Microsoft and OpenClassrooms are empowering students with AI skills

Microsoft and OpenClassrooms are empowering students with AI skills
Firms discuss online educational programme and how it is preparing users for the digital workplace

Rebecca Gibson |

To successfully transition to the digital workplace of the future, companies will need to hire employees with next-generation artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and data science and engineering skills. Currently, however, demand for these skills is far outpacing the number of suitably qualified candidates in the job market. In fact, research from IDC predicts that around 30% of the job roles that require AI and data science skills could be left unfulfilled by 2022. 

In 2019, Microsoft embarked on a mission to close up this digital skills gap, joining forces with France-based online education-to-employment platform OpenClassrooms, which equips more than three million people per month with the skills, competencies and knowledge they need to succeed in the digital workplace. 

“OpenClassrooms is on a mission to make quality education and career advancement accessible and affordable to all,” says Roxana Popa, director of development for the USA at OpenClassrooms. “We provide an alternative to traditional higher education, offering students the chance to learn online at their own pace and earn a diploma equivalent to associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but at a fraction of the cost. By 2025, we aim to be helping one million students find jobs and advance their careers every year.” 

Together, Microsoft and OpenClassrooms have co-created the AI Engineer programme, which aims to recruit and train around 1,000 AI and machine learning engineers throughout the US, the UK and Europe. 

“We’re joining forces to close the digital skills gap by delivering Microsoft’s AI, cloud, machine learning and data science expertise and content to students of all ages and backgrounds via OpenClassroom’s interactive, high-quality online education platform,” says Ed Steidl, director of workforce partnerships at Microsoft. 

The online AI Engineer programme is open to people with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and is wholly taught online. It is broken down into five competency blocks that are designed to help students master critical skills in data science, machine learning, deep learning, product deployment and AI project management. 

“Students complete the modular course online at their own pace over 12 months, participating in one-to-one mentoring sessions, soft skills sessions and interactive project-based tasks tailored to the types of AI roles that employers want to fill,” says Popa. “All successful graduates will earn an accredited diploma equivalent to a master’s degree and gain the technical skills and knowledge they need to successfully take on roles such as AI engineers, data analyst, data scientist and machine learning engineers.”

To make the project more effective, Microsoft and OpenClassrooms have partnered with several small and medium-sized enterprises that are looking to hire staff with AI engineering knowledge. 

“Our programme is intentionally designed as a scalable student acquisition and delivery model that produces a large cohort of high-quality graduates and allows employers to easily recruit new, job-ready talent at a much lower cost,” says Popa. “We’re confident that all our successful graduates will secure full-time employment within six months of completing the programme. However, we will provide a full refund if they don’t.”

According to Steidl, the AI Engineer programme isn’t just popular with companies that are looking to hire new talent. A growing number of organisations are also interested in the possibility of enrolling their existing staff in the programme. “Many businesses have started their digital transformation and they are now looking for easy and cost-effective ways to upskill or reskill their existing employees so they can carry out high-level tasks that drive more value for the organisation.”

For both OpenClassrooms and Microsoft, the AI Engineer programme marks the first step towards democratising education for skills in AI, machine learning and other digital areas. 

“We’re living through an era of unprecedented digital transformation that threatens to leave large groups of people behind, exacerbating the global inequality crisis,” says Popa. “Our joint programme with Microsoft was specifically designed for individuals who don’t have access to elite training. We aim to empower them with the skills and knowledge they need to compete in the job markets of today and tomorrow – at the fraction of the cost of a traditional degree. This is all part of our broader goal to bring much-needed diversity into the field of AI to ensure that technology evolves in a way that is truly representative of, and beneficial to, our society at large.” 

Steidl adds: “This is a first-of-its-kind project for Microsoft and we’re proud to partner with OpenClassrooms to offer students a flexible and high-quality education programme that will empower them to become the technology innovators of the future.”

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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