As technology seeps into everything from teaching to manufacturing, skilled workers with two-year degrees in computer science, cyber security and software development are increasingly in demand – and supply is struggling to keep up.
Hundreds of thousands of tech industry jobs are going unfilled, and companies are realizing that universities aren't the only places they'll find qualified workers.
Many tech-related jobs do not require a four-year degree. What's more, some tech employers prefer applicants with only a two-year degree.
"Two-year jobs are industry drivers," said Megan Martin, dean of technology, engineering and math at Bossier Parish Community College in Louisiana.
In fact, as many as one-third of IBM's U.S. employees lack a traditional four-year degree, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote for USA TODAY in 2016.
"What matters most is that these employees – with jobs such as cloud computing technicians and services delivery specialists – have relevant skills, often obtained through vocational training," Rometty wrote.
The technology giant shifted its sights to also include community colleges in its search for potential employees. Others in the tech world, from Google to local businesses, are doing the same.
This is the "new-collar workforce" – a play on the term blue-collar. Many blue-collar jobs may evolve or be replaced as jobs become more automated and technological.
"Today we are looking more at students with a two-year degree to hire, because they have the baseline knowledge we need and can further expand their skills with our specialized in-house training," said César A. Marrero, CEO of Xentient Technology in Bossier City, Louisiana.
With a 2-year degree, employees are more 'malleable,' easier to train
Students with a two-year degree can be more "malleable" and adaptable to job-specific training, Marrero said. His company partners with Bossier Parish Community College in student workshops, mock interviews, internships and more.
"As a company, we benefit from getting them at an early stage in their career and mold them into the roles they will perform," he said.
Marrero, IBM and others are putting their money where their mouth is, investing in partnerships with two-year schools and hiring their graduates. Some leave with an associate's degree and others only a credential.
Such tech partnerships can be found across the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
"There was a time when the hiring expectation was baccalaureate degree," system President Monty Sullivan said.
Now, companies look for two-year graduates with certifications. They also hire people with post-baccalaureate certifications. For those, companies ask community colleges to get current and potential employees "skilled up" in something new or something the employees lack, Sullivan explained.
"People now look to technical and community colleges as the front door to higher education and the job force," Sullivan said. "We develop relationships and connect graduates to jobs."
Most schools in Louisiana's system have industry partners, such as IBM with Baton Rouge Community College, CenturyLink with Louisiana Delta Community College in Monroe, and DXC Technology with Northshore Technical Community College.
'Out of school for so long,' then trained and hired by tech employer
When Tim Spotswood, 31, finished his military service, he knew he wanted to go to school to start a career. He opted to start at a community college.
"I've just been out of school for so long," he said – 12 years at the time. "I thought I'd try a smaller setting to get adjusted."
He started at South Louisiana Community College in 2017, studying application software development. After a summer internship, he now is working part time at CGI Group in Lafayette.
He works 20 hours a week on entry-level software development while also going to school.
SLCC's application software development program is in its fifth year. It contains 39 credit hours, basically a concentrated version of a four-year degree focused on specific things companies are saying they need.
"That's why they are employable," lead instructor Athanasios Markou said about application software development grads.
Spotswood plans to transfer to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to study informatics while working. The two schools have a 2+2 agreement, in which students can earn an associate's and bachelor's degree in four years.
"For me, I'm going on to four-year because there will be some jobs that require a bachelor's," he said. "I just don't want to be turned away because I don't have that."
Follow Leigh Guidry on Twitter: @LeighGGuidry