September 29, 2023
SINGAPORE – Software company IBM aims to provide free training in artificial intelligence (AI) to two million people, including from Singapore, by the end of 2026.
It is targeting students and mid-career switchers who are keen to learn about chatbot technology, how to craft prompts for AI, and to grapple with the ethical issues that the industry faces, among other topics.
According to IBM, the effort aims to plug the gap in AI skills in the workforce and it will collaborate with universities worldwide to support the coursework.
“Education doesn’t stop after college, it has to continue through your career,” said IBM chief executive Arvind Krishna.
“Fifty years ago, when people came out of school, they likely thought that they could live with some professional job for 30 years with those skills,” he said. “The half-life of skills is now… between five and seven years.”
He said that AI will take over 30 per cent of work that is repetitive in nature in the next five years, such as in human resource management and coding.
Giving an example of human resource (HR) management, he said it is unlikely that AI can replace ideation and decision-making in the field, such as deciding the composition of teams and how to develop employees. But AI could come after roles that are more transactional, such as deciding on salaries and administrative tasks that come with the HR job.
“The bulk of that could be replaced by generative AI,” he said. But jobs do not vanish from the market, he said, adding that new jobs previously unknown will sprout from the growth of AI.
Participants can register on IBM’s website for a series of flexible online courses, including lessons on generative AI and open-source technologies. Other participants under IBM’s collaborations with universities and partner organisations may also attend lectures and other training programmes.
IBM said in a statement on Sept 19: “Participants will be able to earn IBM-branded digital credentials that are recognised by potential employers.”
Its survey of executives around the world found that some 40 per cent of the workforce, especially those with entry-level positions, will have to learn new skills over the next three years in order for AI and automation to be implemented effectively.
This comes with the rising adoption of AI among companies, said IBM. Its studies found that more than a third of companies are using AI in their business, while 42 per cent are exploring the technology.
The focus on AI courses is part of IBM’s goal to train 30 million people with tech skills by 2030 under SkillsBuild, its free education programme launched in 2019, designed to help adults and students find new job opportunities. There are more than 1,000 courses on SkillsBuild, including topics for cyber security and cloud computing.
The programme joins a slew of efforts to boost AI training in the workforce as demand for AI and data analytics continue to grow. For instance, banks and universities here came together to launch Aida (artificial intelligence and data analytics) Talent Development Programme in May to address the talent shortage in the financial sector.
Refuting reports that IBM stopped hiring for jobs that could be replaced by automation, Mr Krishna said it has continued to hire 5,000 new employees in the past quarter, with an emphasis on technical, sales and research roles as well as consultants for its clients.
“I had said that I believe that for work of a repetitive nature, (AI) will be able to do 30 per cent of that work,” he said.
He clarified that those in these roles at IBM are not being laid off and there is no hiring freeze in these positions, but AI will plug gaps in these roles over time.