18 community colleges around the US have partnered with Intel to teach students artificial intelligence. The company hopes to reach underserved communities.
TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Carlos Contreras, AI and digital readiness director for Intel, about addressing the artificial intelligence skills gap with the AI for Workforce Program. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
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Karen Roby: We talk a lot about the tech skills gap. It seems like AI and cybersecurity are the two we tend to talk about a lot, that we need more people ready to fill those roles. But at Intel, you guys are building on a program to help change this and bridge the gap. Just give us a little bit of an overview of how the program started.
Carlos Contreras: We’re very proud of this program. We had this big announcement last week with 18 community colleges in 11 states. I can tell you, we’ve got a bunch of Intel people super excited about it, a bunch of other community colleges around the country super excited about it. It started with the premise that you talked about in terms of AI workforce skills and how do we develop those. For us, we haven’t focused not only on the skills but also on equity and access. So how do we provide access to these technology skills that are going to become so important for our economy? And where are the places where people can get this access? Community colleges are a very democratic, very open education system that we have in this country that gives opportunities for underserved communities, for people that want to go back to school and reskill. We thought they would be terrific partners for us to start this program in the U.S.
Karen Roby: And just to give us an idea of the type of student you guys are seeing enroll, is it those coming straight from high school and they’re going to community college, is it people that have been in the workforce for 30 years and they’re saying, “Hey, I need something new”? Who do you see really moving in this direction?
Carlos Contreras: Yeah, we’re seeing a combination of both. So we’re seeing students out of high school that are moving on to a four-year degree, those that want to get a two-year associate’s degree, but we’re also seeing professionals. So we’re seeing engineers, people with technical skills already that want to go back and refresh. They hear about AI, “What’s this AI?” And so it’s getting them that access to this information, to this technology. And so it’s a bit of a mix.
Karen Roby: When we talk about AI, Carlos, I mean, it’s something as a tech journalist I’m talking about just about every day because AI touches our lives in so many ways, and I think ways people have no idea that it’s behind the scenes. So, talk a little bit about the need. I mean, AI is only growing, right? So this has got to be coming at a really good time.
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Carlos Contreras: That’s right. Actually, with Dell, we did a survey of community colleges and four-year institutions, the faculty, and the deans. We found that 50% of the respondents said, “Yeah, this is a growing field.” Seventy percent anticipate demand from employers. So there is this sense in the educational institutions that they need to set up these programs. And then on the customer side, right, because we have many customers that we work with, they also tell us this. They also tell us, “One of the barriers is I don’t have enough workers or I don’t have the right skills with my workforce.” So, we’re seeing it kinda on both sides, Intel as a supplier to some of our customers, but also these educational institutions that are anticipating the tsunami that’s coming for these jobs and the need for them to ramp up that capability in their colleges to offer these types of programs.
Karen Roby: One of the things, Carlos, I had a very long interview yesterday about this, that many people in the tech world are saying, “OK, the current education system, the way this works isn’t working anymore for what our needs are. We can’t just say, ‘Oh, four-year degree,’ and then you go from there, that’s the way to do it. No, not really, not with what we need to fill with tech.” So, how do you see the educational system in general changing?
Carlos Contreras: I think the one thing that these folks have talked about because I’ve heard the same thing too, is just the speed of the technology and how quickly it’s moving and how good the tools are getting. We have that speed of AI technology moving really fast. And then we have educational systems that are more … They’re slower, right? They’re meant to be bureaucratic and slow and controlled what’s being taught to students. So, we need to break that and private-public partnerships like this one are a good way where we have direct communication with chancellors, with deans, with college professors. We try to speed up that process. That’s also part of our program. It’s not only the professional development with these institutions, but it’s also like, “Hey, what’s your plan? If you’re a chancellor of this large organization, how are you incorporating AI into your educational institution?”
And as you know, right, this technology is getting into healthcare, automotive, manufacturing. You name it, right? Community colleges just happen to train also nurse technicians, manufacturing technicians, automotive technicians. So, it’s a really good place for us to go with these types of programs because that’s where people are going to go, and they’re going to go into these different industry segments.
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Karen Roby: Yeah, and it really does touch every industry, Carlos. As you mentioned, tech moves fast. I mean, it’s a month later you feel like you’ve missed stuff if you weren’t paying attention the way things change. So this is rapidly changing. Where do you see, say, 18 months to two years from now, where do you hope that this program is, your success rate, things like that?
Carlos Contreras: Our goal, we’d like to have at least 50 of these schools with this program, which back of my mind I would like to have it in every single state. So, how do we get there so that we have this type of capability that’s offered to every single state and have students and professionals go to a place to go and get these skills?
Karen Roby: Yeah, most definitely. And as you mentioned earlier, there is a gap there with access. Not everyone has that. So to see it growing and be, as you mentioned, in every state, I mean, that would be a great goal to reach, certainly.
Carlos Contreras: The one trend that we are seeing is at the federal level we are seeing this recognition of investing in AI in terms of research but also education. So, I think that’s a really good type of momentum that’s building up for these types of programs so that these institutions also have that type of funding available for them to be able to scale these types of programs.
Image: Mackenzie Burke