Rapid changes in technology make it imperative that community colleges remain in close contact with business and industry. Takes cloud computing, for example.
A few years ago, the required skills and workforce needs in cloud computing were a bit murky for those outside the field. But key partnerships with technology companies have helped many community colleges rev up their training programs to prepare students for jobs in this growing area. A session Wednesday during the AACC Digital conference examined how a program started by Amazon Web Services (AWS) is helping two-year colleges get their faculty up to speed in the rapidly evolving cloud-computing sector.
It was Amazon’s need for tech talent that prompted it several years ago to launch AWS Educate, a national initiative to work in concert with educators, institutions and other organizations to create a cloud career pathway for students. Dallas College was among nearly two dozen Texas community colleges and three universities that joined the program in 2019. Through the unique partnership, AWS trains faculty in the skills the company needs. The instructors then infuse those skills into the curriculum. Participating colleges also have developed cloud training programs that have progressively grown to include certificates and degrees. Graduates of the programs can work as software engineers, software architects and data engineers for AWS or other companies, earning more than $60,000 to start.
In California, AWS partnered with Santa Monica College (SMC) to develop a cloud curriculum that was designed collaboratively by faculty and AWS Educate, with the support of subject matter experts from AWS and other Los Angeles-based tech companies. The curriculum is shared with a group of area community colleges and high schools. Florida’s Miami Dade College (MDC) had a similar path in its relationship with AWS.
Working in sync
For MDC, it is important to follow the lead of employers such as AWS in developing training programs, said Antonio Delgado, the college’s dean of engineering, technology and design.
“You need someone who is able to train in cloud computing with the same skills that companies are looking for,” he said.
Faculty members were trained and certified via the AWS Academy. Some event took advanced certification training in data analytics, cybersecurity and machine learning. They then looked at how to revamp their computer science curriculum to include elements of cloud computing. To do that, MDC brought in experts from field to ensure the programs would produce the types of employees companies seek, Delgado said.
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Santa Monica College (SMC) had a similar experience. The college tapped its computer science faculty members who at the time were not as familiar with the labor trends around cloud technology, said Patricia Ramos, the college’s dean of workforce and economic development. The chair of the computer sciences program attended an AWS summit on the topic and came back with plenty of ideas. SMC immediately began to map out the curriculum to the practitioner-level certification in an accelerated format.
With about 5,000 students studying computer science at SMC, Ramos said it was easy to recruit students to enroll in the new program, including students from groups underrepresented in the fields, such as Latinos, African-Americans and women. When students completed the program, the college prepared them for the certification exam through a boot camp. But officials realized some students couldn’t afford to take the exam. So SMC tapped federal Perkins funds to cover those costs, Ramos said.
Enrollment indicates the program’s popularity. It has jumped from 42 students four years ago to about 3,000, Ramos said.
Faculty also see the importance of the program. At Dallas College, 13 faculty went through the initial AWS certification training. There are currently 10 instructors in training, with 40 more waiting to get in, May said.
“Faculty understands what’s happening in the economy [and] the job market,” he said. “They understand this is an opportunity for individuals and the impact that it can have.”
A diverse workforce
The session’s panel noted the initiative’s equity component. Mike Berman, Global Solutions Leader at AWS Education to Workforce, said the company knows about community colleges’ reputation to produce a talented, diverse workforce. Diversity is important for AWS for several reasons, he said, but one is rather straightforward: If the company is to serve a growingly diverse customer base, it needs a workforce that will understand those needs and act.
SMC was seeking a way to increase the number of students underrepresented in fields such as technology, Ramos said. Cloud computing has opened a pathway to do that, she said, and its partnership with AWS and other area community colleges has provided a structure for it.
Even if colleges are not in tech hubs, they should consider partnering with companies on cloud computing, May said. Many of those jobs don’t require physical offices to do the work, but they can still affect a community, he said For example, those skills are sought by many employers in various fields, such as healthcare. New cloud-computing jobs also have a ripple effect in communities, creating on average five of five additional jobs, May said, citing research.