Government officials may be calling for an urgent boost to worker productivity, but new figures show that one of the most promising ways of achieving this – generative AI – is being largely ignored as Australians lag the world in learning how to use ChatGPT.

ChatGPT is the fastest-growing app in history – reaching 100 million monthly active users just two months after its release – and courses related to using it are by far the most popular subjects worldwide, according to online course provider Udemy.

The online learning provider – which connects more than 70,000 instructors with 59 million learners globally – added almost 470 new courses about ChatGPT during the first quarter of this year, with over 420,000 people signing up during that time.

Most business learners are looking at how they can use ChatGPT to support their copywriting and improve their SEO capabilities; generate ideas to improve visual presentations; and automate the creation and sending of large-scale email campaigns.

Based on 4,419 per cent quarter-on-quarter growth, ChatGPT was far and away the most in-demand skill listed in Udemy’s latest quarterly Global Workplace Learning Index – but there was also strong growth in demand for AI-based technologies including Azure Machine Learning (281 per cent), AI Art Generation (239 per cent), Amazon EMR (227 per cent) and Midjourney (218 per cent).

“The skills required for professionals continue to rapidly shift,” said Udemy senior vice president of supply strategy Scott Rogers, “so it’s critical that leaders provide the training resources needed to keep up with advancements such as those related to artificial intelligence – to benefit both the employee and the company’s ability to get important projects done.”

Despite the worldwide enthusiasm for ChatGPT, however, usage statistics suggest that Australian learners have very different priorities – and are, the firm noted, “yet to embrace ChatGPT as a skill.”

The top five skills for Australian Udemy users were focused on security, cloud, and analytics subjects including CompTIA Network+, AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty, Azure Data Factory, AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty, and Linux Administration.

Boosting productivity

Australian learners’ focus on enterprise architecture technologies was a big change from a year ago, when the most popular courses covered topics such as mobile development and Docker containers.

Subjects in highest demand varied dramatically between countries, with general AI courses ranking highly in Canada and Argentina; German learners focused on microcontroller and embedded systems; and Indian users most interested in learning about security information and event management (SIEM).

Yet for a country whose recognition of fast-growing AI as a crucial ‘megatrend’ has driven significant investment in the field – and recognised years ago that this growth would require training a substantial workforce of more than 161,000 AI specialists by the decade’s end – the apparent lack of corporate interest in such a key technology as ChatGPT suggests that action continues to lag the rhetoric.

Last year, an IDC survey of 950 Australian companies found that just 39 per cent were using AI – a similar percentage to the year before – with adopters noting an average 30 per cent improvement in employee productivity and a range of other metrics.

That makes AI a key enabler for increased productivity – which, treasurer Jim Chalmers noted after a major Productivity Commission report flagged a “seemingly entrenched slowdown in the rate of productivity growth”, will be crucial to strengthening Australia’s economy after it posted productivity growth of just 1.1 per cent.

That’s the slowest productivity growth in six decades and 22 per cent lower than the US, he said – pushing Australia ten places down OECD productivity rankings, from 6th to 16th, between 1970 and 2020.

“If we stay stuck on the current course, the Productivity Commission projects future incomes will be 40 per cent lower and the working week 5 per cent longer,” Chalmers said during a keynote speech at CEDA’s March event in Brisbane.

“In the medium and longer term, our success will be determined by whether or not we can lift living standards – and that will be determined by whether we can put the woeful productivity performance we saw during the wasted decade behind us.”