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Let’s Talk: Strategies for SMEs to develop their AI workforce

In the big world of AI, small businesses are having a tough time finding skilled folks. The AI market is huge, worth over $300 billion, and everyone wants a piece of it.

Big tech companies snatch up the best talent, making it a real challenge for the little guys. But, is the idea of using AI out of reach for small businesses? Not necessarily.

This week on Let’s Talk, our experts share tips on how small businesses can find and build AI talent.

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Tristan Wright, CEO and Founder of Evolve to Grow

Tristan Wright, CEO and Founder of Evolve to Grow

“For Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) aiming to bolster their AI initiatives, attracting and developing AI talent is pivotal. One effective strategy is to offer competitive compensation packages and benefits tailored to tech professionals. SMEs should emphasise the unique opportunities for growth and impact within their organisation, showcasing the significance of AI roles in driving innovation.

“Establishing a robust online presence is equally crucial. SMEs can leverage social media platforms and professional networks to showcase their commitment to AI, sharing success stories and projects. Actively participating in relevant online communities can help in building a reputation as an AI-friendly employer, attracting talent seeking dynamic and forward-thinking workplaces.

“Collaborating with AI-focused recruitment agencies can streamline the talent acquisition process. These agencies specialise in identifying and connecting SMEs with skilled AI professionals, ensuring a quicker and more targeted hiring process. Additionally, providing opportunities for skill development and continuous learning, such as workshops and conferences, demonstrates a commitment to employee growth, making the SME an appealing destination for AI talent.

“In essence, a multifaceted approach that combines competitive incentives, a strong online presence, strategic collaborations, and a commitment to ongoing learning will position SMEs to successfully attract and develop the AI talent essential for navigating the digital future.”

Jo Stewart-Rattray, Oceania Ambassador at ISACA

Jo Stewart-Rattray, Oceania Ambassador at ISACA

“An under-resourced sector complicates the task of attracting AI professionals. By 2050, 70 percent of jobs will be in STEM, with an anticipated 75 percent in AI-related roles, necessitating the need to expand this crucial workforce.

“But alarming figures reveal only 22 percent of AI workers globally are women. Limited female participation in AI research, development and implementation results in serious consequences: poorly designed algorithms reinforcing gender stereotypes, leading to unfair resource allocation and biased outcomes.

“It is imperative that those SMEs developing new technology, adopt a participatory approach in its design, development, and deployment to ensure universally relevant products and services are created.

“When it comes to attracting and retaining top AI talent, I believe prioritising diversity and inclusion is key. It not only broadens the talent pool but also provides a strategic edge for organisations in the competitive AI landscape. And establishing gender-balanced tech project teams promotes diverse thinking and innovation.

“SMEs can also partner with training organisations and Universities to provide practical experience and mentoring opportunities for students and graduates; while utilising specialist AI consultants.”

Grant Case, Regional Vice President, Head of Sales Engineering – APJ at Dataiku

Grant Case, Regional Vice President, Head of Sales Engineering – APJ at Dataiku

“While organisations like Canva and Google have the resources to attract top AI experts, SMEs require creative solutions to punch above their weight.

“Here are three ways to propel your SME’s AI journey:

SMEs often possess troves of real-world data. Highlighting your data’s unique qualities and strengths can act as an irresistible allure for AI talent eager to create an impact. Whether via student competitions, hackathons or open calls for research, showing off your rich data can pave inroads to fresh AI talent and ideas.

Upskill your people by leveraging the many free AI courses offered by vendors and look for transferable innovations by reading AI research and stories from other industries. Upskilled staff who understand external AI trends are better equipped to identify use cases and adapt solutions for quick internal wins.

Provide channels for staff gaining AI skills to collaborate with experts via a shared AI platform. Since many SMEs lack resident data scientists, common platforms that blend domain and technical talent can help drive AI progress and outlast any individual by codifying institutional knowledge.

“Implementing these pragmatic measures—spotlighting data assets, upskilling talent, and enabling collaborative creation—can drive AI innovation and give Australian SMEs a competitive edge and position them at the helm of next-generation industries.”

Rob Moore, Co-founder and CTO of MakerX

Rob Moore, Co-founder and CTO of MakerX

“In the dynamic tech landscape, Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t exclusive to tech giants—it’s a tool for everyone. Agile Small to Medium Businesses (SMBs) stand to gain a competitive edge and unveil new market opportunities by leveraging AI’s transformative power. By fostering a culture of innovation and experimentation, these businesses can empower their existing teams to utilise AI without incurring the cost and time to hire new tech talent. This culture thrives on open dialogue, celebrating AI experiments and successes, and constant enablement through education, upskilling, and safe, self-service access to AI tools.

“To fully scale and capitalise on these innovations, SMBs can explore corporate venturing opportunities with innovative partners that can unlock AI-enabled industry and product opportunities, shaping a future-ready business landscape teeming with not just growth, but profitable growth and innovation.”

