Innovation

How universities are helping fill the smart cities talent gap

Colleges are offering new classes, degrees and certifications to help train the smart city workforce of the future. Continuing education is also an option.

As cities become smarter, there will be a greater need for skilled employees to fill the tech jobs that will keep the city running smoothly.

There are universities and colleges offering training, through new classes, certifications and degree programs, to help cities fill the talent gap.

SEE: 16 tech jobs that will be needed for the future of smart cities (TechRepublic)

Helping students understand the changes technology makes in a city

At Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn., there is a professional master's degree program that combines with experiential learning such as Traffic21, Metro21 and LARC to train students and set them up for success in the smart city field. The public policy degree program has concentrations such as urban and regional economic development, energy systems and public policy, environmental policy and healthy policy.

"We all recognize that technology is transforming society. Good or bad it has disrupted the way we interact with our environment and interact with each other. We're trying to train our students now so they will be effective leaders in the future to help society move through this transformational change," said Jackie Speedy, associate dean at Heinz College.

SEE: Pittsburgh's smart city efforts include autonomous driving, open data, and renewable energy (TechRepublic)

The college is teaching students to look at how the entry of new companies can cause a disruption in the marketplace. With Uber for instance, it changes the number of cars on the road and impacts the revenue the city gets from parking.

"How does this create disparity between the wealthy and the not wealthy? What is the impact on public transportation and the costs and benefits of the technology? How do we maximize the benefits for all of society so we're not leaving out one specific group while others are rapidly progressing? That's a big thrust of ours, engaging students to think through these problems in a systematic way," Speedy said.

Automation in a labor market is another area economists at Heinz College like to think about. Speedy said, "What is the impact of automation on work? We have a center that focuses on work. What does it mean in how we educate students and how we train students so that they're relevant in the future?"

Continuing education, certificates and data analysis

At Ohio State University, which is located in Columbus, which received a $40 million US Department of Transportation (DoT) grant last year, the school had one of the first data analytics undergraduate degrees available in the US, said Carla Ballo, assistant vice president for mobility research and business development at Ohio State University's College of Engineering.

SEE: Columbus, Ohio: What's next for the DoT Smart City Challenge winner (TechRepublic)

"Out of 13 colleges here, all of them have at least a course in data analytics for their particular field. We're also offering certificates because the student of today needs to be this multi-disciplined person and most of the degrees coming out of universities today are pretty focused in one area, but students are saying, 'I need expertise in something to make my mark.'"

Having the certificates available takes away the need for a dual degree, and Ohio State University is looking at offering a certification in data analytics. "We don't have it yet, but it's on our radar," she said.

"I'm on the board of a couple of different universities and many universities are offering this, offering a certificate in lieu of dual degrees so a student can say they have expertise in a core commodity," Ballo said.

Continuing education is also important. "Your workforce today will quickly become obsolete if you're not continually doing training and offering certifications. We're looking at making it a lifetime certificate program," she said.

Sustainability and urban development

At Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., the School of Sustainability, which opened in 2006, has undergraduate and graduate programs as well as short courses on sustainability issues. There are speciality areas a student can focus on such as technology and society, or policy and administration.

Officials at ASU are also working with the DoT on a program to develop new systems and technologies for transportation mobility and accessibility.

At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center has a two-year online professional postgraduate program for people already working in smart city-related areas such as information technology, healthcare, urban planning and design, policy development, environment and transportation. It provides training in sustainable urban development, low carbon and renewable energy systems, natural resource development and data analytics.

Ballo said, "A smart city is only smart if the citizens have value in the data and they feel like it is improving their lives. If it's not improving their lives, then you're doing things but you're doing meaningless things which do not benefit the city at the end of the day."

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University offers a professional master's degree program that combines with experiential learning.
  2. At ASU, there are multiple degree programs focusing on sustainability issues, and the school is also working with the DoT on a transportation program.
  3. Continuing education is important at Ohio State University, so that professionals can stay on the top of new technologies for their field.

Also see:

peterspiro-ohio-state-university.jpg

Ohio State University is offering classes that help train students in fields related to smart city technology.

Image: iStock/peterspiro

About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox