When Amazon HQ2 made their bombshell announcement that they would open their much-hyped HQ2 in Crystal City, Virginia, the immediate buzz focused on much-anticipated/ tech jobs. But smart money says that Amazon and their workers will also need professionals with degrees/ in education and social/ work to meet the full demand of their new headquarters.
When Amazon chose to plant themselves in the Washington, DC area, most publications wrote about the estimated 25,000 employees the campus would hire. Business Insider, for example, focused on the jobs Amazon currently utilizes in their Seattle headquarters, predicting that thousands of data engineers, business intelligence engineers, quality assurance engineers, and software engineers would migrate to the new HQ2 areas.
Judging from such press, it might appear as if the only degree holders applying to Amazon or relocating to chase HQ2 jobs will be those in the tech sector. But in reality, non-tech/ graduate degree holders should be poised to cash in around both regions, both as HQ2 employees and as area workers. Here’s how.
Take a closer look at some of the Amazon Seattle jobs uncovered by Business Insider, and you’ll see a variety of non-tech positions. One example: Senior Vendor Manager, a professional who manages relationships and contracts with vendors. You’ll find the title of Research Scientist as well; this job involves analyzing data from scientific experiments and trials. Marketing managers are also needed for working with business strategies, teams and projects. Overall, Amazon needs large numbers of data experts, planners, leaders, and communicators.
A recent piece in Fortune Magazine features a telling title: “Technology is everywhere. Tech jobs? Not so much." The article argues that very few companies really have these mythical “tech jobs" lying around. Writes journalist Vauhini Vara, “both startups and more established tech companies hire a relatively small number of super-talented, creative employees — the kind who can come up with moneymaking innovations...tech has become a winner-take-all market." Rather than staffing their offices with programmers and coders alone, tech companies use large percentages of their hiring power to bring on other kinds of professionals.
The case of health monitoring startup Myia demonstrates the value of using technology to complement, rather than replace, other services. “Myia’s goal is to enhance the extraordinary value doctors provide, not replace them," Serenity Gibbons explains in Forbes. “CEO Simon MacGibbon knows biometric data can’t build relationships, biopsy tissues, or prescribe medications." That human element simply can’t be replaced; nor should it be.
There’s a fundamental misunderstanding about what companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, or Myia are truly about. Tech companies aren’t just collections of computer programmers who do nothing but manufacture code. They are businesses that need marketing, idea development, and human relations experts.
Key employees provide leadership, support, and training. These skills aren’t learned exclusively through tech or business programs; in fact, graduate students in social/ work and education may be even better equipped to fill the void. MSW and M.Ed. degree programs prepare students to tackle many of the tasks for which Amazon will be hiring. Just browse this list of MSW skills from The University of Pittsburgh, or read about this Technology, Innovation, and Education specialization available at Harvard. You’ll note that much of what is learned in such programs would be directly applicable a job at Amazon.
College presidents should realize that the future of Amazon is not all about tech jobs. Shortly after the HQ2 announcement, Virginia Polytechnic Institute signed on to build a new billion dollar, 1 million-square-foot “Innovation Campus" two miles from Amazon’s Northern Virginia location. While the impulse to train Virginians for an influx of new jobs is a logical one, 25,000 new jobs will not translate to 25,000 opportunities for graduate/ students in computer science and programming alone.
Virginia Tech is hardly the only school focusing on the tech side of the Amazon HQ2 deal. George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia also introduced numerous initiatives, including greatly expanding its computer science offerings and building a 400,000-square-foot Institute for Digital Innovation, in anticipation of Amazon jobs. Both GMU and Virginia Tech are receiving heavy support for these expansions by way of state taxpayer dollars. Still, it would be wise for them to focus on two other degrees that Amazon will really need: the/ M.Ed and MSW.
Want some evidence that schools feeding into HQ2 need to broaden their curricular horizons? Look no further than Amy Schapiro, who holds an MSW from Columbia University and works for one of the most coveted tech companies of all: Google. an interview with her alma mater, Shapiro makes a compelling argument for her degree. “People frequently ask me ‘So you’re a social worker — what are you doing in tech?!’ I have observed that success in the fast-paced world of high-tech innovation requires effective communication, a strong sense of teamwork, negotiation, dedication to working towards a unified mission despite ambiguity or a possible lack of sufficient resources, and the ability to iterate quickly in response to possible high-stakes contingencies — all skills that are strongly emphasized in the social work curriculum." Several of Shapiro’s co-workers also possess an MSW and navigate the tech world at Google; they do so not in spite of their degrees, but because of them.
In a Vox piece examining demand at Amazon’s new campuses, reporter Alexia Fernandez Campbell notes that “finding that talent is going to be the biggest challenge" for the company. She points to the current unemployment rate in Washington DC — a stingy 3.3 percent — and the present demand for nearly 20,000 tech jobs in the Beltway area. Since one of Amazon’s goals is to get a piece of the government contract pie, Fernandez Campbell reports that those who can pass a security clearance are going to be in even higher demand.
So instead of ignoring the multitude of opportunities available at tech companies, graduate students in social work and education ought to give places like the Amazon HQ2 a second look. And local schools like Virginia Tech and George Mason ought to focus their energies beyond building legions of computer science engineers and coders.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at email@example.com. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.