Supply of AI workers failing to meet demand

The government must take strategic action to ensure the nation’s AI workforce will meet future demands because current supply is falling short, a new report warns.

The report from CSIRO’s data sciences arm Data61 focuses on how the nation can capture the full potential of artificial intelligence technology, which is already being used in a wide range of fields.

The Artificial Intelligence: Solving problems, growing the economy and improving our quality of life report found that Australia currently has 6,600 AI specialist workers, which is up from 650 AI workers in 2014 and is predicted to grow.

However it is well short of the up to 160,000 workers that may be required in the next ten years.

“We estimate that by 2030 Australian industry will require a workforce of between 32,000 to 161,000 employees in computer vision, robotics, human language technologies, data science and other areas of AI expertise,” the report says.

It questions whether Australia is adequately prepared.

For example, advanced mathematics skills are important for AI development and application, however, data from the Programme for International Student Assessment shows that Australia’s relative ranking compared to other countries in this area has been declining since 2003.

The report says governments worldwide are taking strategic steps to achieve improved AI capability and it identifies three high level strategies for achieving a secure AI future for Australia:

  • Technological specialistaion
  • Mission directed research
  • Business and knowledge ecosystems

Clare O’Neil, Labor’s spokeswoman on innovation, technology and the future of work, doesn’t believe that Australia is on track to meet demand.

“Last year, just 6,302 Australian domestic students completed undergraduate or postgraduate degrees in IT-related fields,” she said in a statement.

“On this trajectory, we’ll produce about 75,600 graduates by 2030 – a projected shortfall of around 85,000 qualified applicants for high-skill, high-paid jobs.”

Jobs to be impacted by AI

According to the report, most Australian workers won’t need to develop AI specific skills, however, their jobs are likely to be impacted by the technology.

“A recent study by Google and consulting firm AlphaBeta found Australian workers will, on average, need to increase time spent learning new skills by 33 per cent over their lifetime and that job tasks will change 18 per cent per decade,” the report said.

“The need to upskill is primarily because digital technology (including AI) will shift the workforce skills demand profile.”

While previous generations relied on literacy and numeracy skills to gain employment, future workers will also need digital literacy, which is the ability to interact with and use advanced information and communication technologies.

However, these skills alone will not be enough to attain a good job, according to the report. Well-rounded skills and well-rounded knowledge will still be required.

“Overall digitisation and automation of tasks will require workers to transition their careers from lower-demand areas to higher-demand areas,” the report says.

“Individual workers, governments and companies can take actions – such as retraining, upskilling and reskilling – to make earlier (and better) career transitions.”

High potential areas of AI for Australia

The report identified three high potential areas of AI specialisation for Australia, based on existing capabilities and opportunities to solve big problems and export solutions.

The first area is the health, ageing and disability sector, where AI is being widely developed and applied.

“Already AI systems are matching, or even outperforming, human experts in areas such as oncology, radiology and retinal disease,” the report says.

The demand for services in this sector is expected to rise, along with the costs of those services, so it is important to create new solutions, the report says.

“Innovation is essential to ensure improved, or even, maintained quality of services. AI will be an important technology which allows us to deliver better healthcare in a cost efficient manner,” it says.

The second area is towns, cities and infrastructure, where AI and related technologies  can be used to improve the safety of citizens.

“AI can be used to help us plan, build and operate our infrastructure more efficiently. AI can allow us to sweat existing infrastructure assets harder and ensure we prioritise new infrastructure projects of maximum benefit to the nation,” the report says.

The third area is in natural resource management, where AI could be used to enhance the productivity, resilience and environmental performance of farms.

“One of the challenges (and opportunities) already facing Australian agriculture is its shrinking and ageing workforce… over the longer term it shows a declining trend. A smaller workforce requires increased productivity per worker. AI enablement can help,” the report says.

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