Brad Drysdale, Field CTO at SnapLogic

Brad Drysdale, Field CTO at SnapLogic

“The current business landscape is unpredictable, and that puts pressure on budgets and resources – and ultimately, on employees. Using AI to automate processes and improve productivity relieves this pressure.

“In fact, SnapLogic’s recent research demonstrates that 66 per cent of workers want to use AI in the workplace. They recognise that it will save them time, improve their productivity and reduce risk and errors in their work. This is very encouraging to hear because employee buy-in is essential to making an AI rollout successful.

“However, it should be noted that they are concerned that skills will be an issue — one-third (39%) of respondents claimed that there are very few people within their organisation with the skills required to implement and use AI. Nearly as many (36%) mention wanting a ‘safety net’ to reduce the risk that they would make mistakes.

“To address their apprehension, SMEs should invest in upskilling programs and foster a culture that encourages learning and experimentation. This holistic approach ensures not only the acquisition of necessary skills but also the sustained enthusiasm and confidence of their workforce.”

Chris Dahl, Co-CEO at Pin Payments

Chris Dahl, Co-CEO at Pin Payments

“Despite its transformative potential, the use of artificial intelligence in business is confusing and challenging for many small business owners. In fact, recent research from Employsure shows 59 percent of SMEs haven’t implemented AI yet due to a gap in awareness, understanding and resources. To develop AI talent, SMEs must first understand what they’re hoping to achieve by implementing AI, and then build a strategy accordingly.

“If you don’t have the current capabilities to do this, consider hiring a consultant or agency who can do an overview of your business and make recommendations for the best use of AI. To attract the best AI talent your business needs to show its commitment to AI by investing in training and development or partnering with businesses who can help you do this. Likewise, partnering with universities or educational institutions could be a great way to find upcoming talent by offering internships or work experience to students specialising in AI. Lastly, during your recruitment process make sure you are open and transparent about the way you use AI and highlight any ethics your business upholds surrounding its use.”

Andrii Bezruchko, CEO and founder at Newxel

Andrii Bezruchko, CEO and founder at Newxel

“In the quest to attract and develop AI talent, size doesn’t matter – the vision and purpose count.

“As someone deeply entrenched in tech talent recruitment, I can attest that SMEs can compete effectively for AI talent by following a strategic approach:

Clear AI Strategy and Vision: SMEs should articulate a compelling AI strategy that aligns with their core purpose. AI professionals are drawn to projects with a meaningful impact, so emphasize how your AI initiatives contribute to real-world solutions.

Focus on Development: Top tech talent seeks growth opportunities. SMEs can invest in upskilling current employees by offering AI-related courses, workshops, and certifications. Encourage a culture of continuous learning to keep your team updated with the latest AI trends. Establish mentorship programs where seasoned AI experts guide newcomers. This knowledge transfer fosters skill development and accelerates learning.

Flexible Work Arrangements: Offer remote or flexible work options to tap into a broader talent pool. Experts from different locations can contribute to your AI projects, bringing diverse perspectives.

Competitive Compensation: Stay competitive by offering attractive salaries and benefits packages. Recognize that top AI professionals are in high demand and willing to explore opportunities with appealing incentives.

Outsourcing Expertise: SMEs can overcome the challenge of hiring the right talent at the right time by considering outsourcing. Partnering with a reliable IT outstaffing company grants access to a global pool of AI experts, providing cost-effective and flexible solutions.

“By embracing these strategies, SMEs can harness the transformative power of AI and drive innovation within their organizations.”

Warren Schilpzand, Area Vice President of Australia and New Zealand at DataStax

Warren Schilpzand, Area Vice President of Australia and New Zealand at DataStax

“If it hasn’t already, over the coming year artificial intelligence (AI) will impact virtually every aspect of your business, from planning and jobs to resource allocation and customer service.

“This puts SMEs in a tough spot. Tech talent in Australia is already at a premium, and finding people experienced in cutting edge applications like AI is even harder. At DataStax, we’ve built real time AI enablers into our core product, Astra DB, and coupled it with vector search to create a product that not only transforms the way our clients serve their customers, but puts this powerful technology within the reach of everyone.

“To find the best people, we create opportunities for them to work on truly revolutionary projects. Projects that aren’t just incremental, but which totally alter the way we do business and the products we offer.

“For SMEs, finding and attracting the best AI talent means kick-starting initiatives designed to change the way your business operates and serves its customers. Star performers want to work on projects that make a difference, challenge them, and grow their skills.

“Transforming your business with AI is not the work of a moment. But by embarking on AI endeavours designed to take your business to the next level, you’ll be able to attract, and retain, the very best talent by giving them the chance to work on something that really makes a difference.”

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