Understanding AI in Europe: Where the workforce is today, and where it needs to go

There is no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) will be a significant driver of Europe’s economic success over the coming decade. What is less clear, however, is how we can capitalise on this new technology, and its potential to solve many of society's biggest challenges.

To do that we need to understand the current state of play: where Europe’s AI talent is today and how that compares to other countries. Leaders need this grounded, fact-based research to help them understand how best to evolve policies and strategies to develop and attract the best talent.

This is exactly what we set out to do using the latest research from our Economic Graph -- a digital representation of the global economy based on over 660 million members, 37 thousand skills, 30 million companies, 20 million open jobs, and 90 thousand schools -- which gives us a unique view of the world of work.

Our research reveals that while Europe has a relatively smaller pool of AI talent compared to the US, it has strong ecosystems in place - driven by large, well-established companies in the industrial champions in Member States. With the right investments in training, the expansion of AI  hubs and diversifying the workforce, policy leaders and businesses  can help that talent diffuse across more industries and countries. 

AI Talent Lags Behind Other Markets, and Isn’t Evenly Distributed

First, we need to understand where Europe ranks internationally. Right now, it is lagging behind its peers in developing talent: the U.S. employs twice as many AI-skilled individuals than the EU, despite its labour force being just half the size. But our research also reveals that Europe can catch up quickly. Training and upskilling “near-AI” talent - workers who have sufficient foundational skills that with the right training and support could emerge as AI workers - could double the size of the current AI workforce in the EU.  

Among the starkest divides our research uncovered is that AI talent is not evenly distributed across Europe. Just three countries are home to half of all the EU’s AI talent: UK (24%), Germany (14%) and France (12%). As a share of the workforce, Ireland, Finland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Sweden, and the Netherlands also punch above their weight in attracting or developing AI talent.

There are opportunities to address this imbalance, however. For example, several Eastern European countries have the largest share of young AI talents relative to their proportion of total AI talent, highlighting the potential for these countries to gain traction if they invest in economic opportunities for young AI workers at home.

Industrial Sectors are Earliest Adopters of AI

Our insights also show that AI talent is similarly concentrated within a small group of industries, most often the industrial champions within countries. For example, Germany leads Europe with AI in manufacturing and the automotive industry. The same trend can be seen with finance in the UK, manufacturing in Italy and Sweden, healthcare in Belgium, and telecommunication in Finland. And it follows that large, well-established companies are most likely to be first adopters of AI in the EU -- in contrast to what we see in the U.S., where startups and digital natives are the earliest adopters of the technology.

Because these industrial leaders in Europe are the first to benefit from the diffusion of AI in the economy, governments can concentrate on building hubs around these sectors that will help enable the diffusion of AI skills into other industries and also work with business leaders to align curricula and training to industry standards that ensure talent has the right skills to work in the jobs employers are hiring for.

Gender Gaps Pose Serious Risks

Like many other technology-related fields, AI is dominated by men. Our research reveals that across Europe, only 16% of AI workers are women.  This poses clear risks: not only are unequal, homogenous workforces less productive, but gender and diversity imbalances more broadly in the AI workforce make AI systems development more vulnerable to bias. Pressing structural problems need to be addressed to increase the share of women -- and other underrepresented talent --  in the AI workforce.

Building a strong pipeline of talent is essential to that effort. Digital literacy and technology skills should be incorporated into curricula for all students, and governments should fund inclusive education strategies to increase diverse representation among AI talent. We do see a promising trend, though: 20% of entry-level AI workers are women, which suggests that data science and AI are now attracting more workers than in the past.

What This Means for Leaders

Estimates show that if Europe develops and diffuses AI in line with its current assets and digital position relative to the rest of the world, it could add €2.7 trillion -- a full 20 percent -- to its GDP by 2030. If Europe can emerge as a global leader in AI, it could bring that number up to €3.6 trillion during the same period.

While Europe has a solid foundation of industrial AI ecosystems to build on, the limited and unequal distribution of AI talent limits Europe’s potential to become an AI innovation hub in the world. To avoid AI becoming a driver of inequality in Europe, leaders need more hard evidence and data to help steer the conversation and inform policy decisions.

We hope this report can contribute to this critical conversation and sparks thoughtful, fact-based discussion debate, and insight into what the path forward could look like. We look forward to working with leaders as Europe navigates this next chapter of digital transformation.


For more policy recommendations and insights into the path forward, read the full report here.

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