Building the AI-ready workforce: China’s Artificial Intelligence Plan pushed by both central and local governments

This is part of a series of articles we conduct to analyze government policies and practices on the strategies to build AI workforce. Previously, we have analyzed how Singapore is helping mid-career PMETs to switch to the tech sector and a collaborative effort between government, tech companies and education providers in Saudi Arabia. Our third stop is China.

As the world’s major economies have announced the development of artificial intelligence as a national strategy, China as well released its New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan in 2017.  It is the first time AI was specifically mentioned in the country’s national work report and China aims to build its core AI industry worth over 400 billion RMB (around 57 billion USD) by 2025 and to become the world leading AI power by 2030.

Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has recently published a report on AI talent development. The report identified three major issues in its current AI talent pool, which are a significant mismatch between skills and jobs, a short supply of highly skilled AI talents, and a regional unbalance of AI talents. It has forecasted a shortage of 300,000 AI workforces in the coming years. To tackle these problems, joint efforts from central and local governments have been made to actively promote the building of AI talents.

In April 2018, an action plan has been laid out for higher education institutions by the country’s Ministry of Education. The plan urged to incorporate AI programs into higher education curricula, to build 100 “AI+X” models to nurture AI talents in specific fields by 2020, to build 50 AI colleges, AI research centers or cross-collaborative research centers by 2020 and to introduce AI in primary and secondary schools. According to the announcement on their website, a total number of 215 higher education institutions currently offer AI major for undergraduate students.

In January 2020, the Ministry of Education, along with the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Finance announced a joint circular to further develop the “AI+X” model and promote postgraduate students in the AI fields. During the same year, the Ministry of Education expanded the number of master’s students by 189,000 and AI is among the popular majors for expansion [1]. Proposals in the joint circular include encouraging corporation of leading AI enterprises and universities, offering flexible employment models to attract AI experts from enterprises and research institutes to work in universities and funding projects involving collaborative training of AI students between enterprises and universities.

The local governments have as well launched their efforts. The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta region, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau-Great Bay Area and the Sichuan-Chongqing region are the main development heights of the AI industry in China. Chongqing, China’s industrial heartland city has become one of the 13 “AI pilot zones” in China in early 2020. As a means of China’s AI strategy, such AI pilot zones are going to be granted with financial support and favorable local regulations to encourage the expansion of AI industry. According to Chongqing government website, the first 73 major projects with a total investment of about 29.6 billion RMB (around 4.2 billion USD) have been approved.

In the meantime, the government of Chongqing has released several policy measures to expand the city’s AI talent pool, including releasing an in-demand talent barometer to perform statistically analyses and forecast on workforce, financially supporting AI enterprises to carry out one-to-two-year apprenticeship in AI related positions, and financially supporting AI enterprises to offer AI related internship positions with no more than 12 months. was invited twice to Chongqing in 2019 thanks to the Consulate General of Switzerland in Chengdu and Sino-Swiss TechnoPark, and we were also horned to participate in the Smart China Expo a high standard tech event hosted annually in Chongqing. We have witnessed the huge potential within this traditional manufacturing city. As worldwide governments embark on the journey of digital transformation, their public employment services (PES) seek suitable solutions to support them in the increasingly important role they play in job matching, enhancing employability, addressing skill gaps and aligning education offerings with market needs.

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