Learning leaders know that in-demand skills can change at any moment, and today, AI-based skills are a primary focus. According to a survey across 1,340 U.S. organizations, 92% are looking to use AI-powered solutions within the next four years. While many companies are still determining how they plan to implement AI, data shows that leaders view it as a supporting tool — 87% of executives don’t think employees will be replaced by AI, but instead, augmented.
Jenni Troutman, head of products and services for AWS training and certification, says that the organization is playing an integral part in training today’s and tomorrow’s workforce through AI Ready, a learning initiative which offers hundreds of free and low-cost AI and cloud skills courses.
The AI Ready initiative is among the company’s many development programs. Internally, parent company Amazon offers Leadership Liftoff, a seven-week onboarding program available to new operations managers; Dawson 549 for high-potential middle-manager training; and an area manager internship to build coaching skills.
When it comes to the scope of Troutman’s L&D impact, the AWS training and certification division supports learners and companies in more than 200 countries and territories with education resources to build and validate in-demand cloud computing skills.
Senior Executive L&D spoke to Troutman who shares the inspiration behind AI Ready, the challenge-based course offerings, and predictions for AI’s evolution.
Senior Executive: What was the inspiration behind AI Ready, and what is your role in the program?
Jenni Troutman: AI Ready is a new initiative that we started at Amazon because we believe that AI and generative AI are the future of how we will work. Yet, there are insufficient skills out there. We made a commitment to provide free AI skills training globally for anyone who wants to learn. Our goal is to train at least two million people for free in the next two years or by 2025. While we launched some new initiatives with [AI Ready] to be able to support it, we already have a portfolio of free AI and ML content out there as well as a broader portfolio of cloud computing training that people can take.
The AI Ready initiatives that we launched [include] a series of self-paced digital courses that anyone can take online. We’ve got courses that are targeted more towards professional roles around what generative AI is and how you can use it in your business. We also [have courses] for technical roles that are going to be building our training models and for the developers who are going to use those tools.
Another initiative is a scholarship we launched for AWS generative AI learning in partnership with Udacity, another online learning provider. The scholarship is for high school and university-aged students. We are specifically focused on underrepresented populations. More than 50,000 people will have access to the scholarship, and we expect it to be valued at over $12 million. People can go in and take this month-long, hands-on, interactive, building-a-project type of course that culminates in a certain certification or certificate.
Then, the last initiative is for K-12. It’s really fun. It’s a partnership with Code.org where the intent is to introduce children to this type of technology in a fun, engaging way. They are exposed to generative AI through age-appropriate coding where they’re using emojis and drag-and-drop technology to create a music video or [even] have a dance party.
“Generative AI is rapidly accelerating, and what we’re finding from customers is that people are doing a lot of experimenting across their businesses to figure out what works for them. They expect in 2024 to start connecting these experiences to see which ones are tied to where their business wants to go.”
Senior Executive: What format are the AI Ready courses?
Jenni Troutman: AI Ready courses are largely self-paced. While we do have courses that have live components to them, they are not part of the initial [AI Ready] announcement. We’ve got a large portfolio of courses, so we try to cater to all different learning styles. Live classroom training, at least in the corporate world, is becoming less popular. Self-paced, however, is still popular.
We also have game-based learning in there [through] AWS Cloud Quest and AWS Industry Quest. Some of it is free so you can go in and get foundational cloud knowledge. Some of it is low cost. Then, we have the traditional either video- or classroom-based courses.
Senior Executive: Explain the challenge-based training that AI Ready offers.
Jenni Troutman: There are a lot of different challenges, depending on your role. We have a lot that are developer-focused. For instance, [learners] go in and there will be something broken in their cloud environment, and they must figure out what happened and how to fix it. We’ve also plugged in [something called] AWS Jam Challenges, the ability to use our generative AI coding tool, AWS Code Whisperer, to solve the problem. Not only are you solving your problem — [which may be] in the security space, or it might be an AI or storage problem — but you are getting exposure to using generative AI tools, too. It’s a way of figuring out how this is going to change the way we work.
Senior Executive: Are these challenges similar to extended reality or virtual reality?
Jenni Troutman: Yes, AWS Cloud Quest and Industry Quest are role playing-type games. You go in and you’re on a quest to solve challenges. With Cloud Quest, you’re [essentially] building a city. Industry Quest is very industry focused. For instance, there’s a health care quest where you go in and solve the kinds of problems that health care companies are solving, such as how to handle noncompliant HIPAA findings, automating prior authorization forms, using data to derive AI and ML-driven insights, and integration of health data. You’re trying to achieve key performance indicators (KPIs), and you’re building out your business as you do it.
Senior Executive: When it comes to AI Ready’s long-term impact, will the initiative help to close the skills gap?
Jenni Troutman: The gap is big, and to be honest, it’s been getting bigger. The challenge is that new technology and the pace of innovation is accelerating. AI and generative AI are only accelerating it faster. We believe that we need to do everything that we can to help people that want to learn and build skills. Whether we’ll be able to close the skills gap versus equip a whole lot of people to be successful is still in question.
Senior Executive: Looking ahead, how do you believe AI will evolve in 2024?
Jenni Troutman: I don’t know how AI will evolve, but I can tell you that across industries, everyone will be trying to figure out how to best use it within their business. We did a study that showed that in the next five years, over 90% of businesses expect to be using AI as core to their business, but it’s going to take some time to figure out exactly where. Of course, some companies are already fairly advanced. We’ve been using it for a long time at Amazon. But we’re also trying to figure it out.
Generative AI is rapidly accelerating, and what we’re finding from customers is that people are doing a lot of experimenting across their businesses to figure out what works for them. They expect in 2024 to start connecting these experiences to see which ones are tied to where their business wants to go.
We do believe that generative AI will give us the ability — us being everyone…it doesn’t matter if you’re in HR, marketing, or a deep technical developer — to be more productive. This then allows us to be far more creative and innovative, because it takes a lot of time-consuming and mundane tasks away. For example, Amazon Code Whisper is our coding support tool that helps automate code development for developers. We found that developers who use Code Whisper when they’re developing their code developed 57% faster. Imagine how much more you can do, innovate, and build.
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