The ultimate goal of artificial intelligence is to replace human labor. But, before getting there, we need more humans to work.
The viral popularity of artificial intelligence in the tech community in recent years has spurred a surge in demand for workers with relevant skills. But turning buzz into reality takes time. Even the labor market in the country’s hottest tech hubs has yet to catch up.
A recent survey of 80 leading tech companies in New York City by consulting firm Accenture and nonprofit Tech:NYC found that, despite a growing hiring need, employers struggle to find enough qualified candidates to fill tech positions, primarily in artificial intelligence, product engineering and web engineering. Half of the surveyed companies say they don’t feel optimistic about finding qualified candidates in New York.
The demand also seems urgent. About half (49 percent) of the companies in Accenture’s survey expressed worry that they won’t be able to innovate at the current pace if they can’t fulfill hiring needs in the next 12 months.
Lynn McMahon, office managing director for Accenture’s New York Metro region, said a main reason for the rising demand in New York is the rapid digitalization of companies outside the traditional tech industry.
“Many companies that want to hire tech workers are not traditional tech companies. They can be in media, finance, marketing and retail,” McMahon told Observer.
Another driver for rising tech demand is simply the fast entry of startups. Venture capital investment in A.I. startups is currently at a record high. Between 2016 and 2017, the amount of capital funding for A.I. and machine learning startups doubled from $6 billion to $12 billion, according to latest statistics by KPMG.
But talent wanted by these companies is not evenly distributed across major markets.
“Of the top three technical skills in demand, artificial intelligence is the most scarce in New York, given the fact that it’s still relatively a new thing. Most artificial intelligence talent is concentrated in Silicon Valley,” McMahon said, adding that many companies in New York are trying to attract talent from Silicon Valley, as well as other tech hubs like Seattle and Boston.
Unfortunately, Silicon Valley is plagued with its own talent shortage. In recent months, because of the area’s skyrocketing housing price, a growing number of engineers have been moving away to more affordable cities like Portland. (Not many moved to New York.)
“Silicon Valley and New York City are constantly in a race for talent. And it’s the biggest problem facing companies in these two markets,” said Clay Kellogg, CEO of Terminal, a platform helping companies hire full-time remote workers. “There are a number of reasons why there’s a shortage of talent in these markets, everything ranging from the cost of living being extremely high, to immigration law changes that are making it more difficult to hire foreign tech workers, to the competition from large players like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.“
A competition for talent has also led to a high turnover rate of engineers. Every year, 25 percent of engineers in Silicon Valley change employers in order to get a raise, Kellogg estimates.