IBM’s CEO Ginny Rometty says employers don’t necessarily need IT job candidates with college degrees. Rather, they need candidates with relevant tech skills.
“This is not about white-collar versus blue-collar jobs, but about ‘new collar’ jobs that employers in many industries demand, but which remain largely unfilled,” she said, adding that at many IBM locations throughout the United States, as many as one-third of employees don’t have a college degree.
The pressing need for more “new collar workers” is driving communities to adopt new models for public education that produce tech-savvy, workplace-ready, entry-level IT workers.
In an ambitious undertaking in Chicago, the Office of the Mayor, the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools and the City Colleges of Chicago created five dual-enrollment Early College STEM Schools. Students are admitted into these free, public schools in the ninth grade and can graduate within six years with both a high-school diploma and an associate’s degree from a local community college. In addition, the schools provide work-based learning experiences to expose students to valuable, real-life professional opportunities that prepare them for the full-time workforce.
Gretchen Koch is executive director of workforce development strategies for Creating IT Futures, and has been closely involved with Chicago’s Early College STEM Schools since their start. Creating IT Futures is the IT workforce charity founded by CompTIA, the world’s leading tech association.
One of many things that has helped Chicago’s Early College STEM Schools succeed, Koch said, is that even though there are program-wide guidelines, each employer sponsor was allowed flexibility on ways to contribute to work-based learning activities at their partner school.
“The similarity is that they all offer early-college curricula — dual-credit opportunities with a local community college along with work-based learning experiences,” she said.
CompTIA, through its grant with the Chicago Workforce Funder Alliance, helped develop and implement new work-based learning activities for the five Early College STEM Schools. It created a new approach for local employers to participate in the summer internship program by providing one or more of The Four Ps of internships: A Project, A Place, Personnel or Payment for an intern. This new framework for work-based learning experiences is a topic Koch has addressed at conferences to tremendous interest to tech and education thought leaders.
“Traditional summer internships can be intimidating for small- to medium-sized IT companies that don’t necessarily have the resources of an IBM or a Cisco to host young people who are learning and need some direction,” Koch said. “Our 4Ps approach toward internships offered employers options for participating, and increased the number of real-world internship projects we were able to provide the students.”
For two summers in a row, CompTIA, working with Chicago Public Schools, was able to secure summer internships for more than 100 students.
Azzaria Douglas, 19, recently graduated from Richard J. Daley Community College with an associate’s degree in web development. Prior to that, she attended high school at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy. Attending the “new collar” school was not her idea originally, she says — it was her mother’s.
“You might say it was a maternal decision,” she said, laughing.
When Douglas’s mother saw the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy under construction in the neighborhood, she investigated what the school was all about. And upon learning, she “strongly encouraged” her daughter to apply.
A self-described creative type, Douglas pursued arts in middle school — band, drama, photography and dance. Technology wasn’t her thing.
“Honestly, I wasn’t interested in IT until I attended (Sarah E. Goode) and learned more about all of the career opportunities that are available through technology,” she said. “And that really opened my eyes.”
Her school education was augmented by internships with IBM, the official corporate sponsor of Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy. During her first internship, Douglas helped an elementary school redesign its website.
Her second IBM internship also married Douglas’s gift for the visual arts with technology, as she developed videos for an internal marketing campaign highlighting IBM’s technological assets.
As of September 2017, IBM had extended Douglas’ internship and there were strong signs she would be offered a full-time position with the company.
“I’m definitely glad I pursued this field in high school,” Douglas said.
Koch said IBM understands what other employers are beginning to — that the tech industry’s long-held habit of hiring talent emerging from four-year colleges with computer-science degrees falls short. It falls short in terms of hiring enough entry-level workers, and it falls short in terms of diversifying what remains a predominantly white male field.
“IBM’s involvement with early-college STEM schools really opened their eyes to the excellent skills these young, entry-level employees can bring to their organization,” she said. “Also, by working with early-college STEM schools, you reach a much more ethnically and gender-diverse population of potential job candidates. I believe early-college STEM schools will be a game changer — not only for individual companies, but for the entire tech industry.”