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AI at WCTC: Delivering Programming, Discovering the Benefits and Demystifying the Myths of Artificial Intelligence


Need to ask Alexa for your favorite football game day appetizer recipe? That’s artificial intelligence, or AI. Visiting a store’s website and need information about a product? Ask the chatbot. Also, AI.  Want to open your smartphone just by flashing a smile? That’s facial recognition software – powered by AI.

And while these examples reflect how AI is frequently used in society, its impact on business and industry is even more significant. It is streamlining operations, automating routines, improving efficiencies – essentially revolutionizing the world of work.

The need for workers in the field of artificial intelligence is climbing: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 11.5 million data-related job openings by 2026 – data being the fuel for AI and machine learning – and it’s on the rise.

AI and Data Training at WCTC

To prepare Southeastern Wisconsin for workers with the skillsets required in AI and data-related jobs, Waukesha County Technical College launched three certificates in fall: Foundations of AI, Foundations of Data Analytics and AI Technician.  The AI Data Specialist associate degree program was also developed over the past year, and it is slated to begin in August 2024. Additionally, WCTC is planning to create customized training solutions through its Corporate Training Center for small- and mid-size businesses with limited or no AI experience.  

In Wisconsin, WCTC is the only two-year college that offers AI certificates, and soon will be the first to offer an associate degree, said Richard Barnhouse, Ph.D., president of WCTC. Nationwide, just a handful of two-year colleges currently offer AI programming.

The push for these programs stems largely from what WCTC has heard from employers, Barnhouse said, but it’s also the College’s strategy to stay ahead of  the AI curve.

"When (employers) would describe what they needed at their companies, they would describe AI skills in very general and uncertain terms," he said. "What we’re focusing on at WCTC is conventional AI, and that’s what’s needed dramatically and desperately in business and industry right now."

Developing Programs for an Emerging Field

Alli Jerger, WCTC associate dean of Information Technology (IT), and Nicki Kowalchuk, IT instructor, have been instrumental in creating the certificates and forthcoming associate degree program. Research began in earnest in 2022, and a significant amount of input – including curriculum guidance from Intel Corp. – have gone into shaping these offerings.

Dawn Voigt, Ph.D., and David Schubot, Ph.D., program development and evaluation coordinators at WCTC, held information gathering meetings with employers from multiple industries, among them manufacturing, healthcare and IT, and discovered that most felt it necessary to implement AI to increase efficiency, effectiveness and capacity. Some businesses are already using AI to varying degrees, but a common theme emerged among participants – to stay competitive, their businesses need to embrace AI.

"We’re kind of at the point now where most companies are starting to implement some form of AI," Kowalchuk said. “If they’re a smaller or medium business, it’s going to be some sort of package solution, but there still needs to be somebody to manage (the package and data) and to understand it.”

Added Jerger: "Even those bigger companies need ‘data wranglers.’ Someone has to take all the data, figure out what the right data is, fit it in (to a system) and then figure out what the story is on the other side."

The level of employee best suited for those types of roles can get first-rate training at a technical college, said Matt Kirchner, who participated in an information gathering meeting. Kirchner is the president of LAB Midwest – a distributor of curriculum, eLearning and training equipment for manufacturing, engineering and skilled trades.

"By and large, the people responsible for the systems that are being monitored, and the equipment that we’re using to monitor those systems, are people at the technician level, the operator level, the supervisor level. Without them, there is no data analyzed," he said.

Benefits of AI in the Workplaceai-newsrooom-2

When businesses implement AI in their operations, those employers learn more about their customers, employees and processes – and the markets they’re in, Kirchner said.

"There are huge benefits that can come from gathering and analyzing data at the macro level and in a way we just can’t do manually," he said. "It requires huge computing power to be able to find patterns in certain data. That’s the opportunity; the risk in not doing it is your competitor does."

AI can also provide an alert to problems at an earlier stage, to prevent major issues down the line. For example, Kirchner said predictive analytics in a manufacturing setting could detect a malfunction in a machine, which would otherwise cause a snarl in the production process, leading to a loss in productivity. By being able to determine that issue in advance saves the company time and money.

Demystifying the Myths Surrounding AI

A common myth surrounding AI is that the technology will replace the need for humans in the workplace. Experts say, that’s simply not true.

"Part of what is important to understand is that in Waukesha, there is a labor shortage in a number of industries. And industry has to solve this; we can’t find enough people to do those jobs. What a lot of our business partners are trying to use AI for is to close that gap," Jerger said. "So, they can deal with those labor shortages in things that AI can help with, and then focus on finding talent in other areas."

Barnhouse added that right now, there are almost two jobs for every one job seeker. "In the next few years, Waukesha is going to see a bigger dip in the number of people in the workforce and the gap will get wider, due to shifting demographics. As such, the need for AI will become even greater."

"It’s not going to take jobs, it’s going to save business and industry that cannot find employees," he said. "And it’s going to allow employers not only to survive, but thrive."

To learn more about the expanding AI and data opportunities at WCTC, visit