if their employer fails to provide upskilling opportunities around generative AI.

“Organisations should continue to invest in generative AI to remain innovative and competitive. At the same time, they must also ensure that staff are adequately trained and that robust workplace policies are in place,” said Alexia Pedersen, VP of EMEA at O’Reilly. “This is not only a strategy for improved recruitment and retention in the face of a widening skills gap, but also a necessary step to guarantee ethical and safe AI deployments if Britain wants to fulfill its global ambitions.” 

One year on from the launch of Chat GPT, new data from Slack based on 10,000 global workers (including 1,000 the UK) reveals that UK companies believe there is greater urgency to adopt Generative AI at work than US companies - yet uptake remains cautious in both markets.
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