Amazon Launches Free AI Classes in Bid to Win Talent Arms Race

AI “is going to be the most transformative technology we encounter in our generation, but it will not reach its full potential unless we have a workforce read

Amazon.com is launching a program to train millions of workers in artificial intelligence skills, as the tech giant seeks to gain an edge in a pitched battle for talent with Microsoft, Google, and other companies.

Amazon's new program, named "AI Ready," aims to train at least two million people by 2025 on basic and advanced AI skills, including how to make use of the generative AI technology that supports language-based models, such as ChatGPT. Amazon aims to fill a gap in AI talent as it has sought to generate interest in its generative AI efforts after it has sought to generate interest in its generative AI efforts after falling behind rivals. With the launch of its program, Amazon joins a broader effort by the corporate world to train workers in various fields of artificial intelligence.

The training is centered on eight online courses that focus on generative AI and targeting people in both technology and technology-adjacent roles. The classes are catered to both beginners and those with more experience, and the company said they can form the basis for professionals to prepare for jobs and skills now in demand in the industry. The courses are accessible for free online through the Amazon Education website and are available to employees outside of Amazon.

AI “is going to be the most transformative technology we encounter in our generation, but it will not reach its full potential unless we have a workforce ready to embrace it and turbocharge it in a big way,” said Swami Sivasubramanian, Amazon’s vice president of database, analytics and machine learning.

Amazon's efforts reflect growing awareness across the corporate sphere that artificial intelligence could change how millions of people do their jobs. Companies in industries ranging from real estate to retail are now experimenting with using generative AI to help with everything from crafting marketing materials to writing software code and answering HR questions.

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Corporate retraining initiatives are typically still in their early stages, as executives try to understand which roles AI will eliminate and which roles will increase with the technology. Changes brought about by artificial intelligence are expected to require workers to learn new skills or receive additional training.

Plenty of workers have the capacity to change and learn new skills, said Jane Oates, a former Labor Department official and current president of WorkingNation, a nonprofit focused on workforce development. The most important question is what they should learn, given the rapidly changing nature of generative AI, and when they should undertake the training.

“It's going to be complicated,” Oates said. “I definitely would not use the word easily.”

Employers as varied as real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle and technology giant Salesforce have launched AI training programs or initiatives to help employees navigate change. Alison Horn, managing director of talent consulting services at Accenture, said many other leaders are starting to think about how to prepare their employees to work with AI.

Some of the greatest needs, even at tech companies, aren't high-tech skills, but training to help employees learn how to work alongside AI in fundamental ways, said Spencer Kimball, chief executive of database startup Cockroach Labs.

“Most people right now, this is all new to them,” Kimball said. “Given how quickly things can change, it's not just new employees coming in, it's a constant training process for all your employees.”

Amazon said there appears to be a shortage of AI specialists. A survey by the company and consulting firm Access Partnership of thousands of employees and organizations found that nearly three-quarters of employers surveyed said they couldn't find the AI talent they needed, even though a majority say they plan to implement AI in the next five years.

Amazon executive, Sivasubramanian said the company's main goal is to "democratize" generative AI education. Sivasubramanian said re-skilling workers would benefit not only Amazon but also its enterprise customers who are looking for more AI-educated employees with skills like agile engineering, which is the practice of knowing the commands to give generative AI to get useful results.

Sivasubramanian said the new program is a starting point to reskill workers in AI and that Amazon will seek feedback on how to improve training.

Amazon has previously offered some AI training but says its new program is a broad expansion of those efforts, with a focus on generative AI.

Several of the courses also cover Amazon's own platforms, including using Amazon's Bedrock AI platform that helps create generative AI applications. Another is learning about Amazon's CodeWhisperer, a tool that automatically produces lines of code. Other courses include material related to Amazon's business customers and AI partner companies, such as Anthropic and Stability AI.

Amazon is also funding scholarships for student AI courses and said it has joined with educational nonprofit Code.org to offer an “Hour of Code” for students to learn about generative AI.

As generative AI becomes a new technology craze, Amazon has been seen as lagging behind its competitors. Microsoft and Alphabet's Google have invested heavily in this space and in the next generation of online chatbots. Amazon, which has focused its AI efforts on its cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services, was late to join the AI race, although executives said the company has been working on the technology for years.

Chief Executive Andy Jassy recently said he expects generative AI to generate tens of billions of dollars for AWS in the coming years, and that AI impacts all parts of Amazon. In September, the company said it had agreed to invest up to USD 4 billion in Anthropic, which, as part of the deal, agreed to use custom Amazon chips to build and deploy its AI software.

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