Artificial Intelligence has been touted as the most important technology that nations need to secure in order to be ahead of the pack. To build AI capabilities, there are three essential ingredients that are needed, with data being one of them.
However, once the amount of data crossed a certain threshold, it has diminishing marginal returns in collecting more data. What are the other two ingredients then? They are computing chips and talents. Computing chips...there are a lot of geopolitical factors involved here and it is not in my interest right now to discuss much about it. Rather I will want to discuss the other essential ingredient for any nation to build AI capabilities and that is TALENTS!
I have once been asked the question, given that I am in the AI and Data Science field plus I do training and mentoring in the fields, how will I design a National Talent Strategy, to help a nation build up its talent pools so as as to take advantage of the AI boom (or winter soon).
Disclaimer: I am not an expert in it and the views/strategy I expressed here is through my observation and readings.
Here are my thoughts on the ideal talent strategy:
Talents in AI are very rare. Talents that are willing to teach are even more rare. Talents that are willing to teach and have good teaching skills are even more rare!
And good instructors, since they are hard to come by, should be attracted, retained and utilized as much as possible. Given the rarity, nations should have a more concentrated effort rather, i.e. build a National AI Academy to house these instructors, these will allow a high utilization rate as well.
The National AI Academy should allow the instructors to work on side projects that interest them, to keep them engaged with the industry and continue to draw relevant and industry-grounded application experience. These side projects can be done together with the trainees to gain exposure and start on their project portfolios.
Motivated and passionate trainees are what the National AI Academy should aim to attract. Do not use large salary to attract because the job will come with much frustrations dealing with the software and infrastructure and dealing with stakeholders. I will say, only the passionate can survive for a while longer. How we should aim to attract the motivated is as follows.
Have fellow professionals to share their job experience and their day-to-day. Share what they enjoyed the most and what they find frustrating. Get them to share the projects that they worked on. The sharing should be with both fellow working professionals who are looking to convert and also university students and secondary schools as well. This can help spark interest earlier.
The entry test should be rigorous. It should be designed to allow those that have self-learned to showcase their skills and knowledge, because only the passionate will learn on their own initiative.
Let's face it, we have to help these passionate trainees to manage reality. This is what the National AI Academy can do. Firstly, ensure that the trainees are hired at the start of the program. After the trainees have passed the vigorous test, have them interviewed by prospective employers, get the employers to share the likely project the trainees is going to undertake if he/she is hired. Have the employers to share the corporate culture in the company as well.
Secondly, provide allowance to the trainees. Enough to keep them focus on the training program and not worry about providing to their families or themselves. The allowance is only for the period of the training program because after that they will be hired by the employers who accepted them in.
The National AI Academy should have a team of technical folks to help employers scope projects, projects that can be worked on by the instructors and/or trainees.
Often times, a lot of organizations, be it for- or non-profit, they have difficulty in starting their data initiatives. Having a consulting team that can help scope AI and Data Science projects out can spark more companies in adopting the innovation, start learning and also more job opportunities later.
This is what I can structure and think of right now, considering the perspectives of different stakeholders, if I have a chance to build up a National Level AI Academy and also why I feel it makes more sense to build up a national level initiative.
Building up a National AI Academy, in this way definitely will not scale up quickly but it will be more stable and also attract more investment in the longer term given that with exponential growth, it will build a deep pool of talents quickly.
What are your thoughts? Will love to hear from you! You can share them with me on my LinkedIn. Please feel free to link up on LinkedIn or Twitter (@PSkoo). Do consider signing up for my newsletter too. Have a great March 2022!