Businesses need to “lean in” to the power of artificial intelligence (AI), education secretary Gillian Keegan has said.
The education secretary told City A.M. indulging in fears about AI wiping out jobs and opportunities was unproductive.
Asked whether she was concerned about the impact of the new technology such as ChatGPT and Bard altering or even destroying the jobs of the future, Keegan said: “My concern won’t make much of a difference so what I have to do is lean into it.
“Generative AI in the hands of consumers is relatively new. With ChatGPT and Bard [launching] in November, we looked at that and thought, ‘wow that’s more than we thought’.
“We have to lean into it – as a government we’ve put money aside to be able to develop the guard rails to be able to experiment and look at where it can do lots of good.”
Speaking after her keynote speech at the Skills for Growth conference in London, Keegan also addressed the impact of AI on education, saying: “It can automate lesson planning, marking, it could take quite a lot of the workload off teachers which would be fantastic for them.
“It could deliver personalised tutoring. There’s so many opportunities – but also risks as well.”
For example, Keegan noted it was “very easy” to get ChatGPT to write an essay, which may make it harder for schools and universities to address the threat of increased plagiarism.
“Luckily we’re quite an exam-based system which is fortunate, but those who rely heavily on essays will certainly be looking at the impact of AI in the future,” Keegan added.
Her comments came after a skills conference with business leaders and employers including Google, Amazon, BP, BAE Systems, Thames Water and Travis Perkins at the QEII centre.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and business secretary Kemi Badenoch also attended the event, where government sought to listen to firms about their skills and recruitment needs.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) there were 1,051,000 job vacancies in the UK in May 2023 and in 2019, 24 per cent of vacancies were due to skills shortages.
Quizzed on what had gone wrong, Keegan told City A.M.: “You always have skills shortages to some degree… People are not born with the skills that businesses need.
“I think it’s been exacerbated at the moment by the impact of the pandemic which was a universal experience globally, and tech shifts as well,” she continued.
“Digital has changed and disrupted how we do things. That’s been accelerated by the pandemic and some people have left the labour market as well.
“It’s highly unusual you get all those things together which is why it’s critical we work closely with businesses on this.”
Keegan, who completed a degree apprenticeship after leaving school at 16, told firms: “I know from my years in business that organisations drive innovation and create opportunities, but without skilled workers, it often feels like you’re driving with the handbrake on.”
The government says it is aiming to address the skills shortage via delivering more high quality apprenticeships, new T-Levels and more technical training opportunities.