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Prioritising AI skills can help boost Ireland’s economic competitiveness on a global level

Artificial intelligence (AI) is at the forefront of a digital transformation which is fundamentally redefining the world of work. By 2023 it is expected that almost two-thirds of businesses in Ireland will be using AI or machine learning – a significant increase from the 22 per cent who have implemented the technology to date. 

The Government’s ambitious new strategy  AI – Here For Good maps out how Ireland will leverage the potential of AI to improve our socioeconomic performance and productivity, along with delivering a wide range of positive impacts across value chains. The strategy’s vision, as outlined states: “Ireland will be an international leader in using AI to the benefit of our population, through a people-centred, ethical approach to AI development, adoption and use.” 

Ireland is already home to a vibrant, open AI ecosystem that supports collaboration. Over 40 of the world’s leading innovators in AI have an established presence here. The high representation of global leading AI firms in Ireland is not only a significant boost to our economy, it also greatly enhances Ireland’s capacity to compete globally across sectors in which the application of AI is growing, including the healthcare and Medtech sectors, as well as financial services, transportation, and retail. 

To build on this foundation and ensure AI can enable the work we do as well as create new job opportunities and boost our competitiveness on a global level, it is important that the AI talent agenda is prioritised and continually invested in. 

The role of Skillnet Ireland and Skillnet Business Networks

Skillnet Ireland, working in partnership with industry and academia, is playing an increasingly important role in shaping the AI talent agenda through the delivery of learning and development programmes that respond to the growing demand for AI skills in Ireland – and will continue to do so in alignment with the AI: Here for Good strategy. 

We have already witnessed the significant strides that can be made through this collaborative approach, in the delivery of three MSc programmes in the field of AI and Computing, including the country’s first postgraduate MSc in Artificial Intelligence. Through Technology Ireland ICT Skillnet and in partnership with IDA Ireland, Skillnet Ireland facilitated the development of the Master’s programme which is delivered through the University of Limerick (UL)

Leveraging deep roots within the tech sector, the Masters in AI is an entirely industry-designed programme with input from a number of leading ICT companies including Accenture, Citibank, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Nokia Bell Labs, SAP, Storyful, Sytorus, Valeo, and Zalando among others. 

Two further MSc courses in Computing with a major in AI are now also offered – one at Dublin City University and one at NUI Galway – and supported by Technology Ireland ICT Skillnet. The MSc programme offering has significantly enhanced the postgraduate learning opportunities of people working in the industry, who have been keen to deepen their computing skills through specialisation in AI. In 2020, a total of 295 people participated in one of the three MSc in AI programmes, or in the Post Graduate Certificate in AI, or in the new Foundation Certificate in AI. 

Gerry Carty, Senior Software Engineer at Avaya and graduate of the MSc programme in Artificial Intelligence (UL) said: “Avaya has had artificial intelligence in its products for some time in the form of chatbots and third-party API’s, and we’re now looking more and more at how to leverage AI and harness the power of data to deliver results for our customers.  

AI is an area that I had been interested in but what drew me to the programme was the fact that the MSc is a course designed by industry for industry. It equips participants to ask questions about what drives AI, its potential value, and of course, how to implement it and why it should be implemented that way.” 

Mark Jordan, Chief Technologist at Skillnet Ireland said: “The new AI – Here for Good strategy heralds an exciting and progressive new chapter for the sector in Ireland, which will bring further prosperity and economic growth, as well as job opportunities and pathways to career progression for those working in the field. 

Skillnet Ireland’s support of these objectives is twofold. On the one hand, we are performing an important role in bringing tech companies and industry bodies together to work with universities on new programmes and other developments in AI. We, along with our partners, look forward to building on the recent successes of the suite of programmes in AI, supported by Skillnet Business Networks including Technology Ireland ICT SkillnetITAG Skillnet, and IT@cork Skillnet to increase the upskilling output to the benefit of those operating in the sector and in alignment with the new strategy. 

On the other hand, we are actively supporting businesses across Ireland in their efforts to digitise practices and increase technology adoption. Evidence suggests artificial intelligence will have a seismic influence on businesses across all sectors, particularly SMEs. We are working with companies to ensure they are equipped with the skills to take full advantage of the opportunity AI presents.” 

Improving Trust. Building Confidence.

AI: Here for Good details the roadmap for how Ireland can leverage the potential of artificial intelligence to unlock productivity, address societal challenges, and deliver public services. The strategy also recognises the need for a strong approach to cybersecurity to maximise trust in AI adoption. 

Since October 2018, Skillnet Ireland has been implementing the Cyber Security Skills Initiative in partnership with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau, together with other agencies and third-level institutions. The core aims of the initiative are to develop awareness, bridge the skills gap, and set standards for skills and competencies for cybersecurity roles. There are now a significant number of postgraduate learning pathways in cybersecurity, including the MSc in Cybersecurity, developed by Technology Ireland ICT Skillnet in partnership with industry, and delivered by the National College of Ireland (NCI). 

Mark Jordan continued: “With greater AI adoption across industry comes an increasing demand for talent and expertise in the area of cybersecurity, ensuring businesses can continue to trade and operate in a safe and open environment. Skillnet Ireland is working with companies across all business sectors to better understand their needs and objectives and develop pathway programmes and talent initiatives which will address these. As part of the new AI: Here for Good strategy, we will build on this track record to help employees level up to further close the skills gap, which will ultimately enable businesses to embrace AI to their benefit, and to the benefit of the wider economy.” 

Keep up-to-date with Skillnet Ireland’s latest publications and in-depth research by visiting our publications page.

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