IBM’s P-Tech program integrates high school and college coursework

Big Blue initiative maps classroom training to skills needed in the workforce.

The Shaping the Future Workforce series looks at innovative business solutions for developing skilled workers for 21st-century jobs.

IBM is one of the biggest companies in the world, with one of the largest workforces. At any given time, there are thousands of job openings worldwide. And, like many other companies around the globe, Big Blue has trouble finding enough workers with the right mix of technology skills to fill those jobs.

“I think we’re all clear, and I’m sure your readers and community would agree, that the skills gap is one of the biggest issues facing every government today, not just in the United States, but around the world.” Jennifer Ryan Crozier is President of the IBM Foundation and IBM’s Vice President of Corporate Citizenship, leading the company’s efforts to help governments and communities tackle difficult societal challenges, including closing the skills gap.

Jennifer Crozier. Photo – IBM

IBM has pledged to hire 25,000 new tech workers in the U.S. over the next three years. “We’re focused on the coming jobs, cloud computing, cognitive, artificial intelligence. We have a big focus on design at IBM, cybersecurity,” says Crozier.

With the country only graduating about 50,000 people a year with computer science degrees, and the demand for tech-savvy workers ten times that number, the gap between supply and demand is wide.

“I think all of those are areas where we have a lot of need and new collar jobs, new collar skills can help to fill that demand. What we mean by ‘new collar’ is they’re not blue collar; they’re not white collar,” says Crozier. These are skills-based jobs, according to IBM, that require some technical training or postsecondary education, but not necessarily a four-year degree.

MORE: IBM CEO on 3 Big Ideas to Build New-Collar Skills

RELATED STORY: Shaping the Future Workforce – Jolen Anderson

“The good news is I think there are a lot of different ways that we can solve this skills gap issue, and I think a lot of different players need to work together,” says Crozier. “That could mean that new collar skills are being taught in the K-12 space. Community colleges have a role to play. It could be through apprenticeships and other forms of career and technical education. It could be entirely new models of education, like the P-TECH schools that we have built.”

P-TECH is a six-year tech education program that begins in the 9th grade and continues for two years after high school. In addition to in-class training, each student gets a mentor and workplace experiences. “They have the opportunity to have internships, and they’re first in line for job interviews once they graduate from the program,” according to Crozier.

Students graduate with their high school diplomas and no-cost associate degrees in a STEM discipline, along with the skills and knowledge they need to continue their studies or step into well-paying, high-potential jobs — from a manufacturing engineering technician to a quality analyst, to a software specialist, to a digital designer.

“We’re really thinking about what jobs companies like IBM will be hiring for in six years, and how we make sure that we have a curriculum to get students ready for those,” Crozier says.

RELATED STORY: Shaping the Future Workforce – Chauncy Lennon

There are a lot of partners that go into making that decision on the curriculum, including educators, state and local leaders, parents, students, and businesses.

“We all have to come together around this because it’s a big undertaking,” Crozier stresses. “The value of cross-sector partnerships is hugely important. We all have to be in on this.”

When it first started in 2011, it was in one school in Brooklyn. Through 2017, tens of thousands of students have gone through the program which has expanded to 70 schools across six states, Australia and Morocco. By the end of 2018, IBM expects to have P-TECH in place in 100 schools around the world.

“I think P-TECH is really a standout. That’s the feedback that we’ve gotten from our peers in the industry, because it’s a pretty unique model, and one that they’re really looking to join onto,” Crozier tells me.

More than 430 companies now partner with IBM to help develop a curriculum that creates a pipeline for the jobs that will become available in their communities in the future.

IBM is also proud that its P-TECH program is helping “close the achievement gap among underserved youth, many first-generation college students from low-income families, in rural, suburban, and urban areas. A 2015 University of Pennsylvania study found that the percentage of students from the poorest families earning college degrees barely moved in over 40 years – increasing only from six percent to nine percent. Only 6 percent of college graduates from low-income, minority urban schools completed a STEM degree within six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.”

Drawing students from economically disadvantaged communities, P-TECH schools are seeing strong levels of achievement. These students are outachieving their peers who are not a part of this model. Here are some remarkable stats: P-TECH schools in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Chicago’s South Side have graduated 92 students, with more than half of the graduates completing the program early. Some even received their two-year college degrees before their high school diplomas. At other schools in New York state, 18 percent to 22 percent of the students have completed their program early. In simple terms, that means these are graduates aged 19 and 20, ready to take a new collar job or move on to a four-year degree.

“Our P-TECH model is really about people being both career and college-ready. For us it’s really important to put students in the driver seat and for them to have the skills so that they’re in a position to choose. Do they want to go on and get that four-year degree? In fact, many of our graduates have gotten scholarships and made the choice to go on to four-year degrees. Or they may decide, ‘No, I’m ready to do a job,’ And IBM is hiring,” according to Crozier.

P-TECH is just one IBM program designed to help close the skills gap. The company recently announced a major expansion of its long-standing academic training partnerships with community colleges, putting a new emphasis on new collar career opportunities.

“In addition to curriculum design, we’re working with them to make sure that people have an opportunity to participate in internships and apprenticeships within the company,” Crozier says.

The expansion will grow over the next six months to include more than a dozen community colleges in Missouri, West Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina and Texas.

“Our commitment to lifelong learning is broad. It’s for our own employees. It’s also for people outside of the company. Veterans are an excellent example of that,” explains Crozier.

In March, IBM announced its commitment to hiring 2,000 veterans over the next four years. “Beyond saying that we’re going to hire them, I think we really feel a commitment to help be part of the training. So, we created the Veterans Employment Accelerator, which is a training program offered in about 30 locations in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.”

So far, the company has trained more than 500 veterans. As a result of the training, 99 percent of them have earned certification, and about 100 of them who have the certification have gotten jobs at IBM and other companies.

According to Crozier, when it comes to filling future new skills jobs at IBM and other companies, “adult learning is going to play a big role, with people continuing to be lifelong learners. And IBM is hiring.”

Join the Conversation: Share your thoughts on the latest Shaping the Future Workforce article on our Facebook page.

Connect with Ramona via Twitter or her website. You can read her previous articles for WorkingNation at this link.

Get our latest articles, videos, and podcasts
sharing solutions to today's workforce challenges.

Sign Up to Recieve Our Newsletter