The head of Aston University’s Aston Digital Futures Institute (ADFI) has highlighted the need to focus on AI skills across the UK’s workforce.

Professor Abdul Sadka, Director of ADFI, stressed the need for upskilling during a roundtable with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy) Paul Scully MP.

The event was organised by TechWM as part of Birmingham Tech Week, held on 16–20 October, and was attended by representatives from organisations such as BT, Amazon and HSBC.

Aston University is sponsoring Tech Week and the roundtable held on 16 October was one of the first events. The week involves more than 30 sessions, 150 expert speakers attracting an estimated 7,500 visitors.

 

Professor Sadka told the minister that the West Midlands and the country as a whole needs to focus on AI skill development to reskill or upskill workforces, not just within digital but across all industry sectors.

A government report from 2021 states the health and social care sector to be the most affected by the increase in AI technology due to the needs of an ageing population. It also predicts that AI and robotics are likely to be complementary to human labour in most cases rather than substitutes.

 

Professor Sadka said: “AI and other digital skills development are expected to have a positive knock-on economic effect, as businesses can function better and plan into the long-term, enabling them to build and maintain a thriving and productive business.”

“That’s why the AI agenda across the West Midlands – an industrial region – needs to be a major focus for employers, higher education and government.

“Aston University is showing its commitment to upskilling not just our regional, but also national and international workforces by founding the Aston Digital Futures Institute.”

 

Professor Sadka also stressed to the minister the importance of supporting academic–business knowledge transfer partnerships.

He stated: “These will result in the development and deployment of a new range of services within the metaverse, in the health/social care sector, retail and supply chain, as well as the construction and manufacturing industries.

“To enable this, the region will benefit from promoting new startups and supporting scaleups that have a business focus around areas such as creative content production, XR/VR, gamification and other immersive technologies.

“Hence, the multi-disciplinary Aston Digital Futures Institute aims to galvanise and expand the University’s research and innovation footprint in the digital technology space, with a particular focus on AI and data analytics, healthtech and gamification.”

 

Aston Digital Futures Institute was created to grow interdisciplinary research capability particularly in the areas of AI in health, data science and bioinformatics, gamification and digital society.