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Generative AI upskilling demands multiple methods, partners

Global IT consultancies take a multilayered approach to GenAI training by developing in-house programs, partnering with tech vendors and tapping online training platforms.

IT service providers are pursuing multiple training approaches in their bid to collectively upskill more than 1 million employees on generative AI.

Those methods typically include in-house learning and development programs, product-specific training from AI technology vendors, and the use of online learning platforms. The sudden emergence of generative AI (GenAI) and prospects for its rapid growth in enterprises have made this breadth of training critical, according to industry executives.

"Techniques and technologies are forever changing, and the requirement for massive-scale reskilling and upskilling is incredibly high," said Nitin Bajaj, vice president and head of digital offerings at NTT Data's Plano, Texas-based U.S. operations "However, with GenAI, the pace of change is exponential. Large-scale upskilling for all staff is essential."

Gearing up workers for GenAI has become a top priority for global systems integrators and consultancies, which hope to boost credibility with customers and technology providers. Having a deep bench of trained and certified consultants is essential for building trust in a market that's not even two years old.

Massive training, multiple methods

IT service providers blend various educational resources to address the scale and scope of the required training.

NTT Data, for example, operates localized online GenAI training academies worldwide. The academies provide general and customized training programs that cover business, technical and executive personas, Bajaj said. The service provider supplements the internal programs with external training providers such as Skillsoft and its Percipio learning platform, he added. NTT Data also engages technology partners such as Microsoft as training outlets.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) also takes a multilayered approach. Its in-house initiative, dubbed TCS AI.Cloud Academy, offers employees training and career planning on GenAI and cloud transformation, said Krishna Mohan, deputy head of the service provider's AI.Cloud business unit.

The company combines its internal training with third-party content. For example, the TCS academy integrates with AWS Skill Builder training programs, including GenAI ones. That integration links AWS training to TCS digital competencies, which employees earn as they complete courses. The result is a connection between the Skill Builder programs and employees' career development, according to TCS.

TCS has also created an AI Experience Zone that lets employees experiment with large language models from technology providers such as AWS, Google and Microsoft as well as open source LLM offerings.

Capgemini, a consulting and technology services company based in Paris, uses a mix of in-house training resources and vendor partnerships to fuel its generative AI upskilling and training. The company launched a GenAI Campus in October 2023 and plans to train about 100,000 employees on generative AI tools, according to a company spokesperson.

Capgemini's data and AI teams, along with its developers and testers, were the first to receive the GenAI training, she noted. Upskilling, versus hiring, will help the company double the size of the data and AI teams.

"These talents aren't readily available in the market," the spokesperson said.

Graphic summarizing the number of employees consultancies plan to train on GenAI.
The massive number of employees consultancies aim to train on GenAI requires multiple training methods and partners.

Tiered education spans novices and experts

TCS offers different levels of GenAI training. Overall, the company has trained 350,000 employees in the fundamentals of AI and GenAI. About 10% of that group have also received advanced training in those fields. The upskilling campaign continues. Under TCS' expanded partnership with AWS, the service provider will train an additional 25,000 employees in GenAI and other advanced areas of AWS technology. This advanced training covers products such as Bedrock, Amazon Q and CodeWhisperer.

NTT Data follows a similar approach, offering basic and more specialized generative AI training. All employees receive basic training on GenAI, but the company also provides curated training geared to specific employee roles and responsibilities.

NTT Data expects most of its 200,000 staff to have foundational GenAI training, Bajaj said. Employees already up to speed on the technology -- those in developer or expert developer roles, for instance -- will receive recurrent training as GenAI evolves.

Tech Mahindra, a consulting and digital transformation service provider headquartered in Pune, India, uses a martial arts metaphor to distinguish its generative AI training tiers. The company's AI Proficiency Framework aims to equip its workforce with GenAI skills, with employees starting at the white-belt level and progressing through blue-, brown- and black-belt ranks.

Kunal Purohit, chief digital services officer at Tech Mahindra, said the company uses both training modules developed in-house and external courses. Its training ecosystem also includes experts from cloud hyperscalers, he added. Tech Mahindra combines its coursework with hands-on practice and assignments.

