Microsoft Canada and machine learning company AltaML are among a group of partners currently taking part in a University of Waterloo program helping students build in-demand tech skills.
The companies are supporting a new work term option the university is offering to undergraduate co-op students, called Waterloo Experience (WE) Accelerate. The remote program is meant to help students develop in-demand skills through projects alongside industry partners.
“AI isn’t the future anymore; it is part of our everyday lives and AI literacy will be increasingly needed in jobs across all sectors.”
Other organizations taking part in the program include Deloitte, Manulife, Velocity, Vidyard, and D2L.
Microsoft Canada and AltaML are leading the AI stream of WE Accelerate, with the goal of helping train the next generation of AI leaders in Canada.
There are six streams of WE Accelerate: human-centered design, Microsoft Azure artificial intelligence, modern web application design, innovation, digital bootcamp, and brightspace training. WE Accelerate offers a 10-week experience where students are working in teams to tackle real-life projects supplied and assessed by industry partners. Students are provided with a work term credit and $1,000 after taking part in the program.
The program comes as the need for skilled workers continues to grow in Canada. According to FedDev statistics, there are more than 70,000 open jobs in the Toronto and Hamilton area technology sectors alone. Also increasing demand for skilled workers is how the Canadian tech sector continued to have a high demand for jobs even as the unemployment rate in the country was high amid COVID-19. A report from last year by the Innovation Economy Council (IEC) found that innovation companies create an outsized share of new jobs and grow at a much faster rate than the overall economy. This has left a continually increasing need for highly skilled workers coming out of Canada’s post-secondary institutions.
AI researchers, software engineers, and designers are in particularly high demand. This also comes as reports find university and college capacity to meet AI skills demand is stretched.
“Often, students don’t get exposed to real-world AI projects and data sets until, in many cases, their first job,” said Celia Wanderley, chief customer officer at AltaML. “The WE Accelerate program exposes students in their first co-op year across multiple disciplines, not just computing science, math and engineering, the opportunity to develop in-demand AI and business and technical skills. AI isn’t the future anymore; it is part of our everyday lives and AI literacy will be increasingly needed in jobs across all sectors.”
AltaML is working under the Microsoft Azure artificial intelligence stream, leading a six-week module for 80 students. Students are being mentored by AltaML employees and have the opportunity to select an industry project to take part in. AltaML is working with Rogers Sports & Media, Intuit, and Health Canada on projects that span hockey analytics using computer vision, building a chatbot using conversational AI, and exploring digital public forums to measure sentiment using natural language processing (NLP).
“Collaboration is at the heart of what we do at AltaML, and we are thrilled to partner with the University of Waterloo, renowned for its experiential learning and its STEM programs, to mentor student teams as they tackle real-world AI use cases,” said Nicole Janssen, co-founder of AltaML.
AltaML is an AI-focused software company that partners with organizations to co-develop solutions. AltaML’s customers are primarily enterprise-level organizations undergoing digital transformation. AltaML is also developing AI software products it plans to launch into “large markets.” Earlier this year, AltaML appointed two new Ontario-based team members as the firm looks to expand its presence in Ontario and eastern North America.
Other industry partners for the WE Accelerate Stream, like Manulife, are helping co-op students gain skills in web application development. The University of Waterloo-connected Velocity, and its student-focused pre-incubator Concept, is helping students develop innovative ideas and ventures.
“The Waterloo Experience (WE) Accelerate program was launched as an innovative way to offer a unique quality work-integrated learning opportunity,” Norah McRae, the University of Waterloo’s associate provost of co-operative and experiential education, told BetaKit. “It also provides an alternative to a traditional co-op work term. It delivers a robust alternative to a traditional co-op work term by combining future-ready skill development, training and team-based project work with industry partners. It was co-created with a select group of employers that provide relevant and valued skill development to our students.”
The university is planning to offer WE Accelerate again during the fall term.