education

Amazon is the latest major IT company to offer free AI training to help attract and retain skilled AI talent in an industry that is seeing the gap for such trained workers widen.

The giant ecommerce company and hyperscale cloud provider recently unveiled its AI Ready initiative with the goal of training 2 million people in generative AI by 2025. Education is a key to ensuring that organizations can take advantage of the benefits AI offers, according to Swami Sivasubramanian, vice president of data and AI at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

“We’re launching new initiatives for adults and young learners, and scaling our existing free AI training programs – removing cost as a barrier to accessing these critical skills,” Sivasubramanian wrote in a blog post.

The AI Ready effort includes three areas of focus, including offering eight new and free AI and generative AI courses and more than $12 million in scholarships available to more than 50,000 high school and university students around the world for a new generative AI course offer on Udacity, a for-profit online educational organization.

In addition, Amazon’s Future Engineer program – which aims to increase access to computer science education in underserved and underrepresented communities – is teaming with Code.org, an education nonprofit, to offer an Hour of Code Dance Party: AI Edition. It’s an hour-long introduction to coding and AI where students will be able to create a virtual music video for songs from the likes of Harry Styles and Miley Cyrus.

“Students will code their virtual dancer’s choreography and use emojis as AI prompts to generate animated backgrounds,” Sivasubramanian wrote. “The activity will give participants an introduction to generative AI, including learning about large language models and how they are used to power the predictive analytics responsible for creating new images, text, and more.”

8 New Courses

The eight new courses include three for business and non-technical participants and focus on generative AI and Amazon’s CodeWhisperer AI code generating solution. There also are five courses for developers and other technically-adept users, touching on prompt engineering, low-code machine learning on AWS, building language models, creating generative AI applications using Amazon’s Bedrock foundation models and using the company’s Transcribe speech-to-text platform.

Amazon paired the announcement of AI Ready with the release of a study done by AWS with research firm Access Partnering, illustrating the rapid adoption by organizations of AI and the growing need for skilled AI talent. The study is based on a survey of 3,297 employees and 1,340 organization in the United States.

The survey found a U.S. business market eager to embrace AI. That includes 92% of organizations surveyed that plan to use AI-based products by 2028, with most saying it will help IT, sales and marketing and human resources departments the most initially, with other teams also getting benefits. In addition, more than 93% of employers and 86% of employees say they will use generative AI within the next five years for such goals as increasing innovation, automating repetitive tasks and improving learning.

The problem becomes finding enough workers with AI skills. About 73% of the employers surveyed said hiring people with such capabilities is a priority, but 75% of them say they can’t find the necessary talent. More training is needed, and those who develop AI skills will benefit: Employers are willing to pay IT workers with those skills 47% more.

Skills Shortage an Issue

The AWS study echoes others that found similar challenges. Global consultancy McKinsey and Co. in a report in July found that that lack of talent is hindering innovation in AI – as well as other IT fields, such as the cloud and edge, immersive reality and quantum computing – and that organizations should look at teaching current workers rather than simply looking at external candidates.

In its own survey earlier this month, online learning platform edX made the same point about companies needing to embrace upskilling.

Amazon, like most other tech companies, is aggressively building its AI capabilities, with President and CEO Andy Jassy saying in a letter to shareholders that the company is investing heavily in large-language models and generative AI. In addition, the company in September announced it is investing $4 billion in generative AI startup Anthropic, and this month told workers that it was cutting hundreds of jobs from the unit that works on the Alexa voice assistant and shifting more resources to its efforts with generative AI.

IBM Offers an AI Training Program

In addition, Amazon isn’t the only IT company offering free AI training. Most recently, IBM in September announced it was adding generative AI courses to its SkillsBuild collection of free online skills-based training. The company said it wants to train 2 million people in AI by the end of 2026, with a focus on underrepresented communities.

A study by IBM found that implementing AI and automation will mean having to retrain 40% of their workforce over the next three years.