Artificial Intelligence: Advancing the Workforce of the Future – Diverse: Issues in Higher Education

Steven R. GonzalesSteven R. GonzalesArtificial intelligence, or AI, is a rapidly growing industry that has the potential to lead our workforce into the future, with its unique ability to not only create jobs in its own field but also modernize other fields with cutting-edge technologies and machines

Skills in AI are highly sought after and give students a competitive edge when entering the job market. According to Kimberly Doyle at Infosec Resources, which tracks trends in security education, cyberthreats, and career development, more than 50,000 job openings are currently posted on Indeed for “artificial intelligence.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15% increase in computer and information research jobs from 2019 to 2029, including positions like AI specialists and machine learning engineers. According to the 2021 Stanford AI Index report, AI has permeated nearly every industry in the global job market.

Arizona and Phoenix, which are home to the ten Maricopa Community Colleges, were projected to see 21,535 AI employment opportunities in 2020, which was 6% above the national average. Our local demand for AI talent is increasing in Maricopa County, and careers are projected to grow faster than the average rate for all employment over the next decade. Research done by our district’s Workforce and Economic Development Office estimates an increase of 22.4% for these roles by 2029, according to Economic Modeling Specialists Inc.

At the Maricopa County Community College District, or MCCCD, our programs are designed to ensure students have the skills required for success in the workforce of the future, covering topics such as cloud computing, automotive technology, cybersecurity, welding, bilingual nursing, drone training, and a variety of STEM areas. Early on, we identified the potential for growth in artificial intelligence and were fortunate to partner with Intel in launching the country’s first artificial intelligence program through its AI for Workforce initiative.

In collaboration with Intel and the Arizona Commerce Authority, we created Arizona’s first artificial intelligence certificate and degree program in 2020, enabling tens of thousands of students to land careers in healthcare, automotive, industrial, and aerospace fields. This established the Maricopa Community Colleges as the first in the U.S. to train workers for the region’s driving demands in AI technology, allowing access for more students to master skills valuable across many occupations and industry sectors and ultimately improving the nation’s workforce, economy, and community.

The program enables our students to develop traditional skills such as data collection, AI model training, coding, and exploring the societal impact of AI technology. Occupations requiring AI skills include business analyst, java developer, data engineer, marketing manager, health manager, engineer, product manager, developer, front end developer, architect, etc. Top employers requesting these skills include Intel, IBM, Wells Fargo, Deloitte, American Express, and more.

Moreover, the most important result from implementing this program at the Maricopa Community Colleges is the ability to expand access to technology skills needed for current and future jobs and bridge the equity gap. Community colleges typically welcome a more diverse student population, with more representation from minority groups, older students, adults seeking reskilling and upskilling opportunities, and students in a lower financial demographic. Serving these traditionally underserved student populations with a first-of-its-kind STEM program allows more diverse members of the future job market to enter the AI community and shape the perspective of what our communities need.

Last spring, MCCCD launched more than 15,000 graduates into roles that directly impact the local workforce and have added more than $7.2 billion in income to the Maricopa County economy. There soon will be opportunities to complete a bachelor’s degree in high-demand fields. Our colleges are evolving and enhancing our capability to nimbly respond to rapidly-evolving workforce needs and empower individuals with the skills they need to immediately succeed in their chosen career path.

Our success is directly related to our incredible faculty who work tirelessly to develop innovative programs that ensure our students are competitive and have access to high demand programs.

We are proud to be a catalyst for change by providing expertise and training in emerging fields such as artificial intelligence. We will continue to seek partnerships with companies such as Intel to deliver learning experiences to our students and help prepare the future workforce for impact and success. For additional information about the program, visit the dedicated AI website at: https://www.maricopa.edu/artificial-intelligence.  

Dr. Steven R. Gonzales serves as interim chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College District (Ariz.).

The Roueche Center Forum is co-edited by Drs. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis of the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership, Department of Educational Leadership, College of Education, Kansas State University.

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