Just 20 per cent of senior executives believe there are enough school leavers and graduates entering the labour market with the appropriate digital skills and experience, according to a new survey of UK digital leaders by Deloitte.

The findings come from the first edition of a new regular report from Deloitte, the Digital Disruption Index.  The index will track investment in digital technologies, skills and strategies, creating a detailed picture of their impact on the largest and most influential business and public sector bodies.  The first edition includes responses from 51 organisations with a combined market value of £229bn.

The report shows that UK business are struggling to attract and develop digital talent, with three-quarters of executives saying they face challenges recruiting the right digital skills. Leaders say data scientists and analysts are the most important roles for a successful digital strategy, but these are also the most difficult digital roles to retain and recruit.

Over half of leaders say their organisation is failing to provide the training necessary to support their digital strategy. Forty-five per cent also say that their organisation does not provide them and other leaders with the resources needed, such as training and coaching through a variety of multimedia channels, to develop their own digital skills.

Paul Thompson, UK digital transformation leader at Deloitte, explains: “The UK has the opportunity to be a market-leader in harnessing and exploiting the opportunities digital brings, including increased productivity and driving growth.  But it’s clear that digital skills, at all levels, are in short supply and high demand.  In our view, digital represents both a business and public policy issue which needs educators, policymakers and business to work more closely together, in order to meet the current and future demands of the UK’s economy.”

Rise of artificial intelligence

The survey respondents also believe that artificial intelligence (AI) will have a profound impact on the future of work.  Of all of the digital technologies surveyed – including robotics, cyber, analytics and blockchain – executives believe AI will have the biggest impact on their organisations.

Investment in AI at this stage remains modest though, with only 22 per cent having already invested in it. Of those that have invested, only a third expect to spend more than £1 million in 2017.  This suggests that organisations are currently testing with pilots, rather than large scale deployments. However this is set to change dramatically, and by 2020, 85 per cent of executives say they plan to invest in AI.

Seventy-seven per cent of leaders expect AI to disrupt their industries.  Just under half expect their workforce to get smaller as they adopt AI, but only eight per cent believe AI will directly replace human activity. Over a third believe AI will be used to augment expertise, with a focus on improving human decision-making.

Thompson adds: “AI will have a profound impact on the future of work.  Our view is that human and machine intelligence complement each other, and that AI should not simply be seen as a substitute. Humans working with AI will achieve better outcomes than AI alone, and businesses need to get this careful balance right.”