Several national and international organizations have partnered with NC State’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Academy in order to train their employees to meet a growing demand for talent in the area of artificial intelligence.
The AI Academy is a nationally registered apprenticeship program funded by a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor and designed to train individuals to assume roles within the area of artificial intelligence. Carla C. Johnson, Ph.D., a professor of science education in the NC State College of Education, is the principal investigator on the grant and the executive director of the program.
The program began in March 2020 with a 12-month planning period in which industry leaders worked alongside Johnson and collaborators from NC State’s Department of Computer Science, including Collin Lynch, Ph.D., Thomas Price, Ph.D., Min Chi, Ph.D., and Noboru Matsuda, Ph.D.
The four-course, 40-week workforce development program has set a goal of upskilling 5,000 individuals to enter the artificial intelligence pipeline and Johnson said the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a strategic approach for recruitment that led to several internationally-recognized organizations joining the Artificial Intelligence Academy in recent months.
New partners for the Artificial Intelligence Academy include The Walt Disney Company, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Honeywell, Lexmark, Diveplane and Northrop Grumman.
“We are very pleased to partner with these great industry-leading companies that are pivotal to so many people around the globe today,” Johnson said. “Our program will provide career ladder options for their proven talent within their organizations and enable them to do more innovative work to move the world forward.”
The companies, which represent the entertainment, healthcare, technology, manufacturing and defense sectors, will all have the opportunity to include up to 30 participants in the AI Academy in each of the upcoming five cohorts of students over the next three years.
Dan Seevers, director of data science and analytics for Lexmark, said participation in the AI Academy will not only help employees hone their technological skills but help the company grow their capacity to help clients access and leverage data to solve difficult business challenges.
“Lexmark is excited to partner with Carla Johnson and NC State’s AI Academy as we continue our digital transformation journey. Participation in the program is an excellent opportunity for us to increase our skills and certification in the field of AI while supporting our goals of creating a collaborative and inclusive data science community, increasing data literacy and sharing cross-functional, value-generating ideas,” he said.
“Honeywell uses models and analytical methods in its product portfolio and is constantly using new technologies to develop new products. Our partnership with NC State University helps Honeywell improve skills in AI and machine learning while focusing on value-generating applications for the industries we serve,” added Andrew Trenchard, chief technology officer for Honeywell.
Johnson said there are currently too few qualified individuals in the artificial intelligence workforce and competition for workers with skills in the field is intense. As a result, she said, many well-known and respected companies that are not synonymous with technology or artificial intelligence work often struggle to recruit recent graduates with artificial intelligence skills.
The AI Academy remedies this issue by providing a streamlined approach to upskilling that is coupled with on-the-job training and mentoring within an employee’s existing workplace and by giving companies an opportunity to select employees from their existing talent pool to invest in through training. The result, Johnson said, is increased capacity and expertise for the partner organizations.
“The AI Academy is a tremendous opportunity to grow Northrop Grumman’s workforce in artificial intelligence. The combination of classroom learning, on-the-job training and mentoring provides for the development of a mission-focused AI workforce that benefits our company, our customers and our employees,” said Amanda Muller, technical fellow at the Northrop Grumman Corporation, a multinational aerospace and defense technology company based in Virginia.
“Artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science are incredibly large fields. Any particular implementation will likely have elements that require deeper knowledge in certain areas as well as broad knowledge to compare and contrast results, and to innovate and improve them,” added Chris Hazard, chief executive officer of Diveplane, a Raleigh-based tech startup that offers AI-powered business solutions. “NC State University’s AI Academy provides a rich, pragmatic and modern curriculum to provide this breadth of knowledge to accelerate apprentices into productive positions that begin a rewarding career.”
Sanjay Choubey, chief technology officer for Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, a multinational pharmaceutical company based in India, said that the organization’s partnership with the AI Academy will align with their current Digital Champion program, which provides advanced training in digital literacy for selected employees across their international workforce.
As the company moves to digitize all of their processes, Choubey expects a vast increase in interaction with technologies including artificial intelligence and machine learning. He believes it is important for all employees to build an understanding of these new technologies in order to be prepared for the changing work environment of the future.
Participation in the AI Academy will allow a handpicked group of employees from the North American workforce to gain the skills necessary to become “Digital Champions” who are the key to implementing the digitization of the company’s processes, he said.
“The students who will be part of the program will no doubt benefit by gaining high-quality instruction and first-hand experience in implementing some of these projects with the help of the assigned mentors,” Choubey said. “It is important to have our workforce ready to interact and help implement the rapidly changing technologies to ensure we meet our aspirational targets. We hope the [AI Academy] students will set an example for other employees in our workforce as well as build their own expertise for their careers.”
The AI Academy is continuing to enroll additional new partners and participants in the program. Interested employers should email Johnson for more information on joining the partnership.