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By Meghan Hughes and Julian L. Alssid

Rhode Island is now home to one of the most significant experiments to align education and workforce development that will reap benefits for college students, employers, and the digital economy.

At the center of this experiment are Infosys and the Community College of Rhode Island.

At the opening of the Infosys Design and Innovation Hub at 75 Fountain St. in the former Providence Journal headquarters, a new collaboration between Infosys and CCRI was announced that has the potential to transform how employers perceive community colleges and set a model for the nation.

Infosys — a global leader in technology services and consulting — is all about helping corporations transition from legacy technology to the new economy, and it is doing so by collaborating with institutions of higher education to build a pipeline of “new collar” employees who possess the right mix of education and skills.

CCRI — the largest community college in New England — enrolls nearly 20,000 students and an additional 8,500 individuals in workforce development programs and adult education courses annually.

What are CCRI and Infosys inventing, and what does it mean for our students and for Rhode Island’s economy?

The Digital Economy Aspirations Labs (DEAL for short) will be a space for CCRI students to learn, to be curious, to explore and to have access to new technology and new ways of working with that technology.

CCRI and Infosys will research and develop customized curriculum tied to a four-year degree pathway with a focus on in-demand industries including health care, defense, advanced business services and manufacturing. In addition, we will create a mentor program that will engage Infosys business teams to bolster career guidance for our students.

Infosys is committed to hiring 10,000 American workers to help invent and deliver the digital future for clients in the United States. While Infosys does not directly benefit from hiring all of the students it trains, it knows the indirect benefit it receives by fueling the economic growth of the IT industry in this country.

The collaboration with Infosys will create opportunities for CCRI students to gain exposure to the workplace of the future and build professional connections that historically have not been readily available to community college students.

The students who participate in DEAL will build upon their CCRI learning and skills to pursue a bachelor’s degree and beyond. Infosys will make this possible by providing training to complement the students’ education, mentors, job opportunities and tuition assistance for those the company hires, enabling our students to advance both academically and professionally.

Infosys cultivates employees with a solid academic grounding and an ability to apply themselves in the real world. We know our students are capable of making a meaningful contribution to this workforce, and we are excited to launch this lab.

DEAL will equip our students with computer science and software engineering skills and help them apply that learning to practical situations, with special emphasis on teamwork, project management, cross-functional networking and effective communication. The end goal is to increase the employability of CCRI students in the high-quality new-collar jobs of today and tomorrow.

For Rhode Island, DEAL means the state not only has a seat at the table as Infosys builds out its U.S. workforce, it means Rhode Island is helping to set that table – a table focused on redesigning how business and industry collaborate with higher education. And it gives Rhode Island an edge when attracting new companies because of access to a well-rounded, well-educated and well-trained workforce that can be successful across industries.

In Infosys, we have found a bold and visionary partner that understands the talent community college students possess and the essential contributions community colleges must make to grow the digital economy and the middle class.

Meghan Hughes, Ph.D., is president of the Community College of Rhode Island and Julian Alssid is vice president of the Division of Workforce Partnerships at the college.

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