AI Skills Gap putting Public Sector projects in jeopardy, according to Salesforce

The AI skills gap is impeding public sector projects, with 60% identifying the shortage as their primary challenge to implementation, according to research by Salesforce.

While all industries are grappling with a skills shortage, the gap is most pronounced in the public sector. Only 28% of public sector IT professionals consider themselves experts in using generative AI in their roles, and merely 32% report expertise in understanding generative AI use cases such as data analytics. Overall, just 30% claim to be proficient in implementing AI within their organisation, which is stalling the advancement of frontline citizen services across the public sector.

“Training and skills development are critical first steps for the public sector to leverage the benefits of AI,” said Casey Coleman, SVP of Global Government Solutions for Salesforce. “By investing in new skills like prompt development, public sector leaders can empower their workforce to use AI to increase productivity, build deeper relationships with constituents, and improve the quality of public services.”

According to Deloitte, AI could save hundreds of millions of government staff hours and billions of pounds annually, as departments scramble to level up their AI skills and capabilities.

Automating routine tasks, reduced risk and improved customer experience were named as the top benefits to the public sector if they improve their AI implementation.

Sheila Flavell CBE, Chief Operating Officer for FDM Group, said: “In the face of a growing skills gap hindering AI adoption in the public sector, organisations must take control and prioritise skills training for staff so they can understand and implement AI safely and effectively. Balancing speed with mitigating risks is a central challenge for all organisations, but without proper skills training, the challenge becomes even more difficult. The public sector should implement training schemes to upskill and reskill staff, equipping them with the necessary specialist skills to lead innovations in AI and ultimately deliver the best results for frontline public sector projects.”

Elizabeth Anderson, CEO of Digital Poverty Alliance commented: “There is no doubt that AI is transforming the way organisations, including public sector departments, are operating and helping to drive efficiencies, but we must also remind ourselves that AI is at risk of worsening the digital divide. Everyone needs basic digital skills training to access essential online utilities, yet organisations are looking to run before the country can walk by chasing AI, leaving millions behind unable to access online services. The situation calls for immediate action, and digital skills training should be at the centre of the manifesto for the incoming government."

After a lack of AI skills, 38% of public sector staff said that data quality was the second biggest pain point holding back their AI implementation, followed by 36% saying data security.