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How Technical University Dublin is working with Workday to understand AI's societal impact

Sarah Aryanpur Profile picture for user saryanpur March 1, 2024
Business meets academia in a bid to understand how AI will change all our lives.

TU Dublin

Dublin has attracted a good deal of inward investment from US tech firms in recent years, not least Workday. Last year the firm made a seven year, €2 million commitment to fund a Chair of Science and Technology at Technical University Dublin (TU Dublin). The funding fuels the creation of a research unit which will examine the intersection of technology and society across a range of topics from AI to STEM.

TU Dublin is Ireland’s first and largest technological university with over 30k students and five faculties. Workday is building a new campus and HQ next to TU Dublin in Grangegorman, which is expected to open in 2026, and should expand the relationship even more. 

One area of commonality between the two organizations is a desire to understand and manage the impact of AI on communities and workplaces.  Dympna O’Sullivan, Academic Lead for Digital Futures Research Hub at TU Dublin, explains:

AI development has to be human centric and align with human values. We have to have a collaborative approach, especially in civil society which has to give its consent beyond technology, and we have to ensure no one is excluded.

Graham Abell, VP, Software Engineering and Site Lead, Workday Ireland, agrees and believes that the positive impact on the local Dublin community, as well as the research to emerge from the relationship is a huge opportunity for the company:

This gives us an AI Center of Excellence across all areas, not just technology. We are taking an open and proactive approach which has academic collaboration and  technology at its heart. As an industry partner we can offer research laboratories and practical resources which will lead to innovation. This will translate to tangible products and services, as well as offering Workday talent pipelines.

Of course it gives researchers access to funding, but collaboration is critical at the moment. Industry and academia need to work together to tackle the big issues like climate change, the future of work and the societal impact of AI. We are taking a holistic view and it’s really interesting stuff covering philosophy, science, everything. This relationship brings it all together.

Abell believes academia represents neutral ground as the world tries to figure out how to regulate AI:

For the best results we need to design and collaborate as humans. In terms of regulation we have a proactive academic community which is looking at the EU AI Act, examining the legislation and working with governments and industry. If you use the  triple helix of academia, industry and government AI regulations will be much easier to implement.

As well as innovation, community engagement and recruitment are also key to this relationship. Workday has global scale and can offer pathway programs in leadership, entrepreneurial, cybersecurity etc to students who have come through TU Dublin.  Abell says:

The experience of engaging with industry in a partnership approach benefits everyone. It gives skills to individuals and talent to industries, and enables students and workers to develop strategic networks and links. A great cross pollination of academia and industry working organically.

Gender balance

TU Dublin began community and social engagement back in 2015, but it has reached a different level now, according to O’Sullivan:

Universities have a social responsibility to engage with the community. There are pockets in society that need help. We work with charities and schools, as well as industry to try to engage with them. We also look at gender initiatives and look for female role models, which is much more impactful if industry is there too.

TU Dublin and Workday are even working together at primary school level - ‘STEM is fun’ -  and there is a big focus on achieving better gender balance in the technology sphere. The communications and collaboration are having an impact locally and generationally, according to O’Sullivan:

In a local sense it makes technology and AI in particular more understandable and acceptable, and it offers pride to the community by bringing it to life in living, breathing parts. And we have a creative approach to technology careers by getting the teachers, parents and kids to come and see what we do.

Next month TU Dublin and Workday are holding a Trailblazer day aimed specifically at finding female talent. O’Sullivan comments:

We are giving extra support to schools and students trying to get into computer science, and there will be a section on women starting their own businesses.

Workday launched its Future Females in Tech program back in 2018 after it found that there was a very low number of female applications for internships. The scheme aims to explain the variety of technology careers there are available, and  promote potential opportunities for female third-level students pursuing technical degrees. To do this it focuses on experiential learning and mentoring.

Caroline O’Reilly General Manager Analytics at the firm,  says:

Workday has a deliberate policy to increase the number of women at the company. Dublin is a diverse site where women are hired for a range of roles including senior engineering positions.They are never shoehorned into roles that don’t suit them. It's a nice place to work, and there is no glass ceiling.

She adds:

In employment terms we have re-designed what is important, and have asked what welfare benefits and extras we need to provide, whether they are for care, older staff, or returners.  It is very progressive.

The Future Females in Tech events start with a two-day conference hosted at Workday. This examines leadership, career skills, design-thinking challenges and team shadowing through problem-solving, teamwork and networking activities. After the events participants are encouraged to stay connected through social media groups, college meet-ups, and mentorship.

In their final year students can apply for internships, with the potential for full-time roles when they graduate. Workday says that in six years since the program’s launch, the number of female interns has increased seven-fold, which has had a big impact on gender diversity at the company. 

My take

The relationship between Workday and TU Dublin is only a couple of years old but is already seeing big benefits for both. The company gains access to a high level talent pipeline, and highly engaged research scientists, which of course will feed into its product lines, and the University gains industry experience, and a great employment route for its students. But in working together they are both gaining a better understanding of the impact AI will have on society as a whole. Very encouraging.   

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