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01 Jul 2020

Meet the startup that created its own ‘university' to answer Asia's AI talent shortage

Artificial intelligence has the potential to reshape the world, but one thing is holding the industry back: a lack of qualified talent.

In 2017, there were 300,000 AI practitioners around the world, but compare that with the millions of job vacancies in the data science field, and you’ll see the problem. As the demand for data scientists continues to rise, the issue will only get worse.

Businesses have responded by rolling out various measures, such as investing internationally to expand their talent pool or providing in-house training to upskill their staff.

Others are tackling the problem from the ground up by working with educational institutions to train new AI talent.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, for instance, has collaborated with the University of Birmingham to fund computer science apprenticeships, and German engineering firm Bosch co-founded an AI research lab with the University of Amsterdam.

Here in Asia, Shanghai-based big data and AI platform provider Transwarp is taking the lead through its education and training arm, Transwarp University.

Fostering AI talent

Launched in 2017, Transwarp University was initially created as a way to train the company’s customers on how to use its products, says Transwarp’s founder and CEO, Sun Yuanhao.

“Our customers needed to know how to use our product, but they [also had to] have a deeper knowledge of big data in order to use it effectively,” he explains.

Besides educating customers, Transwarp also worked with China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to provide data science training and certification programs for people looking to upgrade their skills.

However, the company realized that these programs would not be able to fully address the lack of data science workers in the market. As the demand for talent continues to increase, Transwarp found that there would be an estimated 2 million unfilled positions in AI and data science by 2026 in mainland China alone.

In order for the business to grow, it needed to play a bigger part in addressing the issue and developing the AI ecosystem. The solution: bringing Transwarp University to actual schools and learning institutions.

Entering the mainstream education sector

When Transwarp first began approaching schools, the main problem it encountered was getting administrators to see the importance of having a proper AI training program. While universities were aware that data science was a big trend, it was not something they were particularly concerned about developing.

“The key thing was to educate [the universities] and show them that they need focused data science programs,” says Sun. “Schools had programs for mathematics, computer science, statistics – all the parts of big data, but separated.”

With Transwarp University, the company helps educational institutions design AI and data science training programs by providing expertise and advising on curricula. It also offers the know-how for schools to construct their own data science laboratories which allows students to gain hands-on experience. To date, the firm has already partnered with some of China’s top colleges like Peking University and Fudan University to open big data and AI research labs.

For Sun, businesses and schools need to collaborate in order to provide the best learning experience for emerging AI talent.

“Schools teach and help students gain knowledge, but they cannot provide industry experience,” he explains.

Indeed, opportunities like internships and on-the-job training would enhance a student’s learning experience, says the CEO.

Going regional

Largely based out of China, Transwarp is now looking to take its university program abroad.

The company already has several partners in Singapore – it’s working with Singapore Polytechnic to provide enhanced learning opportunities in data science for students and AI Singapore – an AI program launched by the government – to develop training programs in the country.

In the future, Transwarp hopes to expand the program to other countries in the region, such as Indonesia, where the government is currently developing a national AI strategy.

Ultimately, Sun believes that growing the data science talent pool is a big requirement for the AI industry to flourish.

“The industry needs to develop well, [in order for] businesses to develop well too,” he says.

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