More than £6m AI upskilling fund launched to help SMEs in law, design, HR and beyond

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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can now bid for a share of £6.4 million to help train their workforce to use artificial intelligence and in turn boost productivity and efficiency.

Sectors set to benefit include law, accountancy, scientific research and human resources, with the UK Government making up to £10,000 available for each business so they can embrace cutting edge and efficiency boosting new technology.

SMEs in these areas will be able to tap into the power of AI to streamline tasks, boost productivity, and drive growth. This could include accountants using generative AI tools such as ChatGPT to draft documents, develop new software which could help to tackle fraud, and legal professionals harnessing the power of AI to analyse lengthy documents such as contracts to provide concise summaries, freeing up time to focus on other critical areas.

By adopting the enormous potential of AI technologies, SMEs across the country will be able to not only improve productivity and drive down costs, but to devote more time to identifying new areas of growth which will deliver new and improved services for consumers.

Expected to support around 2,000 SMEs across the country, businesses employing under 250 staff can now apply for the support, which will see successful applicants reimbursed for up to 50% of the cost of investment in AI skills training.

The move is to future-proof these businesses and incentivise investment in AI skills to ensure they retain a competitive edge through increased productivity and reduced costs, as they begin to integrate AI into their operations - building a pool of technological talent alongside supporting employee growth and development.

Whilst human supervision, judgement, creativity and empathy remain vital requirements in the workplace, augmenting AI into monotonous tasks like inputting data and filling out paperwork can increase speed and efficiency and play a major part in increasing business productivity.

Delivered through the UK Government’s Flexible AI Upskilling Fund, the pilot launched today will support SMEs in the Professional and Business Services (PBS) sector, with SMEs encouraged to apply between now and 31 May for grant funding to deliver training before March 2025.

Businesses specialising in professional services such as law, accounting and market research, alongside those providing business services such as HR, administration and leasing consumer goods are already seeing some of the benefits AI can bring to their day-to-day operations. This includes analysing large volumes of text, answering customer service queries and generating images and text for a variety of applications, including advertising campaigns, contracts and blog posts.

AI is also having a huge impact in specialised areas like drafting legal documents for law firms and creating virtual renderings for architects.

While smaller enterprises often acknowledge the benefits AI can bring to business operations, many require support when it comes to identifying the training employees should undertake to suit business needs.

The AI Skills for Business Framework, also launching today, will help businesses to grip the huge opportunities AI has to offer, driving innovation and future-proofing their workforce.

With the support of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Innovate UK and The Alan Turing Institute have developed this new framework for businesses, to identify the skills and knowledge their employees might need to use AI in the workplace and make the most of emerging technologies.

Together these new initiatives will help to grow the economy by encouraging small and medium businesses to embrace the technologies of the future. 

The Flexible AI Upskilling Fund is just one part of the government’s comprehensive offer for SMEs in the UK. The Government has also rolled out the ‘Help to Grow’ campaign, led by the Department for Business and Trade, which brings together the support and advice available to help businesses start, grow and succeed.  

The Government is backing British businesses and making 2024 the year of SMEs. Complementary to the new initiatives launched today, the Help to Grow: Management and Help to Grow: Management Essentials programmes are improving leadership and management skills for small and medium businesses. 

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “Businesses of all sizes and across all sectors, from architecture to law and HR to advertising, are identifying the huge benefits that AI can bring in helping staff boost their productivity while cutting business costs.

“I have launched this new pilot to help SMEs interested in AI adoption make it a reality by contributing towards the cost of upskilling their employees – ultimately increasing efficiency so companies can retain a competitive edge in an increasingly digital world.”

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