People & Leadership

How to win the war to get the best enterprise AI employees

Want to get the best enterprise artificial intelligence (AI) employees for your business? You’ll have competition. There’s a revolution happening in enterprise AI but is there enough skilled talent coming through to take advantage?

Research and advisory firm Gartner says that by 2020, AI will be pervasive in almost every new product and service. By 2025, the size of the AI market will grow to $59bn (£44bn) worldwide, with the largest proportion of revenue coming from enterprise AI applications.

According to professional services network PWC’s Digital IQ report, only 20% of executives said their organisations had the skills necessary to succeed with AI. And in 2017, professional services firm Ernst and Young revealed 56% of senior AI professionals said a lack of talent was the biggest barrier to implementation within business operations.

“In 2017, as businesses strategised how to integrate into their operations, they were hampered by a shortage of experts with the requisite knowledge of the technology. It’s about the people,” said Chris Mazzei, Ernst and Young global innovation technologies leader and global chief analytics officer.

A pattern has been set, with Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook and Google hoovering up talent. This means one big issue for businesses is that AI talent is scarce relative to demand. Another is that salaries are high for people who have the required set of AI skills needed to make a real difference to an organisation.

Arshak Navruzyan, chief technology officer at AI startup Sentient Technology, says: “Businesses won’t be known for their work with AI. Now if you want to do AI work you go to companies such as Google, Open AI or Facebook.

“The average Fortune-level company needs to think about how they make themselves attractive to machine-learning researchers and data scientists. How can they amass enough of this type of talent to make a difference in the business problems they want to solve?”

So how can your company compete and attract the best enterprise AI talent to your business? Here are six points to consider.

1. Think about your recruitment strategy

It will be easier to hire inexperienced engineers than senior machine learning experts who have developed AI skills and have a background in the area. This means your organisation might want to hire people who show a commitment to learning on the job and who could grow into a role focused around AI.

However, if your business is seriously thinking about AI, you will certainly benefit from having top-tier experienced talent in senior roles.

In addition, if your company wants to make a bold move into AI, you need to treat it as a core competency. It’s not about simply creating an “AI lab”. If your business is to succeed, it will need to have made a serious investment, thinking along the lines of attracting and incentivising skilled enterprise AI talent to work for you and who will grow their careers with your company.

University students and people from research centres are worth considering for employment

University students and people from research centres are worth considering for employment

2. Partner with universities and research centres

Looking to find the best enterprise AI talent? Try universities and centres of research to identify top AI talent who might already have the practical experience your business requires.

DeepMind, known widely as a leader in machine learning, has joined forces with UCL’s Department of Computer Science to deliver a Master’s level training module, covering some of the most sophisticated topics in artificial intelligence.

Your business could similarly build relationships with universities specialising in AI and would be first in line when it came to recruiting skilled graduates.

3. Hunt for talent via hackathons and event sponsorship

Hackathons bring people with technical backgrounds together to solve a problem and code solutions. But they are also a great way of bringing together top coding and creative talent in one place.

Recruiters attending these events can perform on-the-spot interviews with people who show talent, aptitude and passion for the technology these businesses might want them to work with day to day. Complementing events such as career fairs, hackathons will have people who are practising code and are putting a lot of thought into what they’re doing.

Your business might also want to think about sponsoring AI events, conferences or competitions to attract international AI talent, as well as build its reputation up as a supporter of AI. Sponsoring an event can potentially create links with the right people, as your company will demonstrate the right authority to prospective hires, as well as gain credibility and awareness.

4. Hire talent from AI-focused education programmes

Because of an increasing demand for enterprise AI talent, education institutions are catering for demand by offering specialised courses to train people to find jobs. It’s worth your business exploring this avenue to source essential talent.

Recently, Microsoft opened a Professional Programme in AI to the public, which is designed to provide job-ready skills in AI and data science through online courses that feature hands-on labs and expert instruction. Students successfully going through the learning track receive a digital certificate, which they can use for their CVs.

Susan Dumais, distinguished scientist and assistant director of Microsoft Research AI, says: “AI is increasingly important in how our products and services are designed and delivered, and that is true for our customers as well. Fundamentally we are all interested in developing talent able to build, understand and design systems that have AI as a central component.”

Turn to your current employees and train them up so they have the relevant enterprise AI skills

5. Retrain existing staff for enterprise AI roles

Rather than bringing in a number of new faces to your company, you may be better off training your current employees. By updating the skills of your existing engineers and putting the focus on who is already on your team, it would certainly cut out the risk of new hires not working out.

Your business could do this with corporate training programmes or even bring in external trainers. There is also the option of apprenticeships and mentoring to up-skill junior members of the team.

6. AI is not just about recruitment, it’s a culture change

According to PwC, it’s vital to align AI innovation with strategic objectives and performance indicators, rather than have scattered initiatives in isolation. Having pilot projects isn’t enough – it’s about taking a fundamental look at how AI can disrupt businesses, and seeing what threats and opportunities this can present.

Given time, effort and budget, your business should have ways to find individuals with the required AI skills. But that’s only the beginning. If the popularity of AI grows as much as experts claim, having selected people to deal with the technical and business aspects of AI won’t be enough.

It’s not simply about having people with the right AI skills – it will be a cultural shift in making AI a central part of conversations when it comes to technology, business development and strategic execution.

Mark Troester, vice president of strategy at software company Progress, believes businesses must avoid treating AI as the exclusive domain of data scientists. He says: “Businesses should adopt a more holistic approach that moves beyond silos that treat the analytics and the app development teams as separate.

“App developers need to become more knowledgeable about the data science lifecycle and app designers need to think about how AI and predictive insights can drive the application experience.

“By ensuring that the teams within the organisation can work together seamlessly, businesses can get access to a much broader pool of skill sets and talent.”