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What’s Holding AI Back? Finding The Right Talent

According to a recent Gartner survey of over 3,000 CIOs, finding the right talent is the single most significant challenge companies face in driving artificial intelligence initiatives. And while just 4% of the CIOs surveyed have already adopted AI, an additional 46% have plans to do so. As more companies pilot AI initiatives of their own, acquiring top AI talent is quickly emerging as one of the pivotal business challenges of our time.

A recent McKinsey report on AI concluded with: “our most important takeaway is that companies need to act quickly. Those that make big bets now and overhaul their traditional strategies will emerge as the winners.” As finding talent is the biggest obstacle to successful AI deployment, speed and innovation in AI hiring practices are imperative. However, this should not be synonymous with making ‘a big bet’. The risk lies in innaction, not innovation.

In the fight to secure superior AI talent, companies have a unique opportunity: taking advantage of underutilized segments of the labor market by integrating remote external talent into their workforce. Employing remote external talent offers the access to expertise, adaptability, and speed needed to successfully implement AI initiatives.

Beyond Geographic Constraints

The traditional model of attracting talent has been to bring your business to the talent or the talent to you. But even (and especially) in saturated markets like Silicon Valley, it is difficult to find available AI experts – the intense demand for those skills far surpasses the limited supply.

Research from Element AI suggests that there are just 22,000 qualified AI experts globally. For companies solely recruiting locally, the effective size of their talent pool is a fraction of that.

Companies like Apple and Google have addressed this challenge by thinking globally and opening up R&D hubs in tech hotspots like Tel Aviv. However, this approach not only requires massive investment, but is founded on an increasingly outdated notion: that talent must be located on-site.

In today’s connected world, this is simply no longer the case.

Employing remote workers provides access to talent markets that would otherwise be inaccessible. If you are only hiring locally for a globally distributed skill like AI, you’re by definition excluding yourself from a majority of the talent pool.

In an emerging field like AI, one in which high levels of proficiency are typically synonymous with a having a graduate degree, experts tend to be clustered around universities, at least for certain period of time. There is a huge competitive advantage to be gained by sourcing your talent from those talent beds directly, rather than waiting to compete for them if and/or when they decide to relocate close by to your office.

On Demand Talent is Flexibility

Per a recent HBR report on artificial intelligence, “Although it is hard to predict exactly which companies will dominate in the new environment, a general principle is clear: the most nimble and adaptable companies and executives will thrive.”

The ability to stay nimble and adaptable is precisely what the use of external talent offers. As the AI field continues to grow, the specific AI skills needed today may not be the same skills needed tomorrow. Employing external talent affords the flexibility to adapt to external changes in AI, ensuring that the talent you need is the talent you have.

However, companies must also be able to adapt to the internal disruptions that come with AI deployment. Employing freelance talent grants the flexibility to quickly scale up or down, to fluidly reorganize, to focus on AI initiatives that are working and move on from those that are not – all without the overhead of traditional full-time hires.

And on the other side, many AI experts simply prefer to work freelance – it offers them flexibility, control, and rapid career acceleration. For Lovro Iliassich, a European machine learning engineer with a PhD in computer science, moving for a new job used to “turn my life upside down – new friends, getting a working visa, finding an apartment, dealing with local regulations. Then you wait for holidays to get to see your friends or family. The cost is huge. That is why I am now in freelancing – I love it.”

Companies like Toptal provide a simplified way for businesses to find and hire these freelance AI experts—including PhDs in Artificial Intelligence from top global programs, researchers who have worked in the Stanford Computer Vision Lab, and former Intel research scientists — without relocating offices or committing to a full-time hire. This means startups and enterprises alike can maintain flexibility and access expertise like never before.

A Unique Opportunity

The pace with which businesses are moving to adopt AI coupled with the relative nascency of the field has made acquiring top AI experts one of the most critical business challenges in today’s world.

This is a unique opportunity for innovative businesses. Smart companies will look beyond traditional hiring practices to outmaneuver the competition. Integrating remote external talent into your workforce offers both access to previously inaccessible talent pools and the flexibility necessary to navigate periods of rapid change.

Toptal is working directly to address this challenge by launching a new, on-demand talent specialization in artificial intelligence. Toptal is connecting businesses all over the world directly with top AI experts, talented individuals on the cutting edge of what AI has to offer.

To learn more about how to work with top AI engineers on your next project, visit Toptal.