Insight & Analysis

Press release: AI: existential threat to apprenticeship and training?

Published: Apr 2023

5th April 2023 – A leading professional skills and transformation academy that is training the apprentices of the future in science, tech and business leadership has responded to the latest developments in the world of artificial intelligence (AI) – with OpenAI/Microsoft’s ChatGPT and the arrival of Google’s AI chatbot Bard – and the threat they pose to professional skills and apprenticeship training.

As many industry experts clamour to analyse the impact of the latest AI chatbot tool to join ChatGPT, the big question on everyone’s lips is how will AI impact and disrupt business, industry and everyday life?

Recently Tesla and Space X founder Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and 1000 other tech experts have signed an open letter to the Future of Life Institute asking for a 6 month ban on creating powerful AI. The letter issued a warning that AI could ‘represent a profound risk to humanity and change the history of life on earth’ with Elon Musk adding, ‘It’s a dangerous race that no one can predict or control.’

The question is also one that faces the 1,603 professional skills and apprenticeships training providers on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) eligible to receive government funding to train apprentices, as they look to analyse its impact on the future of apprenticeship training and whether AI poses an existential threat to the world of apprenticeship and professional skills training.

The S&A Academy, which is headquartered in Manchester’s Spinningfields tech district, has three specialised training academies: Technology & Digital, Science & Laboratory, and Business & Leadership. Each provides personalised professional training and apprenticeships, as well as bespoke course creation and certification programmes for corporate clients. The training academy is a subsidiary of The S&A Transform Group (The S&A Group), one of the UK’s leading challenger consulting firms, which specialises in large-scale business, technology and digital transformation.

According to Chief Product & Innovation Officer for the S&A Transform Group Laurence “Floz” Martin, whilst we are right to be concerned about the advancement of AI and its impact on business, industry and society, it does not pose a threat to the professional skills and training industry at this stage.

“If we look at AI and ChatGPT, this is nothing more than Stochastic Parrotry. Stochastic, in that it uses calculations to analyse what would be predicted to be the best response to make us satisfied – so it’s statistical analysis. Parrotry in that doesn’t invent anything that someone hasn’t done before, effectively repeating back millions of lines of code and information that it has read before.

ChatGPT uses historical inputs of text and content that can easily be built from a series of prompts. Generally speaking, we are traditionally used to a dumber level of automation. It has also been known to make mistakes, discriminate and to generally create mediocre content. Bard not only uses historical inputs of text and content, but it also has the ability to use live content and data, meaning it can analyse information in real time and as such is an advancement on ChatGPT.”

Laurence “Floz” Martin has been involved in tech and software development for nearly 30 years, developing software programs for other programmers for more than 20 of those years, before becoming an IT trainer and contractor across multiple industries as an engineer and mentor. He is now Chief Product & Innovation Officer at the S&A Transform Group, one of the UK’s leading challenger consulting firms. The S&A Transform Group, which has created the S&A Academies, specialises in large-scale business, technology and digital transformation.

With the arrival of ChatGPT, Bard and other AI tools currently in development, there will be a natural explosion in people asking the question: “Why do I need a training provider for an apprenticeship when I can ask ChatGPT to create a course syllabus?” Naturally, in the future this leads to the potential for a person engaging with an AI chatbot to say, “Here is the syllabus for this course. Build me a PowerPoint to explain it to me.” It leaves the question open: why would an apprentice want to receive training from a professional training provider when they can ask ChatGPT or Bard?

When asked whether AI will replace apprenticeship training instructors, educators and teachers, Laurence “Floz” Martin is clear in his response:

“I don’t believe AI can replace the ‘human element’ in apprenticeship training. AI is not pioneering and innovative enough in its thought process, whereas we create unique courses that are novel and pioneering. At the S&A Academy, we believe that ‘real-world’ experience trumps any AI automation.

Our instructors are passionate about educating apprentices with those real-world simulations and quality experience, which no amount of AI can replicate. They have all come from within the tech, science and the business communities, as opposed to traditional academia. They give the human touch of real-world experience, as opposed to a defined set of questions and parameters.

More importantly, we develop and equip apprentices with soft skills educating apprentices on teamwork and thinking outside the box. AI cannot teach those inter personal communication skills to make an apprentice employable talent. If anything, I think there will be a paradigm shift in the future to more personalised in-person teaching”.

While Director of Science Jemma Perks at the S&A Science & Laboratory Academy argues that using AI as a way in which to replace human training and education to teach science and laboratory apprenticeships, would have a detrimental impact on apprenticeship training.

Human and social interaction are a vital component of the apprenticeship training process. One of the biggest disadvantages is lack of human interaction with learners, AI cannot replace the experience of social interaction and may lead to feelings of isolation and underperformance with apprentices. With complex topics, apprentices could become frustrated by the process, thus hindering their progress and with an over reliance on AI this could impact critical thinking skills.

However, Jemma Perks feels that AI could revolutionise the way in which we view and process data which could make life easier for Scientists. The use of AI, albeit in a controlled setting of the apprenticeship course, could be a huge benefit and vital skillset in apprenticeship training if harnessed correctly.

“When we think of genomic data, think Jurassic Park, processing the whole genome of a living organism. If AI can learn which patterns of DNA cause disease and which don’t (although this would take years) this could help researchers massively.

There’s a longitudinal study taking place in the UK now called ‘my future health’ essentially sampling the populations DNA and determining how at risk that individual is of developing cancers etc. The data yielded from a study of this nature would be huge. By using AI, data scientists would be able to process and analyse that data and it could provide a real insight into how we determine our individual risk of disease moving forward in healthcare.”

The S&A Academies were founded by digital and technology transformation czar Darren Coomer, a highly experienced and gifted CTO and CIO with more than three decades of cutting-edge tech and business experience.

Coomer has helped many boards navigate major business transformations, drive innovation and shift to customer-focused digital-first strategies, whilst all the time maintaining a clear focus on the need to constantly recruit and train new talent. He is credited with many large-scale transformations in global corporates, as well as launching pioneering products in fintech and the blockchain/Web3 world, either as a founder/entrepreneur or on behalf of major corporations.

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