European companies are most eager to embrace AI—but rank worst in the world in training workers to use it

 BCG’s Europe chief has a message for European companies: to succeed in AI, invest in training your people, not just in buying or developing AI.  

In a recent survey of 1,400 executives, the consulting firm found that European companies lead the world in AI ambition: more than 86% of companies see investment in AI as a top 3 priority for 2024, the study found. “They really want to do it,” Matthias Tauber, BCG’s chair for Europe, told me.  

But as eager as European companies are to invest in AI, they are poorly training their workers to master the technology. Just one in 20 European companies has trained more than 25% of workers on AI, the percentage required to achieve critical mass, BCG found. That share is the lowest of anywhere in the world. 

“People really want to do it,” Tauber reiterated, “but if you look at where we are, we have a way to go. Europe is 60% in terms of AI readiness of the U.S., and half of the Middle East. Where European companies fall short is in getting scale in their employee base in [the] adoption of the tool.” 

Still, European companies should adopt AI even if they won’t ever catch up to their Big Tech rivals in developing the technology.

“When you look at automotive, chemical, package goods, luxury…[your ability] to drive value for customers, stakeholders, or even your market cap will disproportionally depend on whether you’re able to drive AI and generative AI in your business model,” Tauber said.

So how can European companies still triumph in this “must-win battle”? Tauber suggested three things: 

First, you need to adopt AI with scale. “If you do it with just one use case, forget about it,” Tauber said. 

Second, it’s not a matter of choosing between generative AI or traditional AI; it’s the interplay between the two that’s key. “It’s not enough to train your people on gen AI,” Tauber said. “You also need to address certain aspects of traditional AI.”  

And third, “you need to double down on the nontechnical aspect of AI” to promote adoption of the technology, the BCG partner said. Processes must change. “Otherwise, your organization doesn’t work differently.”   

It only takes a glance around the news cycle to see how AI is creeping into all kinds of consumer experiences—for better or worse. Even companies that got a late start have a chance to influence how the evolution progresses. 

“The numbers are snapshots of today. You can change things,” Tauber told me. “It’s a call for action, to really take this seriously, and move on.”  

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