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Udacity’s EMEA VP on why upskilling is a ‘win-win situation’

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Samuel Schofield from online learning company Udacity shares his insights into current skills trends and explains why reskilling doesn’t always have to lead to a career change.

Upskilling and reskilling are integral in a world where new technologies keep emerging and jobs are rapidly changing. This is something companies and workers alike need to recognise, according to Udacity’s Samuel Schofield.

As the online learning company’s EMEA vice-president, Schofield is well versed in the skills trends sweeping the global workforce. Here, he explains why making the most of them requires acting now – whether you’re an employer or an employee.

‘Those companies that have truly grasped the power of upskilling will be those that thrive in the next five to 10 years’
– SAMUEL SCHOFIELD

Is upskilling important for today’s workforce?

Absolutely. The concept of upskilling has never been more important, particularly as the rate of digital transformation continues to increase and job markets around the world remain in flux.

Upskilling needs to be front of mind not just for ambitious individuals looking to advance their career, but also for enterprises looking to scale and grow.

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As digital transformation continues at pace, the primary issue for companies remains finding the right talent. There is a clear trend towards companies looking to develop an outstanding internal talent pool that leverages upskilling to learn and apply cutting-edge new technologies.

Those companies that have truly grasped the power of upskilling will be those that thrive in the next five to 10 years. Upskilling can have a significant and lasting impact on the bottom line.

Many businesses have also redesigned their work processes to adapt to the pandemic, with e-commerce fulfilment centres being an obvious example. As many as two-thirds of executives surveyed by McKinsey said they were increasing investment in automation and AI solutions either ‘somewhat’ or ‘significantly’. It goes without saying that enterprises must equip their employees with the knowledge and skills they need to implement new technology.

Automation is a growing concern for the labour market as a whole. The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that by 2025, 85m jobs will be displaced by technology advancements, while 97m more will emerge.

Do you think employers have a responsibility to upskill and reskill their staff?

Yes, employers have an important responsibility to provide staff with upskilling and reskilling opportunities. Not least because the labour market is evolving at such a pace that continuous learning is necessary to prepare employees for the jobs of the future.

Perception of education must also evolve. Employers are beginning to place greater value on practical, project-based learning initiatives to continuously update current skillsets and ensure they are directly transferable.

In today’s world, where remote working is increasingly the norm, skills training is an important way for employers to give purpose to their staff, empowering them in their roles, increasing motivation and engagement, and affirming loyalty.

It’s a win-win situation. Workers often consider training and development prospects when choosing employers. By providing access to upskilling and reskilling courses and online platforms, employers retain loyal and motivated staff, save on recruitment expenses and create a more resilient workforce to ensure the business stays innovative and competitive.

More and more, we’re seeing enterprises of various sizes embrace online learning initiatives.

Which areas should people be thinking about when deciding to upskill or reskill?

We’re seeing the digital skills gap growing in technical areas such as AI, cloud computing, cybersecurity and data science. The demand for specialised technical talent is significantly outpacing supply.

The WEF lists the top three increasingly sought-after jobs as data analysts and scientists, AI and machine learning specialists, and big data specialists. These are highly skilled roles that many organisations are having a hard time filling, particularly those in sectors not used to hiring technical employees in these fields.

At Udacity, all of our nanodegree programmes are built alongside industry experts who understand the skills gaps in industry. Some of our most popular programmes include data analyst, data scientist, AI product manager, as well as courses focused on Python or C++. We also offer an introduction to programming course.

I would advise anyone looking to upskill to have a clear plan. You need to think about the kind of programme you want to study, the time and effort you can commit and the level of support you think may be necessary. Have a clear future role in mind before building up a set of skills.

How can someone know whether upskilling or reskilling in a certain area is right for them?

Upskilling can – but doesn’t have to – mean a career change. At Udacity, we look at upskilling as adding additional strings to your bow. It’s often more about future-proofing your current career, rather than heading down a completely separate career path.

Put simply, upskilling should be about augmenting the skills you already have. And every new skill opens up doorways, ultimately making you more adaptable, resilient and employable.

This has never been more important. With the global impact of the pandemic on the jobs market still ongoing, we’ve seen a huge increase in online learning. The pandemic has hastened digital transformation efforts across sectors. Employees have to ensure they have the new skills that companies need in a world that has changed significantly in the past year.

It’s important to not make the decision in isolation. However, if a learner establishes that a course really isn’t right, there is no harm in them stopping or switching to an alternative.

Learners often pick up transferable skills during courses and core concept knowledge tends to transfer well horizontally. If possible, it’s sensible to finish any modules they are in the middle of executing in order to be able to refer to it as a proof of the skills acquired up until that point.

For people who are nervous about upskilling or reskilling, what advice would you give them?

It can be daunting starting from scratch, and it can be dispiriting being in a position where you may feel your learning at work has plateaued.

Help should always be at hand. We always encourage employees to speak to their managers or HR departments about upskilling or reskilling initiatives. Where funding is concerned, many companies also offer reimbursement. The hardest part of any learning journey is making the leap to get started.

More broadly, be patient, curious and open-minded. You’ll likely be inspired by the opportunity to become an expert in a whole new area or to hone the skills you already have established to an even greater depth.

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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Charles River to create 90 new jobs at Ballina biologics site

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Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.

The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.

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The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.

The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.

“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.

“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”

Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.

IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.

“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”

Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”

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