Professional Development

This degree could be Pittsburghers’ entry to the AV industry

Aurora hosted a panel discussion at its HQ to show Pittsburgh Technical College students what a career in the autonomous vehicle field could look like, starting with entry-level roles.

At Aurora's AV career panel for Pittsburgh Technical College students. (Photo by Atiya Irvin-Mitchell)

This editorial article is a part of Technology of the Future Month 2022 in Technical.ly's editorial calendar. This month’s theme is underwritten by Verizon 5G. This story was independently reported and not reviewed by Verizon 5G before publication.

A tech hub powered largely by self-driving cars needs people who know how to fix them, too.

In collaboration with Strip District-based autonomous vehicle company Aurora, Pittsburgh Technical College launched an 18-month associate’s degree program for robotics and autonomous engineering technology this past October.

The goal was to train workers who could sustain Pittsburgh’s robotics prowess on the technician side. Classes cover topics like computer-aided design, blueprint reading, electronics, robotics, technical report writing, physics and the like, plus a hands-on industry internship.

While graduates are not guaranteed jobs at Aurora or required to work there if they do get an offer, the company does make connections for them throughout the program. David Becker, PTC’s academic chair of trades, electronics and technology, told Technical.ly back in August that this a good partnership because, simply, PTC trains technicians and Aurora wants technicians. The program is taught by PTC professors, with some help from Aurora employees who assisted in writing the curriculum.

On Wednesday, two months into the 13-student inaugural cohort, Aurora hosted some of the students at the company’s HQ so that they could ask questions and hear from Aurora’s employees about what the company does, and get advice for the future.

Panelists wanted the dozen or so students present to know that there’s not one correct path into the field. Juliana Bednarski, senior manager of HR business partners at Aurora, said that unconventional majors can lead to promising career paths, and that Aurora takes a wide variety of factors into consideration when filling entry-level positions.

If people want to work in the autonomous space or robotic space, this is a fantastic entry-level position.

“In earlier roles, we’re really just looking for the ability to think critically and dedication to our company’s mission,” Bednarski said.

Panelists said, too, that a good first step is not to discount the networking power of the professional platform LinkedIn, as it can lead to jobs and connections that will serve them well in the industry.

Matt Blackburn, senior manager of government relations at Aurora, told Technical.ly that he’d like to see the PTC program become for first-generation college students with an interest in science what nursing school has been for many other lower-income families — that is, something that provides them with opportunity for growth and more stability. Reflecting on the time that employees from Aurora and the PTC spent constructing the curriculum, he said he believes they succeeded in creating something that will train employees for Aurora and companies like it in the region for years to come.

“We had a problem, which was we needed service technicians for the future, and [PTC] had a lot of these training programs already,” he said, so “we bundled it together and included it into an effective program.”

Although there aren’t currently plans to implement the program at other Pittsburgh universities, Blackburn said the company has similar programming at schools in Montana and Texas where it has a presence. In the meantime, while the first class of the program continues its progression, what Blackburn would like any person considering it to know is that this is a good opportunity for a solid entry-level position.

“I want them to walk away from this and know that if they want to work in the autonomous space or robotic space, this is a fantastic entry-level position,” Blackburn said. “Eighteen months, you can get into a career like this. I want people to walk away and not feel that they have to have four-year degree or they can’t do this.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supportedby the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Aurora
Series: Aurora / Technology of the Future Month 2022
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