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Increasing Opportunities for Students in AI, Machine Learning, and Data Science Occupations

On November 17th, Valley Vision hosted a hybrid Information & Communications Technology Regional Advisory on data science, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning to bring stakeholders and industry partners together to discuss the field’s current state, future projections, and areas of growth. Critical soft skills and networking experiences are needed for applicants to stand out when applying for jobs. However, our panelist discussion details a prominent gap between this need and the availability of these experiences for students.

This event featured labor market projections from Aaron Wilcher, Regional Director of the Greater Sacramento Centers of Excellence, and an industry panel that included:

  • Ethan Eldridge, Eyefinity, Solutions Architect
  • Alexander Le, NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar & Intel Data Science Intern
  • Dylan Steele, Databricks, Software Engineer
  • Helen Wu, Appdynamics, Cisco, Product Designer 
  • Anand Paranjpe, Microsoft, Principal Software Engineering Manager 

At the beginning of the event, Wilcher provided regional labor market information, demonstrating a sharp increase in AI-related job postings in the Greater Sacramento area from the end of 2020 to the summer of 2022. However, there has been a significant dip in postings recently, matching tech company layoffs across the state. About 60% of AI-related job postings are concentrated in professional, scientific, and technical services (33%) and manufacturing (30%). The remaining AI-related opportunities (37%) are distributed across a wide breadth of industry sectors. It is important to note these occupations only make up <3% of the overall total postings within each sector.  Literature review pointed to a need for continuous upskilling in the field which could benefit from short-term, noncredit training that can be offered directly to industry and quickly adjusted to meet their demands in this rapidly evolving field. 

The panel discussion emphasized key technical skills that aligned with top occupational data provided by Wilcher.  However, panelists emphasized communication, time management, organization, and problem solving as integral skills to successfully navigate this dynamic field. Panelists encouraged students and educators to push for increased internship opportunities for community college students to gain real-world, hands-on experience. Paid internships are a valuable way for prospective applicants to gain an understanding of the demands and nature of these jobs. Although these positions are generally taken by students at universities, panelists indicated a shift in this as companies like Intel are partnering with community colleges to bridge this gap. Alexander Le recalled their time as a NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar and Intel Data Science Intern, mentioning that being in an environment with likeminded people in a challenging role was incredibly important towards developing problem-solving and interpersonal team dynamic skills. As the panel discussed the importance of specific skills, one point became increasingly clear: if minority students do not have access to networking and hands-on experience, they will lack opportunities to build and highlight their talents and ambitions. 

Panelists encouraged students and educators to push for increased internship opportunities for community college students to gain real-world, hands-on experience.

The panel then shifted the discussion to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and resources to share solutions on this key issue. Dylan Steele, software engineer at Databricks, highlighted their partnership with ColorStack, a tech nonprofit that focuses on increasing the number of minority representation in the tech sector. Steele shared, “Recruiting events [with ColorStack] have been really successful, we’ve definitely expanded the number of DEI candidates that we’ve been looking at because of this.” 

A list of resources provided by panelists to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce are listed here:

Databricks DEI Portal

ColorStack

Cisco Employee Resource Organizations and Networks

Cisco certification training (nontraditional backgrounds)

National Society of Black Engineers

Society of Women Engineers

Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers

Webex Education Connector  

As our region works towards building a more inclusive and adaptive ICT workforce, increasing students opportunities for hands-on learning, networking, and connections to employers is vital to meet the diversity and talent needs of the industry.

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance a future-ready workforce in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our 21st Century Workforce email newsletter!