Is India's talent pool ready for India Inc's AI requirements?

While the demand for core AI skills in India is expected to keep growing, there are questions about whether the talent in India is skilled enough to meet the market's growing requirements

Madhav Krishna
Updated: Jun 21, 2024 01:36:26 PM UTC
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Image: Getty Images

India's burgeoning tech industry is at a critical juncture as the demand for artificial intelligence (AI) skills far outpaces the supply. Considering our demographic dividend and an existing skills gap, artificial intelligence is set to play a crucial role. This technology can augment our workforce, unlocking human potential in ways we can only imagine. As we delve deeper into AI, its transformative power becomes undeniable, promising to propel us toward a brighter future. With AI technologies revolutionising sectors like healthcare, finance, and e-commerce, India Inc is looking for skilled professionals who can drive innovation and efficiency.

According to NASSCOM in 2023, the Indian AI market is expected to reach $7.8 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33 percent. A more recent report by NASSCOM and BCG also suggests that India has the highest penetration of AI skills in the world, with over 600,000 people trained in artificial intelligence skills.

However, industry sources paint a completely different picture. Reports and industry insiders suggest that only a little under 2,100 individuals have core AI skills. This means that while a lot of people might be using AI tools in their fields of work in India (whether it's ChatGPT or AI to create images), they are not necessarily developing AI, nor do they have the skills to do the same. In the global value chain, if left behind, India will again be limited to low-value innovation. As such, the gap between the number of AI professionals and the industry's needs is widening, creating a significant bottleneck for growth.

Also Read- Defining the role of artificial intelligence in evolving scientific research and academia

As per Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google and Alphabet, while India could never match developed countries in personal computing penetration regarding mobile adoption, more people gained access than in previous generations. Most of India jumped from having no phones to mobile/smartphones without landlines ever being very widely adopted. Similarly, Pichai believes that India, due to its young population, can catch up and leapfrog the rest of the world when it comes to the adoption and development of AI. However, while the potential for the same exists, the skills must be nurtured and developed.

India has been the fourth largest investor in AI over the past five years, with total investments reaching $16 billion. However, we are significantly behind the US ($320 billion) and China ($120 billion). India currently ranks ninth in AI investments per thousand dollars of GDP. In the budget speech for 2018-19, the then Finance Minister, late Arun Jaitley, directed NITI Aayog to create a national program on AI.  Since then, we have taken some strides in the positive direction. IIT Kharagpur received a grant of $22 million from the Department of Science and Technology in November 2020 to set up an AI Hub. In 2024, they launched an MTech in AI with seed grants of up to Rs10 lakh for scholars.  In March 2024, the Union Cabinet approved $1.2 billion in investments in AI projects. Additionally, AI ecosystems are already being fostered with the top AI labs in the country centred around IT hubs, except for Kharagpur.

India In., on the other hand, has also realised the importance of homegrown experts and has taken some steps, with Wipro taking the lead. Having already committed to spending over a billion dollars in AI from 2023-2025, it has signed an MoU with IISc Bengaluru. Major foreign players, understanding the availability of young, talented individuals in India, have collaborated with Indian institutions, including but not limited to Intel, which has set up an AI lab in IIIT, Hyderabad. Sarvam AI, which had recently partnered with Microsoft to build an indic voice language learning model, has also offered AI residencies of Rs1 lakh to build more skills in India.

Also Read- The promise and peril of artificial intelligence as a general purpose technology

India's position in the global tech landscape is nothing short of exciting. Our economic growth and exceptional talent pool, particularly in tech, position us as a future powerhouse. The ever-growing number of skilled professionals, coupled with a thriving tech ecosystem, solidifies our role as a key player in shaping the digital frontier. By embracing technology and fostering our strengths, India is poised to be a key player in the global tech arena, shaping breakthroughs due to the number of people we have working in the tech sector. India's talent in this sector is unparalleled, with several major experts, including Bill Gates, stating that talent in India will be the country's biggest contribution to the world when it comes to AI. However, this talent and hunger for growth must be nurtured. If we fail to anticipate the demand and adequately upskill our youth, not only will it be challenging to build AI in India, but some of our best young minds may choose to migrate out.

The time has come for India to lead the next revolution in tech, and this revolution will require the industry and the government to work together. We must ensure that the youth are trained not only to meet industry demands but also to anticipate and prepare themselves for new challenges. We must look not just to create future AI-skilled employees in India but also to create more future AI leaders and innovators in India.

The writer is founder and CEO of Vahan Inc.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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