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Free State U rolls out AI skills programme

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An Artificial Intelligence (AI) programme developed by Microsoft will be introduced by the Free State’s Central University of Technology (CUT) to address demand both in the province and across South Africa.

“This University programme provides organisations the opportunity to bring on board a groomed AI Engineer with the certified skills and hands-on project experience needed to assimilate into the workplace of the future, quickly and seamlessly,” says Professor Alfred Ngowi, deputy vice-chancellor for research, innovation and engagement at CUT.

The programme, developed by Microsoft and delivered by its partner Gijima, has been designed to pass on the skills employers value and need by teaching young multi-disciplined graduates with limited or no work experience to explore, transform, model, and visualise data, as well as to create the next generation of intelligent solutions.

“Enabling South African talent with AI training and certification will change the journey and destiny of our country in a period where technology is driving innovation and changing all spheres of society,” says Aranka Verster, business unit manager of the School of Digital at Gijima. 

The Innovation Services of CUT (CUTis) and the Free State Provincial Government will be the first to benefit from the programme’s training. It has been designed to enable skills transfer to university lecturers who will lead the programme in the coming years. It will tentatively be open to the general public for enrolment from 2021.

Says Lillian Barnard, Managing Director at Microsoft South Africa: “The collaborative nature of the AI University Programme will unlock the value of AI and the role it will play in workplaces of the future. By bringing together private and public sector partners, students, facilitators, mentors, coaches, and industry experts, the programme will enable the development of critical AI skills that will help our young people become more work ready and employable, as well as help organisations adapt to the ever-changing demands of the world of work.”

The 12-month programme will use a blended learning model that includes the integration of self-study, online learning, classroom instructor-led training and a flipped classroom. This will cover:

  1. Mentorship and coaching by industry experts,
  2. Business skills
  3. Microsoft Azure AI Associate Certification
  4. Flipped Classroom
  5. Guest Lecturers
  6. Career days
  7. Examination and Certification.

Government and all stakeholders involved say they understand that harnessing the benefits of AI training and certification to drive innovation, requires strong partnerships.

“As we move further into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will see the value that Artificial Intelligence can bring to modern workplaces, therefore empowering employees in providing a competitive edge,” says Free State premier Sisi Ntombela.  “These kind of initiatives, are all the more significant currently, as the country grapples with the Coronavirus, which requires all of us to think out of the box and be innovative.  By using technology to augment human potential, whilst still ensuring that jobs are not lost, we will have the ability to drive critical growth across the province, as well as empower our young talent with the skills needed to navigate a rapidly changing world.”

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