The first AI school in Belgium is being launched as a joint initiative by BeCode, Microsoft and partners to help fill a record number of vacancies.
In order to tackle an acute shortage of AI experts, BeCode, Microsoft and five founding partners – Cronos Groep, Delaware, Faktion, KPMG and Xylos – have joined forces. Together they opened Belgium's very first AI school today. Philippe De Backer, Minister for the Digital Agenda, was also present. For the first time, competitors in the ICT sector are pooling their forces in order to fill vacancies in a better way than the classic method of "poaching". The AI School will start by welcoming twenty students to attend a ten-month training program in April. Applicants do not need any prior knowledge to register for the new AI school.
The recent survey “AI in Belgium” states that 75% of Belgian companies have already taken their first steps in artificial intelligence. On the other hand, Belgian companies say that it is difficult to attract employees with the right AI skills. That limits innovation. The technology federation, Agoria, estimated the number of digital job vacancies at about 16,000, while approximately 23% of young people in our country are unemployed. This inspired BeCode and Microsoft to set up the first artificial intelligence (AI) school in Belgium together with five partners.
"Belgium is among the leaders in Europe in terms of investment in AI. So the technology is there, it is just the difficulty in recruiting that prevents us from joining the leading countries," says Didier Ongena, General Manager of Microsoft Belux. "With the right skills, Belgian can take better advantage of AI."
The first 20 students will start their training program this coming April. The courses are being organized by BeCode, one of those involved in the initiative, on the BeCentral campus in Brussels and are facilitated by the contributing partners. The students will follow a seven-month training course in data management and artificial intelligence. Then they will round out their theoretical training with a three month internship. Participation in the program is free of charge.
The project aligns perfectly with the reasons behind BeCode's creation 18 months ago. CEO Karen Boers: "The combination of an alternative form of recruitment, open to anyone, with an active teaching element and a strong focus on both technical and soft skills, will allow us to expand the talent pool significantly."
BeCode and Microsoft want to expand rapidly, with eight additional AI schools. Their ambition is to train around five hundred students per year. The five partners are also calling on companies and public authorities to join in on the AI School initiative, to get more courses started up and improve our country's competitive advantage.
Philippe De Backer, Minister for the Digital Agenda, Telecom and Postal Service, who is in charge of Administrative Simplification, celebrates the launch of this initiative: "Thanks to the emergence of robotics and artificial intelligence, we are currently experiencing the fourth industrial revolution. One where we are more concerned with brains and creativity than muscles and sweat. Opening the AI School is the first step towards teaching people the right skills. I believe that AI can become the engine for future jobs for our country. That is why I am working hard on an AI strategy for Belgium. This way, our country continues to be ambitious, and we are well prepared for the future."
"Our customers and other partners have high expectations of artificial intelligence. As a leading Microsoft partner, it was obvious to us from the start that we would take part in developing the AI School. Our ambition is to train many hundreds of AI specialists, so we’re on this important boat here in Belgium." – Dirk Deroost, Cronos Groep co-founder.
"Delaware is delighted to be supporting the AI School. On the one hand, because it will build up a strong Belgian community of AI experts, on the other hand, because it will also give new opportunities to people without prior IT training. This win-win situation is the reason for us to get on board today." - Peter Oyserman, Founding Partner Delaware.
"We at Faktion are convinced that lifelong learning is a crucial factor in having a good career. That is easier to do when you are also happy in your life. With our AI technology, we make positive changes in the lives of both people and organizations. That is our core motivation for supporting the AI School." – Joeri Van Steen, managing partner of Faktion.
"The digital challenge for companies consists mainly of finding the right people on the job market. Through the AI School, we hope that motivated people – from diverse backgrounds
– will choose to retrain and explore AI's opportunities to the fullest," says Koen
Maerevoet, CEO of KPMG Belgium.
"Through our training branch, Xylos is collaborating actively and is committed to the new AI School. In a so-called "cross-learning" process, we will teach students the theory and then give them practical experience that will help them in their future jobs. We want to offer people with talent an opportunity to advance rapidly and well in this growth sector." – Ludo Wijckmans, CEO of Xylos.
Photos of the press conference can be found here.