Prof Noel O'Connor

From short course to PhD level – the options for AI upskilling are expanding

Submitted on Thursday, 02/11/2023

Prof Noel O’Connor, CEO, Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics

The World Economic Forum predicts that 97 million jobs involving AI will be created by 2025, with no net job losses. Here in Ireland, demand for AI skills is outrunning supply. Skills availability has been identified by the Expert Group for Future Skills Needs as the ‘most important obstacle to the adoption of AI for firms in Ireland and across the EU’.

People of all backgrounds stand to benefit professionally from familiarity with AI technology. In every field from healthcare to historical analysis, from manufacturing to climate action, AI can and will be a central player.

So many people stand to gain from training in AI, not just for direct employment in the sector, but for all manner of jobs. The options for training and upskilling are expanding.

The IDA, in its latest Labour Market Pulse report published in partnership with Microsoft and LinkedIn, counted more than 100 courses in AI and related areas on offer in Ireland. They range from Springboard courses, that are free to some welfare recipients and subsidised for other groups, all the way through to PhD level courses and beyond.

In 2020 the Irish Universities Association launched; a five year, €12.3 million project in partnership with the university sector. A search for ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘machine learning’ or ‘data’ returns multiple short online course options. Ireland is the first European country to establish a national framework for quality assured and accredited micro-credentials.

ICT Skillnet is another useful resource for a list of AI-related courses that range from free AI webinars all the way through to PhD programmes.

Coding is not a prerequisite for AI upskilling; many of the courses now on offer are designed for people from other career areas – law, business, humanities, biosciences – who want to get a handle on how AI might integrate with and enhance their own work.

For those who are highly educated in the key AI areas, such as Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing and Computer Vision, Science Foundation Ireland, through its Centres for Research Training Programme, offers high level training to make the transfer from education and research into industry. The Centre for Research Training (CRT) in AI and the CRT in Machine Learning, just two of six relevant CRTs, have already recruited 79 and 100 PhD students respectively.

Through these and existing university engineering and computing courses we are gradually building a framework for accessible AI education in this country. We have a responsibility to ensure uptake by the broadest constituency of people, not just tech natives, to ensure equitable access to the benefits that AI will bring.