Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says 'AI is really in the air now' and is planning to train 2 million Gen Z in India with tech skills



Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced Wednesday that he’s doubling down on his commitment to train India’s youth on AI skills. He’s aiming high, too: The goal is to have two million students, job seekers, and women trained through the company’s ADVANTA(I)GE INDIA initiative by 2025. 

While visiting Mumbai for the Microsoft CEO Connection event on Wednesday, Nadella pledged to support India’s vision of a self-reliant AI workforce and the country’s transformation to an AI-first nation by empowering every Indian sector, like government offices and nonprofit organizations, with the transforming tools of AI.

“India needs a skilled workforce that can use AI to solve complex problems and create value,” Microsoft wrote in a statement. And that seems to be what Indians think, too. According to a report by PwC, around 79% of Indian employees believe acquiring more digital skills are extremely necessary over the next five years, compared to about 57% of global respondents. Of Indian workers, about 61% also said adopting green skills, or technical knowledge that supports environmentally sustainable decisions, is imperative in today’s workforce, compared to just 39% of global respondents. 

Nadella’s renewed vigor to prepare the Indian AI workforce is inclusive across social class, gender, and income-levels, too. Microsoft said it will partner with 10 Indian state governments to give basic and advanced AI training to 500,000 students and job seekers in 100 rural education institutions, a move that will expand the company’s existing collaboration with the Indian ministry to train Gen Z in digital and cybersecurity skills. 

Microsoft’s promise to train millions adds onto an earlier pledge Nadella made to train 100,000 Indian developers on how to use the platform Azure AI, create and deploy AI solutions, and learn code samples. That monthlong program is open to all participants of all backgrounds and levels of experience, and requires two levels of training to complete, according to Microsoft’s website. The first level will educate people on how to use and create AI, while the second will measure people’s ability to solve real-world problems with the software. 

The training will also employ 5,000 trainers at higher education institutions to teach 100,000 women in rural areas and cities that don’t have massive populations like Delhi and Mumbai. These cities, classified as Tier 2 or Tier 3, include Chandighar, Jaipur, Nagpur and Gwalior amongst many others. The company has also committed to train 400,000 students in remote, tribal, and farm regions, for which it’s launched three global initiatives.  

For Indians, the additional training is fuel to a rapidly growing AI fire. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, 90% of Indian leaders said they’ll need to hire workers who are prepared for the growth of AI—but 78% of workers say they don’t have the right AI knowledge to complete their current work. 

India’s desire to rise as an economic superpower is hindered by many things, but one important one is the differences in wealth between the country’s urbanites and rural villagers. 

According to Statista, more than 909 million people, or about two-thirds of India’s population, live in the country’s rural areas. And the villages are quite different from the green fields, fresh air, and idyllic farms that may come to mind. People who live in India’s rural areas often lack basic necessities, with more than 500 million living on less than a dollar a day. Villages also tend to be riddled with caste associations and societal rules on occupations that can keep people locked into jobs as carpenters, barbers, weavers, potters, or sweepers with few other options. People in these areas face economic deprivation, like few banking or investment resources, and social neglect that continues to slow India’s progress as a formidable subcontinent. 

Advanced AI in these regions could improve some of the hardships people face. It could broaden  access to financial services, improve education for children, and advance preventative healthcare. 

Kuldip Maity, the founder of Indian microfinance entity VFS Capital, says chatbots and virtual assistants can help people make informed financial decisions, manage their expenses, and improve financial literacy. On education, AI-powered software can “offer personalized learning experiences” to ensure that learners, “regardless of their socioeconomic background, receive tailored education through which they may break out of the cycle of poverty,” Maity says. AI could also revolutionize early-disease diagnosis for rural Indians by filling in a critical gap where people can’t access or afford diagnostic facilities. 

To be clear, though, many rural Indians—399 million, to be exact—are online. About 50% of  India’s overall population is connected to the internet.

The initiatives to train more people across many different demographics and income levels is part of Microsoft’s “deep commitment to enabling inclusive growth with technology,” according to Puneet Chandok, the president of Microsoft India & South Asia. The country has a “huge opportunity to be a global leader in AI,” he said, adding that “creating AI fluency at scale is a critical step in that journey.”

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