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Building a workforce with AI skills is not just a priority for the tech industry. It's also being seen as a national defense issue on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers believe AI will change the nature of warfare and the economy and take a sizable AI-trained workforce to keep the U.S. globally competitive.
But so far, lawmakers are primarily considering scattershot ideas for building an AI workforce. The ideas range from expanding AI education and training programs to niche legislative efforts, such as barring recruiting systems from automatically excluding candidates who don't have undergraduate degrees.
The risks of failing to stay competitive globally are more pointed. At the World Economic Forum this week, U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., a member of the Committee on Armed Services, said during a panel discussion that AI will affect how wars are fought.
"It speeds everything up," Rounds said. A military action that once took a couple of days to prepare for could take "milliseconds" with the use of AI, he said.
"The country with an army or an armed services that has employed AI will have a leg up on everybody else," Rounds said.
The AI workforce discussion is also happening in Washington, D.C. This week, lawmakers delved into AI's workforce needs in a U.S. House hearing.
"AI will be key to our continued national security and economic prosperity," said U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who chairs the Oversight Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Government Innovation.
Mace said during the hearing that the U.S.'s ability to maintain its "global edge" will "increasingly depend on the global competitiveness of a broader American AI workforce."
"We know that China is making a multi-pronged push to lead in AI talent," Mace said.
Ranking member U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., agreed. "We must prepare future technologists from the moment they enter elementary school."
HR recruiting automation questioned
However, the subcommittee mostly heard ideas from witnesses to expand AI educational initiatives. One issue concerned recruiting systems.
The recently introduced Opportunity to Compete Act by U.S. Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Il., and John James, R-Mich., is designed to prevent discrimination against workers without bachelor's degrees during the hiring process.
U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Il.
It requires employers that use automated hiring systems to change their practices. Specifically, they will have to be transparent about the qualifications required for job positions and consider work experience a potential substitute for a four-year college degree.
The goal is to "prevent automated discrimination against applicants without bachelor's degrees," Krishnamoorthi said at the subcommittee hearing. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. It has not advanced.
At IBM, 50% of its U.S. job postings do not include a college degree requirement. However, using workers without college degrees on a federal contract can be a problem, said Timi Hadra, a client partner for IBM Consulting and a senior executive for IBM in West Virginia, who testified at the hearing.
Former President Donald Trump's administration let federal agencies adopt a skills-based approach to hiring and de-emphasized college degree requirements. Hadra said they have seen a change in federal hiring away from degree requirements, but the change doesn't go far enough.
As an example, Hadra said an entry-level federal cybersecurity analyst job might require a bachelor's degree plus one year of experience or four years of experience. But IBM workers who have completed its six-month cybersecurity apprenticeship program would still be excluded due to their lack of experience, she said.
These IBM apprenticeship graduates are "ready to hit the ground running" on federal work, Hadra said. However, because they don't meet the minimum qualifications, "we are not able to put them on that contract."
Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.