Cloud computing at Santa Monica College's Center for Media and Design. (Photo courtesy of Amy Gaskin/Santa Monica College)

Looking to bring new talent into cloud computing, Amazon Web Services has turned to California community colleges and high schools.

The company, a subsidiary of Amazon, has teamed up with colleges in the state to help teach the skills needed for a growing number of in-demand jobs that require cloud computing. The partnership exists in Los Angeles and will launch Sept. 23 at one Bay Area college with others to follow.

“We’re seeing really exciting momentum driven by this need for institutions and faculty to align the work the students are learning inside the classroom to the real world,” said Ken Eisner, director of AWS Educate, the program that assists educators and students in the cloud computer certificate programs.

Cloud computing is the delivery of services, such as servers, databases, networking, software and analytics over the Internet or the cloud. The training prepares students for a variety of jobs that often include software development, data science and engineering. More than one million companies and organizations including Airbnb, PBS, Expedia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, General Electric and Comcast use AWS cloud services, according to Amazon.

The certificate programs use Amazon Web Services (AWS) software and infrastructure to help students learn the fundamentals behind cloud computing. The Bay area program will launch Sept. 23 at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. The first class, which is offered online only, is already full at 40 students, said Teresa Ong, the college’s associate vice president of workforce, career and technical education programs.

Students in the Foothill certificate program will take four courses in cloud computing. Other colleges may require more classes to get the certificate. The other Bay area institutions planning to offer the certificate include City College of San Francisco, Canada College in Redwood City, De Anza College in Cupertino, Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Las Positas College in Livermore and Mission College in Santa Clara. SIATech High Schools, a network of high schools in the Bay Area, are also part of the consortium.

In Los Angeles, 19 community colleges — including Long Beach City College, Pasadena City College and West Los Angeles College — are part of the Amazon Web Services program that offer a five-course certificate. Ong said students can complete the certificate in about a year or two semesters.

Although students in the certificate programs learn how to operate, develop and use the cloud on AWS systems, the skills they learn can be applied and used with other cloud services run by other companies such as Google and Microsoft. Amazon owns about 48 percent of the growing public cloud service market followed by Microsoft at 15.5 percent, Alibaba, which is a Chinese cloud computing company, at 7.7 percent and Google at 4 percent, according to Gartner Inc., a technology research firm, in 2018.

“The cloud is the cloud,” Ong said. “There is Microsoft and Google and AWS but the skills are the same and the competencies are the same. We want students to graduate with the work-based learning experience regardless of if it’s on the Google platform or AWS platform and a lot of businesses use multiple platforms.”

Since 2017, more than 400 college and high school students have enrolled in the Los Angeles area program and 300 of them have completed the certificate or are near completion, said Salomon Davila, who worked with faculty and AWS to develop the curriculum.

Ramon Nei, 26, is in the cloud computing program at East Los Angeles College, which is one of the 19 Los Angeles colleges in the partnership. He credits the program for helping him get an internship with a software company.

“It’s helping me to solve problems using software,” said Nei, who is also studying computer science at Cal State Long Beach. “It’s working with new technology and not like any regular classes you take in school but something new and connected to Amazon.”

An early survey conducted by Foothill found about a third of students who inquired about the course hold bachelor’s degrees. The online class is popular among students who may be working, she said. A second, in-person, class is starting to fill up and has 20 students enrolled, Ong said.

“We really think this will make a regional impact,” Ong said. “Having an employer partner has really helped. (AWS) flew in their curriculum training folks and they were at those workshops helping faculty to get started … that’s the depth of the partnership.”

High school students can get the certificate by dual enrolling in one of the community colleges in the AWS network and if their school is part of the partnership. College students can enroll at any one of the Bay Area or Los Angeles community colleges offering the certificate.

Eisner said it was important for the company that community college students and students in lower-income communities get the opportunity to move into the high pay field of cloud computing, where salaries range from about $102,000 a year for a system engineer to about $139,000 per year for a software architect, according to Indeed, the job searching site.

LinkedIn describes cloud computing as the most in-demand hard skill among companies today.

In the Bay Area, approximately 1,500 of 6,000 job postings don’t require a bachelor’s degree and have some demand for cloud computing expertise, Ong said.

Foothill and San Mateo colleges were approached by Amazon Web Services first about replicating for the Bay Area the cloud computing certificate program and consortium that is operating in the Los Angeles area, Ong said. It is nearly impossible for the colleges to offer a similar certificate and workforce program on this scale on their own because they don’t graduate enough students individually for large tech companies to work with alone, she said.

“No college can do it alone, but once we got nine colleges on board, it opened doors with employers, the K-12s and CSU,” Ong said, adding that the Bay area colleges are still in the very early stages of developing cloud computing dual enrollment offerings with the high schools and transfer agreements with the CSUs. But those conversations have begun with San Jose State University, she said.

Santa Monica College and five other Los Angeles area community colleges were the first to develop the cloud computing certificate program with Amazon Web Services two years ago. Their success in building the curriculum and getting about a few hundred certificates awarded not only led to the expansion in the Bay Area, but also across the country, with similar programs emerging at Northern Virginia Community College and a cloud computing bachelor’s degree program at George Mason University.

Other tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, have also pushed into colleges and universities to offer their branded certificate or degree programs that meet their particular industry needs. Foothill, for example, offers Facebook’s digital marketing certificate.

Santa Monica College, which took the lead in developing the cloud computing program in Los Angeles, is mentoring the consortium of Bay Area colleges.

“Amazon couldn’t come up with the curriculum and they fully understood curriculum development is in the faculty purview,” said Patricia Ramos, dean of workforce and economic development at Santa Monica College. “But they introduced us to what the cloud was and offered AWS resources to professors. They gave us a little bit of understanding of what the credit would look like for students and all of the different elements of a cloud computing practitioner certificate.”

But the colleges and AWS also wanted to get students interested in cloud computing earlier than college. So Santa Monica teamed up with Los Angeles-area high schools and began offering dual enrollment opportunities for students to complete the certificate.

“I was just interested in computers, in general. I didn’t know what cloud computing was, but I took the class out of curiosity,” said Isabelle Wagenvoord, 16 and a junior at Santa Monica High School. She’s also enrolled at Santa Monica College with plans to study computer science at a University of California institution after graduation.

“I’ve always wanted to do programming and cloud computing has helped with that,” she said. “We do projects like speeding up servers or learning how to make a website and we learn the basic services on AWS.

Story originally published by EdSource.