How Higher Education can Prepare Students for AI & Automation in the Workforce 

Teacher teaching AI in college students

By Dr. Parminder Jassal

AI and automation are transforming the workforce, creating a growing skills gap. Community colleges are emerging as a viable solution, offering affordable, industry-relevant programs. Their flexibility allows for lifelong learning — needed for this rapidly changing landscape. While traditional universities still hold value, community colleges are bridging the gap between education and employment in the age of AI. 

As businesses increasingly embrace AI-powered tools and technologies, employers are scrambling to find skilled candidates to navigate this new landscape.  

However, the stark reality looms large: a significant skills gap exists between the capabilities of the current workforce and the demands of the AI- and automation-driven future. 

A recent Korn Ferry survey revealed that 82% of CEOs and senior leaders anticipate AI will have a significant or even extreme impact on their business. Yet, a Salesforce study found that 62% of workers lack the skills to effectively and safely use generative AI, and 67% expect their employers to provide training, which 66% say is not happening. 

Clearly, this skills gap isn’t just a concern for businesses — workers and students are uncertain and worried about their futures. 

Higher education institutions need to step up now to bridge the skills gap and prepare students for the AI-driven workforce.  

While traditional four-year universities are adapting to these new demands, community colleges are emerging as a nimble and practical alternative, particularly for those seeking to quickly and affordably acquire AI and automation skills. 

Addressing the Skill Gap: Education to Occupation 

Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce, and they can see the tides turning.  

60% of full-time university students surveyed by Unmudl felt their field of study was at risk of being “significantly impacted” by automation and AI. However, another 62.4% felt their educational institutes weren’t adequately addressing these changes.  

Higher education institutions need to intervene before this gap widens further by reevaluating and transforming their curricula in anticipation of the field’s diverse demand. 

High-profile companies from Wells Fargo and Amazon to semiconductor giants like NVIDIA are looking for professionals with AI skills. While you can predict some of these roles, such as software engineers and business analysts, a surprisingly wide range of professions have some scope to incorporate AI. 

Accordingly, the revised AI curricula in higher education must include everything from general literacy to full certificate and degree programs in machine learning, computer vision, robotics, and more.   

This repositioning cannot only rely on traditional universities. A report on talent development for AI recognized community colleges as vital tools in building the workforce’s AI capacity and collaborating with four-year degree programs – taking students from education to occupation. 

Community Colleges’ AI Advantage  

Community colleges offer a distinct advantage when it comes to preparing students for AI and automation-related jobs. Their affordable tuition, shorter durations, more specific programs, and newfound industry partnerships are attracting students fresh out of high school, experienced working professionals, and everyone in between.  

Curriculum Transformation  

Community colleges are adapting their curricula to the new AI- and automation-dominated reality as swiftly as their traditional university counterparts.   

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) includes a course in Machine Learning in its Data Analytics certificate program, ensuring the one-year program prepares graduates for AI applications in analytics.  

In other institutes, such as Maricopa Community Colleges, some programs hone in more specifically on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.  

As AI permeates every industry, we can expect the variety of courses offered to deepen — helping students to gain interdisciplinary knowledge and apply their skills in more fields. 

Industry Partnerships and Applied Learning Partnerships 

Community colleges have traditionally lagged behind traditional universities in terms of external support and partnerships.  

However, industry leaders in AI and automation are actively collaborating with both types of educational institutes, helping develop relevant and practical programs. This marks a significant change.   

Industry support is opening up doors for community colleges, leading to specialized courses, internships, and research opportunities that provide students with high-quality training and hands-on experience. 

Leading the pack, Miami Dade College (MDC) has a specialized AI Center backed by global giants like Intel, the Mark Cuban Foundation, IBM, and Microsoft. It offers continuing education courses, bootcamps, corporate training, and degrees in AI.   

Intel is a leading partner in this space, having launched the successful Intel AI for Workforce program back in 2020. The program provides community colleges with over 700 hours of free content to build AI courses. Intel also teamed up with Maricopa Community Colleges to create Arizona’s first AI certificate and degree program.   

At this rate, more corporate partnerships and programs seem inevitable. 

Down to Brass Tacks: Cost Matters 

What makes all these curriculum changes, new courses, and industry partnerships special — don’t traditional universities have these too? 

Accessibility and affordability.   

At a time when 56% of Americans agree that a four-year college education is not worth the cost, community colleges’ price tag is a significant advantage.   

To take an earlier example, Miami Dade College’s in-state tuition sticker price of just $1,987 annually is a fraction of the average cost of a ranked public ($10,662) or private ($42,162) college.  

Student debt is at an all-time high, and this affordability, along with shorter program durations (including 6-month fast-track certificates), allows quicker workforce entry, often at competitive salaries.  

The AI World Requires Constant Updates  

AI is moving at a much faster pace than other fields. Recent innovations and rapid growth spurts are a testament to that. With increasing investment and interest, we shouldn’t expect anything less than more advancements and changes. 

Community colleges’ flexibility is particularly advantageous as AI and automation require continuous adaptation and upskilling. Due to their shorter, more focused programs and affordable tuition, community colleges are uniquely positioned to facilitate lifelong learning. 

Their online courses, boot camps, and professional development programs are ideal for mid-career employees who want to quickly acquire new skills or update existing ones. 

Where Do We Go Now? 

A recent survey of full-time university students mainly Gen Z) found that 62.8% were subject to pressure from parents or peers to pursue a four-year college education.  

Higher education cannot survive on fading cultural values. It needs to prove its relevance to a new generation of students and workers. As demand for a workforce proficient in AI and automation technologies grows, universities and community colleges are trying to rise to the occasion and demonstrate their worth.   

The question for students is no longer whether higher education is necessary but which type of education — courses, training, degrees – will best equip them with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in an increasingly automated world.   

There may be many answers, but community colleges are doing a fine job of offering the best of all worlds.  

About the Author

Dr. JassalDr. Parminder Jassal, CEO and co-founder of Unmudl Skills-to-Jobs® Marketplace, aims to bridge the gap between learning and working to create a sustainable future. She leverages her extensive experience in both corporate and philanthropic sectors. 

With a background that spans global work and board service, fluent in three languages, and a strong educational foundation in higher education, technology, and economics, her career embodies a commitment to advancing the working learner movement. 


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