Education and Skills

How to harness generative AI and other emerging technologies to close the opportunity gap

Generative AI and other emerging technologies are reshaping the way we work across the world. Image: Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Jeff Maggioncalda
Chief Executive Officer, Coursera
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  • Globalization, digital transformation and the rise of generative AI are reshaping the way we work across the world.
  • With two-thirds of jobs exposed to automation, leaders must adopt innovative talent development strategies to stay competitive.
  • Here's why we must prioritize AI literacy, address the digital skills gap and train workforces for the jobs of the future.

Globalization, digital transformation and the rise of generative AI (GenAI) are reshaping the workforce landscape. With two-thirds of jobs exposed to some degree of automation and GenAI expected to deliver $4.4 trillion in productivity gains, leaders must adopt innovative talent development strategies to stay competitive.

Despite an increase in overall enrolments, Coursera data from the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2024 shows widening gender disparities in artificial intelligence (AI) and digital skills.

To harness the full potential of emerging technologies and mitigate opportunity gaps, we must prioritize AI literacy, address the persistent digital skills gap, and train workforces for the jobs of the future.

AI literacy emerges as a global imperative

ChatGPT’s launch ignited a global race towards AI literacy. According to Microsoft, 66% of leaders wouldn't hire someone without AI skills, yet, according to Accenture, only 5% of companies have rolled out reskilling at scale.

The demand is clear: According to Accenture, 94% of employees want to learn AI skills and individuals are taking the initiative. Meanwhile, Coursera’s Global Skills Report 2024 notes a 1,061% surge in GenAI enrolments on the platform over the past year. Regions like Asia-Pacific (1,270% YoY), Sub-Saharan Africa (1,500% YoY), and Latin America (882% YoY) are also witnessing significant growth, highlighting the global appetite for AI literacy.

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  • Global Gender Gap Report 2024
Image: World Economic Forum

Popular courses from the world’s top AI research institutions and companies, including Prompt Engineering for ChatGPT (Vanderbilt) and Introduction to Generative AI (Google Cloud) are driving this demand. In the first five months of 2024, the platform witnessed more than 900,000 GenAI enrolments as individuals and enterprise learners sought AI skills to boost productivity and remain competitive in a fast-changing workplace.

However, women account for only 30% of these enrolments and support from institutions is needed to ensure equitable outcomes for all. Businesses and academic institutions must enable executive education and foundational AI literacy for all employees.

Governments also play a crucial role in facilitating mass AI training and adoption. Investments in AI infrastructure, research, and workforce development are essential. For instance, India's $1.2 billion investment in AI projects, Malaysia's National AI Studies Centre and Thailand's AI infrastructure development programme are exemplary efforts.

Closing the digital skills gap

More than 9 in 10 jobs now require at least some level of digital proficiency. If digital skills gaps are not addressed, G20 countries could lose as much as $11.5 trillion of cumulative GDP growth by 2028. In 2023, 40% of EU adults lacked basic digital skills.

At the World Bank’s 2024 Spring Meetings, ministers from Morocco, Cape Verde, Kenya, and Armenia stressed the importance of electricity and internet access as a precursor to universal digital skills training.

Digital connectivity and online learning are powerful tools for promoting equal access in the digital economy. A 2022 International Finance Corporation, European Commission, and Coursera study found that 45% of women and 60% of women caregivers would have had to postpone or stop their studies without online learning.

Online education drives broader economic growth, creating one job for every 30 people trained on Coursera in countries like Egypt, India, Mexico and Nigeria.

Preparing for future jobs with industry micro-credentials

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2023 estimates that 60% of workers will require retraining by 2027. Industry micro-credentials have emerged as a vital tool to address growing labour shortages, bridge curriculum gaps, and retrain impacted workers.

Companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft, and AWS, have created more than 45 professional certificates to prepare learners without a university degree or prior work experience for in-demand digital jobs. There was a 61% year-over-year growth in professional certificate enrolments in North America and a 41% growth in the Middle East and North Africa, with learners gravitating toward careers in data analytics, cybersecurity, and project management.

In Guyana, President Mohamed Irfaan Ali launched a national workforce development program providing free access to Coursera for every Guyanese citizen and public sector employee. Citizens are encouraged to train for digital jobs in fast-growing local industries through credentials like IT Support Specialist from Google, Customer Service Representative from CVS, or Bookkeeper from Intuit.

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Similarly, in the US, the University of Texas System expanded its Texas Credentials of the Future Initiative, offering no-cost career training to 240,000 students across nine campuses. ACE and ECTS credit recommendations help students and academic institutions get and give academic credit for industry micro-credentials, and AI translations enable learners to take more than 4,700 courses and 50 certificate programmes in 21 local languages.

If some sections of the labour force adopt emerging technologies faster due to greater access, while others fall behind, the opportunity gap will widen. Coordinated effort between public and private institutions is essential to ensure equitable outcomes for all in our rapidly changing world.

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