Skills shortage in AI, automation, leads industry, academia to strengthen partnerships

Skills shortage in AI, automation, leads industry, academia to strengthen partnerships

The rapid digitisation brought on by the pandemic is driving industry and academia to come together in India to produce more skilled labour. 

Companies such as UiPath, Automation Anywhere, Salesforce and International Business Machines (IBM) along with educational institutes like Manipal University have stepped on the gas when it comes to partnerships meant to promote skilling in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, automation and other emerging technologies.

In November, for instance, robotic process automation (RPA) company UiPath said it has increased its academic collaborations in the country by 50% as compared to the previous year. Over 50 such academic institutions have partnered with the firm to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) and automation into their curriculum, according to the company. 

Further, UiPath partnered with the Indian Government’s upskilling entity, the ICT Academy on November 30, to add automation to the curriculum of over 1000 institutions that have a collaboration with the Academy.
Developing such skills is a key part of the agenda set forth by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Automation Anywhere, too, has partnered with academic institutions in the country to train faculty in order to inculcate industry skills among students. “Companies are expecting academic institutions to enable the significant shift from mere RPA awareness in campus to deep dive engagement with curriculum integration and hands-on-practice followed by students passing out with industry recognized certificates,” said Milan Sheth, executive vice president, India, Middle-East and Africa, at Automation Anywhere. The company has set up over 100 labs, which it calls “botlabs”, with 40-100 computers that run on its proprietary enterprise software in each lab situated in educational campuses across the country.

Similarly, Manipal global education services, a part of the Manipal Education and Medical group in Bengaluru, collaborated with customer relationship management (CRM) giant Salesforce last month to equip students with advanced technology skills in the areas of automation and Internet of Things (IoT). In a statement, Manipal said that it plans to introduce entry-level developer programs in the student’s curriculum within the University’s campuses across India and other locations. The education chain aims to integrate the Salesforce program into the final semesters of course curriculum.

“Demand for artificial intelligence, and talent with AI expertise, has surged in recent years and more so since the pandemic. Globally, on our Trailhead platform, through the pandemic (Between March 2020 - March 2021) AI related certifications/badges saw an increase of 148% followed by blockchain related certifications/ badges at 54%,” said Deepak Pargoankar, vice president, Solutions Engineering at Salesforce. “By developing company- and industry-specific curriculum, organizations can more easily provide re-skilling resources to not only retain talent, but expand skill sets,” he added.

According to Kashyap Kompella, chief executive officer (CEO) and chief analyst at analysis firm rpa2ai Research, there is a trend in the software industry called “developer evangelism/ developer relations” which companies use to attract developers to their platforms. “The partnership with academia is a natural extension of that trend. It is a win-win situation for the college and the companies,” he said.

While UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Salesforce are comparatively newer firms, 110-year-old International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation is no stranger to collaborations with academia either. IBM India partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) in July last year to develop a curriculum for AI and automation, to be taught to students in classes XI and XII.

“We have now covered over 250 schools, and more than 15,000 students have benefitted from the program. This year, we will cover over 50,000 teachers and 150,000 students from over 1000 schools as part of our capacity-building initiative, where they will be taking advantage of the SkillsBuild for Students platform,” a spokesperson for the company said. It has also partnered with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay and IIT Delhi to help in AI and automation research.

“The university will pair its world-class faculty and top graduate students with leading AI scientists from IBM Research, India to advance the application of AI, machine learning, natural language processing (NLP) and related technologies in the industry,” the spokesperson said.

However, Kompella noted that despite there being clear intent from industry to partner with academia, there are a lot of areas that need to be improved. “Because of the inflexibility in terms of partnership models and lack of easy coordination mechanisms, along with the fast pace of the information technology (IT) industry as compared to academia, we probably aren’t where we should be,” he said.

Kompella pointed out that in the west there are established industry models in terms of how to commercialize intellectual property (IP) generated from industry-academia partnerships, and this is what could be the requirement in India to move forward. Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys, also said that research partnerships between industry and academia are limited.