3 steps for training thousands of employees

Training thousands of employees on a new technology is an enormous undertaking. Niraj Chatwal, AI leader and director of IT strategy and digital transformation at MorganFranklin Consulting, suggested an incremental approach:

  • Raise awareness. Chatwal said it's particularly important to explain both the functionality of the technology and the strategic rationale for its use -- how does the technology align with the business strategy or address business problems?
  • Tailor training for different levels of expertise. Organizations might consider using a college format such as 100-level, 200-level and 300-level courses, Chatwal noted. The idea is to offer a training program that lets employees select the best path for their role.
  • Use gamification to spark interest. Gamification motivates employees to participate in training, certification and technology adoption, Chatwal said. Training courses should also include a capstone project where employees apply what they've learned, he added.

Layered training with a tech-vendor focus

Cognizant, an IT services and consulting firm based in Teaneck, N.J., has likewise built its GenAI training program around in-house resources and technology vendor partnerships.

The Synapse training initiative, which launched in October 2023, includes Cognizant's own learning and development platform, an on-demand digital learning partner ecosystem and the company's Google Cloud AI University. The latter stems from Cognizant's strategic alliance with Google Coud.

The service provider plans to upskill more than 70,000 cross-functional employees on Google Cloud's AI offerings in the next 12 months, said Annadurai Elango, executive vice president and global head of core technologies and insights at Cognizant. In addition, Cognizant in June made training on the Google Gemini family of LLMs available to all 300,000-plus employees.

The company's upskilling program also incorporates other generative AI vendors, such as Microsoft.

Capgemini offers GenAI training programs in conjunction with partners such as AWS, Google and Microsoft, the company spokesperson said. Atos, an IT service and consulting company also based in Paris, similarly works with technology vendors to provide generative AI upskilling programs. The company plans to train and certify at least 5,000 employes in multiple AWS cloud and GenAI courses, a company spokesperson said.

Atos' CloudCatalyst partnership with AWS, which rolled out in November 2022, is one source of GenAI training. CloudCatalyst offers Atos employees a six-month training regimen on core AWS cloud and GenAI technologies. Atos and AWS also provide four-week "challenger" training programs on cloud and GenAI.

AI training and labor costs intertwine as issues

A recent survey of professional services organizations found adapting to AI and rising labor costs to be among respondents' top external challenges over the next 12 months.

Certinia, which provides automation software for professional services firms, commissioned Dimensional Research to poll 1,005 professional services leaders. The resulting "2024 Global Service Dynamics Report," published in May, noted 54% of the respondents cited AI adjustment as an issue, while 49% pointed to labor costs.

Are the two concerns linked?

Greg Smith, Certinia's head of global product and solution marketing, said professional services firms tend to think about the fully burdened labor cost of an employee, rather than just salary. The industry's push to train employees on AI and GenAI contributes to that overall expense.

"A big part of labor cost is making sure we are training those folks in those technologies," Smith said.

Respondents also considered AI an opportunity: 81% said AI will boost productivity.

Working with online learning platforms

Beyond in-house and partner-centric training efforts, online learning platforms have become an important mass-education tool for service providers. The platforms take some of the pressure off service providers to develop their own courses on a fast-moving technology.

"We looked at developing our own [courses]," said Tifani O'Brien, vice president and director of the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Accelerator at Leidos in Reston, Va. "But with everything changing so quickly and the amount of effort it takes to stand up a class, it worked better to work with our partners."

The technology, engineering and science solutions and services provider tapped Coursera, O'Reilly, Udacity and Udemy to get the right combination of GenAI upskilling resources, O'Brien said.

Other service providers employing online learning platforms as part of the training mix include Hexaware, a technology and business process company based in Mumbai, India. The company has been working with Udemy and Coursera as training partners. Nearly all the company's IT services employees and about 89% of its business process services workers have been trained on GenAI as of the second quarter of 2024, according to a Hexaware spokesperson.

Atos, meanwhile, encourages employees to take GenAI courses through platforms such as Skillsoft and Percipio, the Atos spokesperson said. Employees can also use Microsoft's learning resources.

John Moore is a writer for TechTarget Editorial covering the CIO role, economic trends and the IT services industry.

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