South Yorkshire Businesses Optimistic About The Future of AI and Are Ready To Embrace The Technology

11th April 2024

The majority of South Yorkshire businesses are ready to embrace the use of AI in some way, shape or form, with 70% of them believing that this technology represents a valuable opportunity that must be seized.

These findings are from the recently-published results of The Artificial Intelligence Survey, sponsored by ProAktive and the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.  

Conducted by the three regional Chambers of Commerce (covering Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster), this questionnaire was open through February and March. It gauged how local business-owners feel about AI and how strong their appetite may (or may not) be for adopting it within their own organisations.

Among other things, the poll asked respondents: whether they perceive Artificial Intelligence to be a looming threat or an emerging opportunity; how confident they are in their understanding of this technology and its associated implications; the extent to which it features in their current plans; and if they think it is likely to affect their workforce levels in the future.  

As well as focussing on AI, the survey also included more general questions about the overall state of the economy. For instance, there was an opportunity for business-owners to describe their latest experiences with staff retention and recruitment, their intentions for investing in training or new equipment, and if they expect their prices to increase at all over the coming months, with the insights from all of these standard questions then feeding into the nationwide Quarterly Economic Survey (QES).

Reacting to the insights from The Artificial Intelligence Survey, the Chief Execs for all three South Yorkshire Chambers issued the following joint statement:

“We are very much on the brink of another industrial revolution when it comes to AI and no sector can expect to be untouched by the rapid developments that we are observing here. The potential applications for this technology are extraordinarily vast, spanning all industries, and things are inevitably going to change.

“It is therefore heartening to see that our business community is, by and large, receptive to the opportunities presented by Artificial Intelligence and is optimistic about what it could mean for them. Some are understandably concerned about how it may pose a threat, and there are naturally risks that do need to be considered, but broadly the feeling is positive. As such, we need to capitalise on that enthusiasm and make sure South Yorkshire remains ahead of the curve.

“On that note, we were pleased to see that AI currently features in two-thirds of the business plans for our survey respondents, while 74% of them believe that they have, at least to some extent, the in-house skills that will enable them to realise their ambitions.

“However, for those who do not feel suitably prepared, there is a degree of uncertainty. In fact, almost half of our survey respondents said that they wouldn’t know where to turn for help when it comes to adopting Artificial Intelligence, whilst a quarter told us that they do not believe that they have the requisite skills in-house.

“This is an early-warning sign that South Yorkshire needs to have a pipeline of talent ready in this emerging sector, otherwise, we are putting ourselves at risk of falling behind the rest of the country and, indeed, the wider world. In short, it’s imperative that we nurture the specific people and skills that businesses need in our region, and the sooner we do that, the better.

“Elsewhere, looking at the broader indicators of business confidence, there are encouraging — albeit tentative — signs that the South Yorkshire economy is steadily regaining momentum. Domestic sales and order books are at the strongest levels that they have been since mid-2022, while export performance continues to markedly improve, and expectations of both improved turnover and improved profitability are on the up.

“Not to mention that pressures in the job market are abating as well. When compared to this time last year, recruitment difficulties have significantly eased and workforce growth is similarly much healthier than it was when we polled firms in Q1 of 2023. With all that said — although there is still some lingering anxiety when it comes to rising prices, specifically in terms of labour and utility costs — optimism does seem to be returning to the economy.”

Offering a subject-matter-expert perspective on the survey results, Mark Taylor, CEO and Founder of local AI Trailblazer Automated Analytics, added:

“Doncaster has a history of being a pioneering and innovative region, from the Industrial Revolution through to gaming. It comes as no surprise then for businesses in South Yorkshire to be eager to explore and embrace how Artificial Intelligence can be transformative for the bottom line, as well as the people centric benefits we are seeing globally.

“Working with a 4000+ client base has shown us that the UK has so far been slower to adopt this emerging technology than across the pond in the US, and we are working closely with stakeholders across South Yorkshire to ensure businesses are able to act on their intent to adopt AI in their own organisations and don’t get left behind."

The QES (which this quarter incorporated the results of the South Yorkshire Artificial Intelligence Survey) is carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce. It is the largest independent business survey in the UK and its findings are used to influence policy and decision-making at a national level. More information about this can be found here.

Meanwhile, the region-specific insights from the South Yorkshire Artificial Intelligence Survey are available to view here.

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