How private education companies are filling the gap left by surging demand for artificial intelligence engineers of all stripes?

Whether it’s Python proles or machine-learning masters, the rolling digitization of the global economy has created a near-endless need for talent that traditional schools have been unable to meet.

Silicon-Valley based Holberton, for example, started as a sort of software engineering boot camp, expanded by franchising to nine countries and, based on their success, has segued into creating what it calls an operating system for education, a set of tools that enable other private programs to quickly create machine-learning courses or curricula on their own.

“Traditional schools are slower to react to the market and are constrained by overtaxed faculty,” said Julien Barbier, co-founder of Holberton, which is focused on broadening technical education to meet the surging demand.

Software developers were the workers in highest demand in 2020, according to LinkedIn data, and Microsoft estimates that the next five years will see the creation of around 149 million new technology-oriented jobs with most roles in software development.

But traditional schools have fallen behind. According to Computer Science Education Week, an annual call to action to inspire K-12 students to learn computer science, computer science does not even count toward high school graduation in 35 out of 50 states, though 58 percent of all new STEM jobs are in computing. In addition, schools are struggling to find qualified teachers who want to teach instead of earning $200,000 a year or more as developers.

“There’s clearly a huge demand and we provide talented and highly trained developers,” said Sophie Viger, general director of 42. She said all of 42’s students are hired within two years after starting at the school. “Everybody can be part of this technological future,” she added. “Access to a bigger and more diverse pool of talent will also benefit companies enormously.  

AI’s emergence, meanwhile, has resulted in an unprecedented brain drain of AI professors from academia to industry. More than 40 computer science academics left for high-paying private-sector jobs 2018 compared to 15 in 2012 and none in 2004, according to Stanford University’s Human-Centered AI Institute.

The tech talent gap threatens to slow the digital transformation of the global economy. More software needs to be written in the next 10 years than there are people to write it. Management consulting firm Korn Ferry predicts a global shortage of 4.3 million tech workers by 2030. Research firm Gartner predicted four years ago that software-development demand will be five times development capacity through 2021.

The pandemic has highlighted the range of options available and seen a surge in alternative programs as students reassess the traditional college experience. Competency-based learning is increasingly popular and a recent survey of 2,200 teenagers revealed that half of them were open to alternatives to the traditional four-year degree. Not only does this allow learners to progress at their own chosen pace and accumulate credits from different institutions as they pursue lifelong learning, but short-term, project-based certificate programs are often valued more highly by many employers than a four-year degree.

Holberton, for example, offers franchisees and licensees a menu of tools built around a collaborative project-based methodology, presenting students with a series of projects that they are encouraged to work through communally. Teaching materials are curated from open-source readings and videos. Many organizations that use Holberton’s OS of education don’t even have teachers and instead rely on mentors to offer advice when students get stuck.

The system draws on expert advisors and former students to tailor curricula that fit industry demand. Holberton, for example, has recently expanded its machine-learning team to meet the yawning talent gap as the global economy adopts AI.

The team-based project-approach, meanwhile, is well suited to teaching students professional skills. Increasingly, employers are dropping the requirement of a college degree and are looking at student portfolios instead. 

Skills learned in college can rapidly become obsolete; according to Gartner, not only do employees require more skills today to get the job done, but 58 percent of them need new skills.

Michaela Martin, program leader at the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning, says that half of students have lost confidence in the value of a college education and were worried about developing the skills and knowledge they needed to get a job after graduating.

Even the US government now gives priority to a job applicant’s skills over a college degree.

Private investment is growing as opportunities for learning become more diverse, exemplified by the Siemens Foundation’s Middle-Skill Initiative to help young adults close the ‘opportunity gap’ and build STEM careers, and Microsoft’s publicly available Microsoft Professional Program which has an AI track and its developer-focused online AI School.

Other organizations, like Zurich Insurance, are introducing apprenticeship programs enabling education and work experience. Online-only learning platforms such as Coursera, Udacity, Edx and Udemy are also making efforts to fill the gap, offering a range of courses including data science, machine learning and AI, and third-party providers like NetCom provide bespoke training and certification for tech industry leaders.

The call to action occasioned by the pandemic has the potential for a lasting revolution in education. But the challenges facing traditional providers are amplified by the agility of private providers, who can adapt more quickly to changing conditions and offer a wider range of specialist, short-term and flexible options that are responsive to industry needs.

While reinventing their modes of delivering learning, schools and colleges of all kinds will likely take the opportunity to rethink their content, developing courses and curricula that equip a larger proportion of the population with relevant skills to navigate the fourth industrial revolution.

Source: Tech Republic article