Looking ahead to supplying the industries of the future with young talent, billion-dollar technological services and consulting company Infosys announced Tuesday the launch of a partnership with the Community College of Rhode Island to create a new pathway for community college students to get hands-on experience in cutting edge, in-demand technological fields.
The announcement took place at the grand opening of Infosys’s new Design and Innovation Center within the heart of downtown Providence. The wide-open space with high ceilings, lots of glass and sleek white fixtures conjured a modern workspace vibe, with displays showcasing some of Infosys’s technology – like a virtual reality, artificial intelligence crossover tennis game demo – offering a glimpse of the future that the company hopes to make more mainstream.
It is a space where the Digital Economy Aspirations Lab – DEAL for short – will commence with 15-20 CCRI students, for now, that will get the opportunity to gain applicable experience from working with professional mentors at Infosys and faculty at CCRI within the walls of a modern, forward-thinking technological company.
The specifics of the program within CCRI were not finalized as of Tuesday, but Julian Alssid, CCRI’s vice president for workforce development, said that the first students would be participating in the program within a short period of time. According to a press release, an additional 200 CCRI students will get exposure to some aspects of the lab through additional opportunities in its first year.
“It will be a space for them to be curious, to explore, to have access to new technology and new ways of working with that technology,” said CCRI president Meghan Hughes. “Community college students will get exactly what we want for all college students – exciting learning and market-relevant skills, learning that takes place in a corporate setting so they learn about professionalism and finally, the access to build professional networks.”
In addition, the partnership will create two task forces consisting of CCRI faculty and industry leaders, the first of which will be tasked with identifying entry-level roles across technological industries that are suitable for community college graduates, which will ideally help create more pathway programs like DEAL. The second task force will focus on developing standardized credit programs for community college students that could be transferred to four-year college programs.
Connecting to four-year degree programs is an aspect of the partnership that is also of importance to CCRI administrators.
“There isn't a single path forward for a community college graduate. I don't think it's required for every single one of our graduates to go on and earn a bachelor's degree, but the majority of our students tell us they want one,” Hughes said. “We know increasingly that access to the middle class is going to require a bachelor's degree, and Infosys understands that and wants to work with us to create a genuine pathway into that four-year degree.”
Hughes added that she is optimistic at how the state-operated, four-year institutions in Rhode Island – Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island – appear to all be on the same page.
“We're all in it for the same reason and we're making real progress to designing real pathways,” she said. “To have community college graduates transfer into Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island in a cost effective and time efficient way, that's early days for us, but we're really making progress.”
Hughes and Alssid touted the partnership between Infosys and the school as a watershed moment in post-secondary education – where a proven company is seeking to build a pipeline between their operations and the eager students that populate community colleges. Establishing more pathways to good jobs for community college students is an area Alssid feels has been sorely needed.
“Community colleges really have not been part of those pathways. Infosys has the great foresight to make that happen with us,” he said “I think other companies in Rhode Island can learn a lot from Infosys. We're setting an example.”
“We're already in conversation with additional companies in other sectors,” added Hughes. “That's exactly what we're looking to do and no, I can't tell you which ones they are yet.”
According to Hughes and Ravi Kumar, president of Infosys, about half of the students in American colleges are attending community college. Kumar said he believes giving these students a chance will net better results than simply recruiting students from four-year universities.
“We have hired 50 of them in the last year, and we have actually found that to be real,” Kumar said. “That they're much more indebted to us, they're more hard working and more aspirational. So, we do think this experiment which we're going to do with CCRI will become a national experiment for us and a path for community colleges to be a part of the mainstream professional jobs of the United States.”
The partnership is also strategic for Infosys, as the Indian company has an ongoing aspiration goal of creating 10,000 jobs across their seven centers in the United States. CEO Salil Parekh said they were already at the 7,600 mark of that goal, and could be achieving the goal within a couple of quarters. However, he said a new target will be sought once that mark is reached. Knowing this, gathering talent from a variety of places, including community colleges, will be essential.
“We have really pioneered that in the U.S. and want to do more and more…That partnership [with CCRI] and other partnerships with community colleges across the U.S. is something distinctive,” Parekh said. “It's based on valuing the individuals within the community colleges and making sure the re-skilling can fulfill a destiny they choose for themselves in career paths within Infosys, within the tech world and within the design world.”
Alssid said it was important to note that the job opportunities opened up to CCRI students will be jobs that are on the rise – jobs like programmers, IT consultants and systems administrators.
“These are the family supporting, sustainable, career-track jobs,” he said.
In Rhode Island, Infosys has already brought over 100 jobs and pledged to create 500 by 2022. Governor Gina Raimondo expressed her optimism that the company was on target for that goal and that the state government was behind their efforts.
“We at CCRI and in the state, we're going to do whatever it takes to partner with you to make this aspirations lab a success,” she said. “Because we want you to feel that here in the state of Rhode Island, you're our partner.”