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AI Sweden is the Swedish national centre for applied artificial intelligence (AI). A neutral, not-for-profit organisation financed half by the state and half by business, it’s mission is to accelerate the use of AI in Sweden.
AI Sweden works with more than 100 partners, ranging from small AI startups to large corporations – both the international global techs as well as the Swedish big industry. The centre also works with academia and the public sector.
A big challenge for AI Sweden is attracting and retaining AI talent for partners and the Swedish AI ecosystem.
One of the roles of the centre is to help partner organisations develop their recruitment strategies. “A lot of organisations are trying to find AI talent,” said Niclas Fock, head of the talent programme at AI Sweden. “But many of them don’t know how to formulate their needs. We try to rise above the technology and address the need for AI competence on a broad level, blending technology and business strategy.”
The centre currently has eight talent programmes and it is constantly designing new ones, with its strong brand attracting skilled people both from abroad and inside of Sweden. Once in a programme, participants will start working with partners while keeping one foot in the centre. Once finished, partners approach the people they want to recruit.
One of the programmes, an international talent program called “Eye for AI”, includes three big participating partners, who benefit from the opportunity to hire new talent. One of them is Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg; another is Zenseact, a company working on self-driving vehicles, also located in Gothenburg; and the third is AstraZeneca, which is enthusiastic about what AI can do for pharmaceutics.
AI Sweden aims to bring in “super-talented” and experienced people from outside Sweden, and also has a young talent programme, which takes care of skilled young people coming from high schools and helps them with their career decisions.
Furthermore, the talent programme has included students from Ukraine who are now living in Sweden – or who are now living elsewhere in Europe and were attracted by the Swedish programme.
AI Sweden also has programmes to cater for those that fall between the experienced super-talents and the high school students. For example, master’s programmes and vocational school programmes are designed to help people understand how AI might come into their work lives. The hope is that when students join these programmes, it could lead to a job.
Anybody trying to hire into AI positions in Sweden knows that almost all engineering skills are lacking – notably in areas such as machine learning and computer vision – but AI Sweden looks beyond the different technical skills and tries to understand the domains where AI is applied.
“AI requires people and teams that understand a lot about a lot,” said Mikael Ljungblom, head of communications and public affairs at AI Sweden. “To extract value from AI, you need several different perspectives. You need the science and engineering perspective, but you also need an understanding of the economics and the business side.”
“One of the programmes we set up for the autumn is about data readiness,” said Fock. “Data readiness requires several skills. You need to know how to clean data, you need to understand what can be shared and how to make it useful for training, and you need to know whether you have too little or too much data. You need to be able to recognise when data is biased and you have to do all of that with respect to the specific use case where you intend to apply the data for training.”
Swedish schools are not yet teaching the skills needed in the changing marketplace, and this is especially true of universities. A big part of the problem is that it takes a long time to develop the programmes and hire new professors. The primary and secondary schools also need to become more aware of AI, and how it will be used in the future so they can fold it into their curricula.
“We need to work on all levels of education,” said Fock. “We must help teachers understand that AI is not just a specific subject: it’s something that applies to most other subjects – for example, history, language and science. That’s how we would like the Swedish education system to address AI.
“We do have some specific initiatives that are already really good and really important,” he said. “We have a very good high school initiative, where we now source some talent. This school is called the ABB-gymnasiet, and it comes from the name of the company.
“ABB-gymnasiet is a high school in Vasteras that has had an opportunity to get a license to build a high profile school for young talent,” said Fock. “In Swedish society that is not so common, because Swedish culture says that each child gets an equal opportunity. That makes it more difficult to allocate special resources to those who are skilled, but this school got a license and has had the opportunity to build up a programme for young people who are interested in AI. These kids are from 16 to 18 years old.”
He said that people who are already in the market need to keep their eyes on change, because programming languages, the hardware and the platforms are constantly changing. “Don’t just focus on the current preferred technologies: it’s much more important to have the perspective and the understanding of what’s coming around the corner,” said Fock.
“We don’t have a mass production of the AI skills we need in Sweden at the moment,” said Ljungblom. “It’s because everything is changing so fast. People with AI competence and other skills added to that will have superpowers in the job market. Candidates should know AI, but also understand their business and be able to work with other teams within the organisation – whatever domain they’re in. The more domains you connect with your AI skills, the better off you are.
“The key message is that the job market for AI in Sweden is expanding rapidly, and there are a lot of really interesting projects here,” he said.