On June 28 Microsoft and LinkedIn launched the AI Skills Initiative certificate program, which is a library of free coursework for professionals who are beginners in regards to generative AI skills and want to learn how to apply generative AI to their work.

In addition, Microsoft will award a grant for exceptional ideas about training employees of nonprofit, social enterprise, and research or academic institutions to use generative AI, with proposals due August 15.

What does Microsoft’s AI Skills Initiative entail?

The Microsoft AI Skills Initiative, developed with LinkedIn, consists of five modules. Every module includes a video; some of the modules are packaged with quizzes, a workbook file or both. Completing all five modules gives the learner a Professional Certificate on Generative AI to display on LinkedIn Learning.

The content presented in the AI Skills Initiative certification skews toward Microsoft’s Bing Chat, which is built on OpenAI’s GPT-4, instead of its rival, Google’s Bard.

The Professional Certificate on Generative AI training will be available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Simplified Chinese and Japanese and will be free through 2025.

SEE: Learn how generative AI is transforming cloud security. (TechRepublic) 

“We have the opportunity to provide foundational information to everyone, everywhere, to help us all stay ahead of the skills gaps and harness its creativity to retrieve helpful information,” said Naria Santa Lucia, general manager of digital inclusion at Microsoft, in an email to TechRepublic. “As we are learning, the technology is learning from us, too, and we have the power to shape how the technology can best support us.”

Microsoft is offering more AI skills training courses

The LinkedIn training course is part of Microsoft’s Skills for Jobs program, which includes a training module for teachers, trainers and facilitators exploring artificial intelligence. Plus, Microsoft launched the Learn AI Skills Challenge, a brand-name certification available from July 17 to August 14.

What is the Generative AI Skills Challenge?

The Generative AI Skills Challenge, which will run from now until fall 2023, aims to teach employees how to use generative AI to create positive social change. In particular, it focuses on advancing skills, socioeconomic mobility and internet adoption among historically marginalized groups.

Five awardees will be chosen — one each from the Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America regions. Each awardee will receive a monetary award of up to $250,000, as well as a Microsoft-supported cohort and events, data training and technical guidance and Azure cloud computing space.

The grant is also backed by GitHub, Microsoft’s AI for Good Lab, and data.org. Data.org is a nonprofit funded by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and The Rockefeller Foundation.

“Together, we are taking a significant stride towards fulfilling data.org’s commitment to train one million purpose-driven data practitioners by 2032,” said Danil Mikhailov, executive director of data.org, in a press release.

The winners of the grant will be announced in November 2023. Projects can be expected to conclude in June 2024.

“AI offers perhaps even more potential for the good of humanity than any invention that has preceded it,” Microsoft President and Vice Chair Brad Smith said in a blog post in response to ongoing U.S. policy discussions around the use of generative AI.

Generative AI skills are among companies’ top three training priorities

More than 75% of companies plan to adopt AI in the next five years, the World Economic Forum found. Training employees to use AI and big data is the third-highest company skills-training priority companies plan to focus on over the next five years, according to the WEF Future of Jobs 2023 report. That statistic includes generative AI or other technologies often found under the same banner, such as machine learning.

Microsoft’s May 2023 Work Trend Index found that 49% of people are concerned about AI making their jobs obsolete. At the same time, 70% are open to the possibility of delegating some tasks to AI to reduce their workloads.

One element of skills training that is somewhat unique to generative AI is the practice of prompt engineering, pointed out Shravan Goli, chief operating officer at Coursera, in an email to TechRepublic.

“Unlike other enterprise software, generative AI tools require the user to train the tool itself,” Goli said. “Without good prompts, the tool won’t be able to help employees boost productivity in a meaningful way, and increasing productivity is one of the most promising components of generative AI for workers today.”

SEE: This customizable prompt engineer hiring kit from TechRepublic Premium

He also noted that generative AI skills training requires ethical oversight, which Coursera takes into account in its own free training modules.

“As with any emerging technology, society is still navigating its broader implications and managing guardrails,” Goli said. “In order to leverage this incredibly powerful tool while still ensuring responsible use by employees, I believe organizations need to carefully outline ethical guidelines.”

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