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16 April 2024

The Digital Frontier: Preparing the Workforce for Future Tech Challenges

 

Professor Pete Burnap is a specialist in Data Science & Cybersecurity at the Cardiff University School of Computer Science and Informatics.

In addition to being a founding director of the Wales Cyber Innovation Hub, Professor Burnap has extensive experience working with Welsh businesses as part of research projects to help develop their cyber security and levering cloud technology to boost operational efficiency.

He shares his thoughts on what he considers the greatest tech challenges facing SMEs in Wales today, and how to overcome them through upskilling employees.

“Through my years specialising in cyber security and AI, I have witnessed remarkable progress and significant breakthroughs. Particularly in recent times, these topics have started to be discussed in mainstream media and business forums.

“For SMEs, I often think the biggest problem is understanding exactly how the latest technologies can have a positive impact on their company. Adopting new digital advancements can feel daunting, and it’s not always obvious where, when or how the return on investment will pay off. This is especially true if you’re a small organisation.

“However, there are so many fantastic benefits to embracing new technology and enabling it to improve processes, analyse data, perform tasks and help organisations be more efficient.”

As part of his role with the Wales Cyber Innovation Hub (CIH), an initiative funded by the Welsh Government and the Cardiff Capital Region, Professor Burnap works with businesses to help increase the level of cyber security skills they are equipped with. He explains:

“A simple and relatable experience for many companies in recent years is the shift towards hybrid working, where employees need to access company data from home to work more flexibly. Cyber security in this sense means making sure that access to information is both easy and secure.

“At the CIH, we work with companies of all shapes, sizes and levels of knowledge of cyber security to help them improve their skills and setup a process that’s tailored to their organisation. Most important though, is the need to make sure that everyone understands the value of these technologies and how to use them – that’s where training employees becomes vital.

“Business leaders need to ensure their staff are proficient in understanding the benefits, limitations and risks of technology to make certain they’re keeping their data secure, while also making the most of these advancements.”

Professor Burnap also sits on the UK Government's AI Council, advising on the implementation of the industrial strategy in AI. He explains how he thinks companies should train their staff to use it effectively:

“Artificial intelligence has become a hot topic in recent years and is increasingly prevalent in its use thanks to the commercialisation of AI through programmes like Chat GPT. Just a few years ago, only those who understood coding and had advanced IT knowledge would have been able to benefit from what it has to offer, but now we’re seeing people use it in their everyday lives.

“The filtering down of high-level AI applications into day-to-day work is something that businesses need to plan into their strategies and should consider a valuable tool. Think of AI as your personal assistant or as an intern – it can perform administrative or analytical tasks for you, but ultimately you need to rely on your own expert knowledge of the business to review that work, rather than blindly accepting it as truth.

“Training employees in using AI is important, it’s about making sure they’re using AI correctly and asking the right questions about it. For example, AI software is a great way of taking meeting notes, but it’s up to the employee to take that data away and note what the key points are, what needs action and delegation in order of priority. It should shorten tasks, rather than eliminate them for staff.”

Alongside the innovation hub, The Hartree Centre is another funded service for SMEs in Wales to learn more about using AI and data analytics to empower their businesses, and ensure staff are skilled in how to embrace new technologies. Professor Burnap says:

“While taking time to assess the technological needs for their company, business leaders shouldn’t be afraid of the advancements in cyber security and AI – they should embrace them and recognise the benefits they can offer.

“There’s so much support out there for SMEs who want to break through in this area, so I’d encourage them to upskill themselves and then transfer that knowledge to their staff to fully embrace the best that these tools can offer.”

As part of the Welsh Government’s support for employers, Business Wales Recruit and Train and the Flexible Skills Programme can provide support to address businesses' skills, training, and recruitment needs.

Its campaign, We’re in Your Corner, helps to raise awareness of the range of support available to employers to help them achieve their business goals.

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