Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

UK Future Workforce Index 2024: 83% of UK businesses willing to pay a higher wage to those with AI skills amid hiring challenges

New data today reveals that 83% of UK businesses are willing to pay a higher wage to those with AI skills amid hiring challenges, with many moving their search away from full-time staff. 80% of UK businesses are planning to make new hires in the next 6 months, yet just over 4 in 10 have found finding full time, permanent new hires this year to be difficult.

93% of businesses will consult the support of freelancers and self employed ‘solopreneurs’ particularly for AI skills and tasks (32%) that they do not have the skills for internally. However, as business decision makers believe there are significant growth opportunities for freelancers in the UK market, freelancers are still facing challenges with late payments and integration into companies.

Fiverr’s latest UK Future Workforce Index which surveyed 2,200* workers, decision makers and freelancers is now in its second year and continue to show how the make-up of the UK workforce is evolving away from full-time, 9-5 workers. Traditional full time workers now make up just 55% of the workforce of the average UK company’s workforce, a decrease of 5% compared to last year. As businesses become increasingly reliant on part-time employees and freelancers, they now make up 45% of the average company’s workforce, including 22% of freelancers (5% more than May 2023) and self-employed workers - 54% of whom are learning AI skills this year. 

Freelancers and self employed say ‘prospects damaged’ by Conservative government with Labour offering hope 

Despite the UK now being home to over 4.25 million freelancers and self employed workers, many feel unsupported by the UK government. 60% believe the current Conservative government has damaged their prospects but with the General Election on the horizon, freelancers have some hope. Nearly half (47%) believe that the Labour government will help their situation, compared to 16% who disagree.

Off-payroll working rules such as IR35 have caused more harm than good. Over half (51%) of freelancers believe tax laws have put businesses’ off working with them, and 47% say IR35 is damaging for freelancers. Little has been done to tackle late payments, with late payments cited as the main barrier to becoming a freelancer (for 37%) and unrealistic demands and deadlines (29%)

Businesses are willing to pay a premium for AI-skills 

Whilst 8 in 10 UK businesses are looking to hire in 2024, decision makers say they are experiencing hiring challenges. Nearly half (48%) in the UK said low skilled talent was their number one barrier to hiring the right workers this year. In a rush to innovate around AI and attract the right talent to do so, the average UK business decision maker would offer a 45% increase on an advertised salary for AI skills, and many are moving away from just seeking full time hires. 93% of businesses are seeking freelancers and self employed workers, with AI skills being the most highly sought after (32%). 

UK companies' AI needs are becoming more sophisticated. Whilst AI content creation (35%) and Chat GPT (32%) are the most commonly sought after skills - 29% of UK businesses are seeking those with skills building AI Chatbots. 25% are looking for those proficient in Mid Journey - a generative AI service that was developed in 2022 to generate images using natural language prompts - and 21% seek skills in AI Image Processing. 

UK workforce shifting towards flexibility

But something is broken - only 50% of full time workers feel very productive at work and 47% have experienced burnout in the past 12 months. Is more flexible work the answer? 45% of workers would like their companies to offer them flexible hours, and 39% would like a 4-day week. On the other side, UK companies are working with freelancers more than ever with 48% of UK businesses integrating them into their existing workforce. The top reasons why business leaders are working with freelancers is to take advantage of flexible working hours (35%) and a specific skill set that may not exist in their current team (32%).

Bukki Adedapo, International Expansion Leader at Fiverr comments: “Findings from our UK Workforce Index show that the needs of UK companies - particularly around AI skills - can no longer be fulfilled solely by full time workers. As such, we are seeing more and more businesses turning to highly skilled ‘solopreneurs’ who are upskilling at a faster rate. However, only around a third (32%) of UK full time workers feel fulfilled when it comes to the upskilling opportunities within their business. Businesses cannot hope to fill the AI skills gap and innovate without a strategy of bringing highly skilled workers in, but also training within their organisations ensuring full time staff do not fall behind.”