AI talent: Wanted: Human resources to steer Artificial Intelligence

India Inc is facing a fierce battle for AI talent, with companies from diverse sectors scrambling for mid- and senior-level professionals who can spearhead their artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives. Demand stems from sectors ranging from IT, goods, retail, automotive and healthcare to banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI), manufacturing and telecom.

The growing recognition of AI’s transformative potential, and its role in giving a competitive edge, optimising operations, personalising customer experience and driving innovation, have led to a sharp rise in such mandates, say job search platforms and headhunters including foundit, ABC Consultants and Michael Page. Small and mid-sized boutique firms and multinationals’ global capability centres are also driving the trend.

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Fuelled by a talent crunch in this burgeoning domain, salaries for such roles can start at ₹50-60 lakh for mid-level, and ₹1.2-1.5 crore, excluding restricted stock units, for more senior profiles.

Tech exec’s profile
Recruiters and job sites say companies such as Amazon, EY GDS Consulting, HP, Ola and Intel are scouting for AI talent. There are about 416,000 people working in the field of AI and data science in India, with demand for another 213,000, according to estimates of IT industry body Nasscom.

“As AI technologies advance, there’s a need for strategic guidance and leadership to ensure ethical use of AI, and drive impactful initiatives aligned with business goals,” said Ratna Gupta, senior partner at ABC Consultants. Mandates for senior AI talent have risen by 22-25% in India, she said.

Responsibilities for such profiles include innovation on the back of AI and large language models, driving AI strategy and defining its roadmap, identifying potential AI use cases to solve business problems, and keeping abreast with latest developments including computer vision, natural language processing, recommendation systems and neural networks, said Pranshu Upadhyay, regional director at Michael Page India. The recruitment firm has seen a 60% jump in hiring for mid-to-senior AI talent, compared to last year. With a shortage of experienced people, firms often opt for hiring Indians returning from work in AI-driven roles in advanced economies like the US, Upadhyay told ET.

Data shared by hiring platform foundit (formerly Monster APAC & ME) showed a 12% increase in demand for senior-level AI roles. “While the demand for such talent spans various sectors, the majority are from IT, retail, auto, telecom, healthcare and BFSI,” said Sekhar Garisa, chief executive of foundit India.

Companies gung-ho
Earlier this week, Hitachi announced the appointment of its first-ever chief AI transformation officer, to strengthen company-wide transformation through generative AI.

Accenture is scaling up AI talent in four key areas. First is, value strategists who are domain specialists and work with clients to build their AI roadmaps. Second come infrastructure and technology architects, who translate the business roadmap into technical requirements. “We are also looking for AI/ML computational scientists who design, experiment and develop advanced systems, as well as modern data architects and engineers who design and develop a modern data foundation,” said Mukesh Chaudhary, managing director and lead, data and AI, Advanced Technology Centers in India, Accenture.

Semiconductor firm AMD is hiring for AI skills, and preference will be given to candidates who can think at the complete system level, said Fathima Farouk, HR head at AMD India. “As we bring AI processing capabilities broadly across our product lines, we need senior and experienced leaders to advance AI and machine learning in our hardware and software product development,” Farouk said.

Demand for AI talent will increase going forward, said K Sudarshan, managing director at executive search firm EMA Partners India. “Right now, it’s the innovator companies who are leading the hiring. As the user industry starts hiring in a bigger way, demand will increase and salaries will spike further,” he said.

While it is still early days in India to have dedicated roles like chief AI officer, those who have built algorithms, or created products at scale and have experience in multiple technology stacks will command a premium in this market, said Ashutosh Khanna, cofounder, WalkWater Talent Advisors. Experience in data security and the ethics of AI will be a talent differentiator, he added.

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