Dara Calleary and two people from Microsoft Ireland in a room with very vivid pink lighting.
Dara Calleary TD, Anne Sheehan and James O’Connor. Image: Naoise Culhane

Microsoft Ireland brings free AI skills schemes to learners of all ages

27 Oct 2023

The need for workers to learn AI skills was highlighted by speakers at a recent Belfast event. Microsoft is stepping up to the plate to provide courses.

Microsoft Ireland has today (27 October) announced several new schemes to boost people’s AI skills. The schemes target everyone from schoolchildren who have an interest to adults who want to attain professional certificates in AI technology. Microsoft’s plans align with the Irish Government’s national AI skills strategy, which posits that everyone, no matter their profession, should learn basic AI competencies.

With this in mind, Microsoft is providing adult learners in Ireland with the opportunity to do a six-week introduction to AI course that will be delivered through live virtual sessions. The course is free and available to anyone over the age of 18. The material has been designed for people with very limited knowledge of AI.

The second initiative is aimed at graduates and people currently in the workplace to help them advance their digital and AI skills. The Skills for Jobs programme offers new courses and provides access to eight professional certificates, including one in generative AI. The programme is delivered in partnership with Fastrack into Information Technology.

For schoolchildren, Microsoft is expanding its existing Dream Space digital skills offering meaning every primary and post-primary student will now learn about things like AI ethics and how AI works. Early next year, a new series of Dream Space TV with lessons created to ensure AI literacy will be made available to almost 1m students and their teachers across the island of Ireland. Students who complete the lessons will be awarded Dream Space certificates.

AI for everyone

Microsoft’s commitments were welcomed by Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins, TD, who said the plans were “an excellent complement to the raft of AI upskilling and reskilling initiatives underway in higher and further education.” Collins previously said that everyone will need some level of AI proficiency for the future of work.

James O’Connor, Microsoft Ireland site leader and VP of Microsoft Global Operations Service Centre, pointed out that, “AI offers tremendous potential to empower workers, people and communities across Ireland – but only if everyone, everywhere has the skills to use it”.

“At Microsoft, we believe that AI-enabled innovation will generate economic and societal opportunities for communities and economies right across the globe and here in Ireland we must be ready to take advantage of this opportunity. The ability to work alongside and utilise AI technology effectively and ethically in the workplace is becoming an essential skill for many jobs.”

According to Microsoft Ireland’s most recent Work Trends Index from June, one-fifth of workers said they use AI tools in their jobs currently. Of those who don’t use AI, a quarter expressed an interest in the tech.

Belfast’s AI hub status contingent on skills

AI skills are undoubtedly a hot topic at the moment and this was the subject of a conference that was held in Belfast yesterday (26 October). The Big Data Belfast conference explored Northern Ireland’s potential to be an AI tech hub. It brought together more than 700 delegates from the region’s IT sector.

Speakers included citizen astronaut candidate Dr Norah Patten, managing director of Dell Technologies in Ireland Catherine Doyle, Minecraft Education’s Justin Edwards, Microsoft sports managing director Sebastián Lancestremère and Axel Springer’s Tarek Madany Mamlouk.

Two people at the Big Data Belfast conference.

Dr Aislinn Rice from Analytics Engines and Gareth Kelly from EY launch Big Data Belfast 2023. Image: Matt Mackey

Panellists spoke on various topics from generative AI to how AI impacts areas of society like the media, sustainability, data usage and transport. Attendees were told that investment in AI skills would prove crucial to Northern Ireland’s ability to cement itself as an AI stronghold.

Dr Aislinn Rice, managing director of Analytics Engines (the organisers of the conference), said that her company has been working with AI for years. However, the advancements that have taken place recently represent “a significant step” particularly in areas such as large langue models (LLMs). She added that the “the speed and sophistication of AI solutions being created on this island is breathtaking, and this new technology creates a big opportunity for the region.”

Gareth Kelly, partner in the data and analytics division at EY Northern Ireland (the conference sponsor), agreed. “There’s no doubt that generative AI represents a huge opportunity for many different segments of the business world. Many companies in Northern Ireland are developing clever uses of AI and it is incumbent on all of us to take the time to assess and analyse the implications of the latest advances to ensure that we can make the most of the opportunities created.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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