Published in BusinessWorld
The promise of AI is real. Research from Accenture posits that AI could add $ 957 billion to the Indian economy and raise India’s income by 15 percent in 2035. Globally, the economic value that AI is expected to create close to $ 13 trillion by 2030. However, the stark reality is that India has close to 100,000 vacant data scientist jobs as of today, with the demand for AI-centric roles set to increase exponentially. How can India possibly unlock this massive economic potential of AI, without an established talent pipeline?
The lack of an established AI talent pipeline for a rapidly modernizing economy like India is alarming. While India has a working age population of close to 589 million, only 49 percent are said to possess digital skills, with the proportion of those able to understand and build AI products is far lower (World Economic Forum). Although the supply of engineering talent is steady, the nature of the rapidly changing jobs landscape means that core engineering jobs are transforming into digital roles that require strong software engineering and programming skills.
Not only Indian universities have failed to keep pace with adapting the course curricula to the skills requirements of the modern data-driven industries but the consequences of not training candidates in fundamental data skills and leadership skills to build collaborative AI projects can be even more damaging to the economy in the long run. Academia suffers from an acute shortage of expert faculty to train students in state-of-the-art AI theory and practical knowledge at scale. This burden of nurturing and creating AI talent does not rest solely with educational institutions. Industry needs to step up and actively contribute by sharing business data, a critical ingredient for building data-hungry supervised AI systems, and foster a vibrant and collaborative ecosystem by partnering with both academia and startups to raise awareness of the kind of challenging business problems that only AI can solve effectively.
To bridge the gap between industry requirements of AI talent and lack of industry- oriented AI education at universities, a number of edtech startups have stepped up. The majority of online edtech platforms focus on programming and coding skills, a key foundational skill to building AI systems. However, the pedagogical methods practised by most suffer from lack of imagination and creativity and do not innovate beyond offering the age-old offline classroom content via online platforms - the adage ‘old wine in a new bottle’ comes to mind.
AI is a multidisciplinary field that requires strong creative, scientific and problem solving abilities to come up with novel solutions to pressing business problems. The ability to innovate beyond open-source models and solutions is fundamental to building tailored customer-centric AI solutions that incorporate the unique business and cultural context of India.
If India is not able to keep pace with AI global superpowers like the USA and China, then not only is she at risk of lagging behind in the battle for tech supremacy but also faces the dire prospect of losing its emerging tech talent to countries that offer better opportunities to work at the cutting edge of AI. India is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64 percent of its population in the working age group, while western countries, China and Japan have an aging demographic. India must therefore implement policy changes, state-wide reskilling initiatives in cooperation with industry, academia and startups to reskill the nation’s youth in the latest digital and AI-first skills to steer India into the next decade as a leading digital economy.
Copyright © 2022, Sundeep Teki
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