Gaining enough artificial intelligence or AI knowledge to keep up with evolving demands in Canada’s tech industry doesn’t have to be difficult, industry experts say.
With a growing number of free courses available online and recent industry reports showing that candidates will need to show skill in artificial intelligence this year more than ever, the global race to take advantage of the technology is deepening.
Members of the country’s tech community recently told the Canadian Press that finding staff who can develop AI-based products or use them to drive efficiencies is a priority.
“Everyone is looking for people who understand how to use AI,” said Jenny Yang, a senior advisor at the MaRS innovation hub in Toronto.
As more recruiters add a variety of AI skills to their job listings, there are a number of simple ways to ensure you check those boxes and make yourself stand out.
Companies and universities like Microsoft, LinkedIn, Google, Amazon, IBM, Harvard University and Georgia Tech are among some of those offering free training and programs for people who want to learn more.
It all comes as research by Amazon published in November last year suggests two-thirds (66 per cent) of Canadian employers prioritize candidates with AI skills. However, of these, 77 per cent face difficulties hiring qualified talent.
Eighty-three per cent of all surveyed organizations expect to use AI-powered solutions by 2028, the research found. It also found that employers are willing to pay at least 25 per cent more to hire talent with AI skills.
The findings point to two barriers that exist for providing employers with AI-skilled candidates.
Amazon found that the biggest barrier is a lack of knowledge employers have about how to acquire AI skills for their existing employees. Second, employers showed a lack of knowledge about what AI training programs are available.
Amazon’s research is partially what led the company to launch a new initiative last year called AI Ready, which is committed to providing AI training to two million people globally by 2025.
“We really want to make sure that everyone knows that these skills are accessible to anybody,” said Coral Kennett, who is the head of education for Amazon Web Services in Canada.
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One program the initiative offers is called DeepRacer, which allows users to learn machine learning skills by racing cars virtually. An in-person DeepRacer event in Winnipeg last year had a wide range of individuals in attendance, even some from the Canadian Pork Council.
“If you have absolutely no experience in AI, all the way up to people that are looking to reskill … it really is for everyone,” Kennett told Global News.
Kennett’s biggest piece of advice for people looking to gain experience in AI is to just jump right in and start exploring. There’s no need to hit the university books again, but there are plenty of resources available for those who do.
“No matter how much time you have or budget you have, there’s so many different options that are available,” she said. “Start your journey and see where it takes you.”
Another tech industry insider echoes Kennett, saying now’s the time to become familiar with key AI tools such as ChatGPT.
“Don’t take a single course yet. Go and just open something up and play with it and get some hands-on experience with some generative AI tools,” said Jeremy Shaki, who is the CEO and co-founder of Lighthouse Labs, which provides online bootcamps in tech.
For those who are looking for courses, either for more structured training or to include the training specifically in their resumes for a job hunt, there are plenty of familiar firms offering these.
LinkedIn offers a course called Career Essentials in Generative AI, which can lead to a professional certification via Microsoft. IBM also offers a free program called AI Foundations for Everyone, available in 20 different languages. Google Cloud runs an Introduction to Generative AI program as well, which can lead to a certification, while Microsoft offers AI training specialized for multiple different industries and sectors.
Harvard University and Georgia Tech offer several more free courses that expand into more intermediate specializations as well, such as Harvard’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence with Python and Georgia Tech’s Deep Learning Reinforcement program.
Though AI skills will be a requirement for many recruiters this year, Shaki said it doesn’t have to take multiple years for candidates to get caught up. Lighthouse’s courses run from six to 12 weeks.
Since Open AI launched its generative AI chatbot, ChatGPT, in March 2023, Shaki said his company has received an approximate 75 per cent spike in interest in its data science courses.
Lighthouse regularly communicates with recruiters for insight on the job market. Shaki said a lot of employers in the tech industry are now looking for candidates with knowledge of AI tools like Microsoft’s Copilot, ChatGPT and Midjourney.
“HR professionals, accounting, logistics people … the job ads so far are not talking about AI too much, but if you talk to companies who are hiring for those people, they’re all talking about it as a big advantage,” he said.
“The problem is, even the HR professionals who are doing the screening and hiring, they don’t really know how to look at that yet. So I would say if you’ve actually played around with this stuff and if you can demonstrate some real value in the way you use it, you already have a huge leg up.”
Another thing to be aware of when looking to gain skills in AI is that the landscape is constantly changing, Shaki said.
“The evolution of the different tools that people are going to use on the job are going to happen every six months at this point, and your willingness on the job to explore different tools, … then play around with them and watch how they advance and innovate and change, is going to be what separates you out two years from now,” he said.
“It’s a pretty wild space right now.”
— with files from The Canadian Press.