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With more automated jobs, workers need AI skills, Arizona experts say

(Gerd Altmann/Pixabay)

PHOENIX — The coronavirus pandemic is pushing more jobs to automation faster, but that doesn’t mean more humans need be out of work.

A McKinsey and Company study estimates half of American job tasks will be automated in five years, so diverse populations are needed to program and run artificial intelligence.

“If you only have certain types of people and certain types of populations in forming that translation of the human mind in machine learning, you’re only going to get a portion of what you need,” said Darcy Renfro, chief workforce and economic development officer with Maricopa Community Colleges.

Renfro and other Valley education leaders spoke in the live webinar “Future of Workforce,” hosted by the Greater Phoenix Economic Council on Thursday.

She also said advanced degrees are not always needed to program the computers and machines that think for us.

“This is really about skills that underpin a huge portion of occupations,” Renfro said.

Employers are looking for “micro credentials” within artificial intelligence. They care less about degrees, and more about skill sets.

“As you’re moving through in the AI program, you learn a particular skill,” Renfro said. “So, they can take that micro credential and potentially get hired by a company who needs that particular skill.”

Renfro said third graders in Singapore are learning these AI programming skills.

The Phoenix Union High School District is building up transition programs from classroom to workforce.

“Kids are coming in with amazing skills in Snapchat. How do we transition those things to real life and a career,” asked Tony Camp, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning.

He said the answer providing curriculum that meets the workforce demands of today’s world, such as networking, cybersecurity and software development.

“We redesigned one of our comprehensive campuses at South Mountain High School in 2018 to Academies at South, intentionally creating designated pathways for majors,” Camp explained.

The district hired career coaches to serve as liaisons for students and teachers with business and tech industry leaders. Camp said participation has soared during the pandemic.

“Virtual college and career panels also took place,” he said. “We connected the Mayo Clinic to Phoenix Coding Academy and our Academies at South around high-paying careers such as biomedical equipment technician.

“The students never knew this profession existed.”

Camps said education and industry must work faster to keep students engaged and driven, and they’re building more connections to do that.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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