Saturday, July 13, 2024

Irish SMEs playing catch-up with AI due to skills shortage, say tech giants

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Tech giants have urged the Government to address the growing trend of SMEs falling behind on AI adoption compared to advancements made by larger firms.

Representatives from Google, Amazon, and Microsoft told the Oireachtas enterprise committee that a chronic shortage of skills is the main barrier for businesses that want to build AI technology into their operations.

“We need to fill the gap in terms of the rate of adoption where bigger businesses are adopting AI faster than start-ups,” said Amazon Web Services (AWS) EMEA head of AI policy Saha Rubel.

Ms Rubel said the need for SMEs to catch up is due to how integrated many are with multinationals, which have more resources and funding to push towards AI. She said more than 1,200 Irish SMEs use AWS to sell their products and services.

However, Ms Rubel added that “an ongoing digital skills gap” is blocking progress in this area.

At the committee, Microsoft Ireland technical officer Kieran McCorry echoed Ms Rubel’s claims and said “multinationals here are more likely to be adopters than indigenous businesses”. He called for increased support for SMEs to retain skilled staff while retraining others.

However, Microsoft director of EU government affairs Jeremy Rollison said resources exist in Ireland to respond to the rapidly changing tech environment, especially when it comes to AI.

We believe Ireland has an unmatched technology cluster, a vibrant education and research sector, and the best educated workers in the EU.” 

A separate report published this week also suggested that the chronic skills shortage may hold back the adoption of AI technology among firms this year.

A study by IBM, which includes responses from chief executives in Ireland and Britain, found that just 37% of these employers plan to hire additional staff to build AI technology into their businesses amid a tight labour market.

However, 50% of respondents said they are struggling to fill these roles.

Elsewhere, UK employers are offering a 14% wage premium for jobs that require skills in AI as booming demand for the technology reshapes the labour market.

Postings for AI roles have risen almost four times faster than the average for other jobs over the last decade, research by consulting firm PwC showed.

It analysed around 500m advertisements across 15 countries and found nine AI openings in the UK for each 1,000 vacancies. That outpaced the global growth rate.

Meanwhile, Mr McCorry, citing research from the OECD published last year, said “there is little evidence of significant negative employment effects due to AI”, but added that, inevitably, some roles would be exposed.

Last week, Finance Minister Michael McGrath warned that up to one-third of jobs in Ireland could be at risk due to the push towards AI across business sectors.

  • Additional reporting by Bloomberg

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