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IBM eyes free AI training for 2 million worldwide

SINGAPORE (ANN/THE STRAITS TIMES) – IBM has launched an ambitious initiative to offer free artificial intelligence (AI) training to two million people by 2026 in an effort to address the existing gap in AI skills within the workforce.

This initiative primarily targets students and mid-career professionals interested in mastering chatbot technology, understanding the intricacies of crafting prompts for AI, and delving into the ethical challenges confronting the industry. 

IBM plans to collaborate with universities globally, providing crucial support for 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. 

IBM chief executive Arvind Krishna predicts that AI will take over 30 per cent of work that is repetitive in nature in the next five years. PHOTO: ANN/THE STRAITS TIMES SOURCE

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 September 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 in Singapore 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, 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.