New Collar Jobs

CUNY-IBM Watson Competition: Another Year, Another Challenge

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Colleges and universities in the United States are readying for another year of preparing students for future careers and life choices. Their challenge is substantial, for at a time when the U.S. has over a half million open technology jobs, our universities are producing just over one-tenth that number of computer science graduates. This disconnect, along with ongoing changes in industry and the labor market, means that the old dichotomy of “blue collar” or “white collar” jobs no longer exists.

“The notion that we can go to college for four years and then spend that knowledge for the next 30 is over. If you want to be a lifelong employee anywhere today, you have to be a lifelong learner.” – New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman

Today, “New Collar” jobs – roles that prioritize capabilities, not just credentials – represent some of the technology industry’s fastest growing fields, from cloud computing and cybersecurity to digital design and cognitive business. Many of the skills required to be successful in new-collar jobs can be learned in our community college system through professionally focused associate degree programs. What is most important is developing the right mix of skills that companies need to deliver the advanced cloud and cognitive capabilities their clients demand.

Brooklyn College first-place winners of the 2017 CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition flanked by the IBM team (left to right: IBM Director of Corporate Citizenship Doris Gonzalez; Brooklyn College Students Philip Gringer, Ben Hollander, Akash Jairam and Christopher Menedes; IBM Watson and Cloud Platform Business Developer and team mentor Will Ross; and IBM Corporate Citizenship Manager Pamela Haas)

Experiential learning opportunities such as the CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition – created by IBM, Baruch College and The City University of New York (CUNY) – can challenge students to deal with issues similar to those they will likely encounter in the world of work.

First held in 2014, the competition challenges CUNY’s 270,000 students to identify ways to use the cognitive computing power of IBM Watson to improve either student experiences in higher education or how New York City organizes and delivers public services. Competitors must collaborate in small teams, and are urged to recruit team members with skills in such areas as business, communication, technology and social media. More than 500 students participated in the first two competitions. Fifty-two teams completed the competition by submitting business case statements and short videos to pitch their proposed Watson-based applications.

This year, a team from Brooklyn College focused on identifying disease incidence patterns based on reports filed by health professionals throughout New York City. Using IBM Bluemix APIs, the team developed a Watson application that assigned disease categories to reports lacking a disease classification – freeing New York City Department of Health staff to work on other tasks. Impressed by the students’ initial work, the city health department asked the IBM Watson team to bring the students’ innovation to scale.

In our recent polls, students have indicated that the competition helped them learn skills related to critical thinking (74 percent), project management (78 percent), communication (80 percent) and how to develop a business case (73 percent). And 66 percent of participants indicated that they had used IBM Bluemix APIs as part of their projects.

The CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition benefits multiple constituencies. CUNY students experience working on real-world problems using 21st century technology, CUNY faculty mentors share the students’ experiences of excitement and personal development, CUNY and New York City agencies benefit from the competitors’ innovative uses of cognitive technology, and IBM helps to build a pipeline of future cognitive technology professionals – many of whom first learn of the field by participating in the competition.

In another exciting development, we plan to involve teams of Brooklyn P-TECH students in the Spring 2018 competition. Early-program P-TECH students who have completed at least 12 credits and two-semesters at New York City College of Technology (“CityTech”) will be eligible to participate. This will be a terrific opportunity for us to reach talented individuals at an even younger age to help them prepare for – and succeed in – their continued education and new-collar careers.

Stan Altman, Ph.D., is Professor, Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, and former Dean and interim President at Baruch College/CUNY. Dr. Altman is a pioneer in the interdisciplinary application applied mathematics and engineering methodology to improving the delivery of public services. More recently, his work has focused on the development of young people for careers in the public service and nonprofit sectors.

Related Resources:

CUNY Students Use IBM Watson to Help Solve Urban Challenges

Intrepid Hosts CUNY-IBM Watson Competition Boot Camp

CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition Challenges Entrepreneurs to Develop Apps Using Cognitive Technology

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