Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail Neale Richmond TD joined the Irish Management Institute today (IMI) at its National Leadership Conference, on the same day it unveiled new research revealing a skills shortage among senior business leaders preparing for Ireland’s AI-enabled future.
The ‘IMI Leadership Barometer’, launched at the National Leadership Conference, surveyed senior business leaders across Ireland from September to October 2023. The research provides key insights into the attitudes and priorities of senior decision makers as they navigate a rapidly evolving business environment and the emergence of disruptive new technologies.
First held over 70 years ago, the National Leadership Conference brings together senior business leaders from across Ireland to explore how leaders can learn, innovate and lead in a rapidly changing environment. Keynote speakers at the event include Bruce Daisley, a former VP EMEA at Twitter and international consultant on workplace culture, Deborah Threadgold, General Manager at IBM Ireland, and Ronan O’Gara, Head Coach at La Rochelle.
The researched unveiled at the conference show that leaders are unsure about the trajectory of the economy. 47% of business leaders are uncertain whether the economy will grow in the next 12 months. With inflationary pressures still strong and costs increasing, a further 36% of leaders believe the economy is likely to contract in the next year.
Digital transformation was another key area with only 1 in 4 business leaders feeling they have the right skills and capabilities to harness the potential of AI within their organisation. The main barrier to navigating an AI future was found to be uncertainty (39%), indicating a pervasive lack of knowledge in the business community regarding the potential applications and impact of this technology.
Lack of capabilities to drive change (36%) was also identified as a major obstacle, with leaders believing their workforce lacks critical skills to enable digital transformation. Such findings reflect the growing importance for leaders in upskilling and reskilling every level of their organisation – from the leadership level down – in order to harness the power of innovation.
Although senior leaders are prioritising innovation, conflicting priorities (41%) and organisational culture (27%) were found to be critical innovation challenges. However, the importance of strong leadership in overcoming these barriers and fostering a culture of innovation is clear: 48% of survey respondents stated that strong leaders who foster and champion innovation is critical for innovation success.
Looking ahead, the majority of leaders felt overcoming skills and talent shortages (59%) to be the key factor for future business success – a persistent challenge in an exceptionally tight labour market. Leading digital transformation (27%) was also deemed critical for future success unsurprisingly, with leaders keen to harness the potential productivity boom created by AI and other emerging technologies. Only 9% of business leaders consider advancing the ESG agenda to be critical for future success.
Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail Neale Richmond TD commented: “Business leaders across Ireland have proven their resilience in navigating challenges over the past years, from the emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic, to skills shortages and rising costs. As the business environment continues to evolve, it is crucial that firms and workers are well equipped to embrace the opportunities presented by new technologies such as AI.
“Today’s gathering of business leaders across Ireland at the National Leadership Conference provides an opportunity to explore how leaders can successfully harness the opportunities presented by new technologies and use them to empower their organisations for the future. This includes re-training and up-skilling workers to ensure they are capable of using these new technologies. By working closely together, government and business can enhance the competitiveness of Irish businesses and develop a thriving, resilient and future-proof enterprise economy.”
Shane O’Sullivan, interim CEO of the IMI, said: “The IMI Leadership Barometer provides an important insight into how senior leaders are responding to emerging technologies and a changing economic environment.
“With ongoing advances in AI and disruptive digital technologies, the fact that only 25% of business leaders feel they have the necessary skills in place to support these changes is of significant concern. Top-down leadership is critical for driving this fundamental transformation of how we work. Otherwise, we cannot harness the powerful productivity gains of AI and other digital technologies. Business leaders must consider a lifelong learning approach to equip themselves with the right skills, capabilities and knowledge.
“It is reassuring to see almost half of senior leaders in Ireland recognise the importance of their role in driving a thriving culture of innovation within their organisation. Leaders must develop a culture of innovation by acting as role models in the development of ideas, while fostering collaboration and creativity between different teams and departments throughout their organisation.
“Celebrating 70 years since its first edition, the National Leadership Conference provides important insights for business leaders across the themes of Learn, Innovate, Lead. By implementing the guidance shared by our expert speakers and research findings, senior leaders can enhance their leadership skills and set their organisation on the path to success in the year ahead.”