Community colleges in the San Francisco area are taking a cooperative approach to tackling the “AI problem.” What employers in the area view as a problem (not enough workers), the community colleges view as an opportunity. Eight local community colleges have partnered with each other to address the area’s growing need for data science workers.
Data science encompasses everything from programming and analytics to machine learning, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing. According to the consortium, their classes in these programs were full before the semester began, and they expect to continue to fill these classes indefinitely. Some of the consortium members even offer these programs at no cost to the students.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 168,000 jobs for data scientists in 2022. The growth rate for this occupation is anticipated to be 35% through 2032. Although the BLS indicates that these jobs will likely require a bachelor’s degree, the Bay Area Community College Consortium’s experience shows otherwise. Employers will hire individuals with associate degrees because their need to fill these jobs is so great.
This dovetails with the results of the RAND Corporation’s assessment of the technology hub in Pittsburgh, PA. Workers with sub-baccalaureate credentials will fill most new jobs that Allegheny County’s technology companies create between now and 2030.
Back in San Francisco, local employers like Google, AWS, and Intel have assisted with curriculum development to ensure that students graduate with the skills these employers need. Most students in the BACCC classes are older than traditional university-age students, yet the demand for these graduates is high. In other words, tech employers are not limiting their hiring to recent university graduates and early-career workers. The average starting salary for these positions exceeds $90,000.
Data science just one of several growth sectors
Data science isn’t the only sector with high job growth, and high wages that is also open to workers without a bachelor’s degree. In fact, data scientists land in the number 3 spot on the BLS’s list of fastest growing occupations. Number one?
Wind turbine technicians. The anticipated growth rate for wind turbine technicians between now and 2032 is expected to be 45%. Granted, the starting salary is lower – about $60,000. That’s still enough to crack the middle class, and those positions require only an associate degree.
Information security analysts are also expected to notch high growth in the coming decade (32%). The BLS estimates the median pay in 2022 for this position was about $112,000. This is another field where the demand for trained workers is so great that employers will hire candidates with associate degrees.
There are lots of opportunities to create successful high-wage, high-demand programs. This approach will fill classrooms faster and more regularly. It will also give students a reason to complete degree programs, as well as help to attract technology sector employers here in Southeast Michigan.
This strategy sounds fundamentally better than continuing to offer programs with low completion rates, or that prepare students for low-wage jobs, doesn’t it?
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