Preparing America for tomorrow’s new collar jobs

IBM is working with schools in the city to help shape the curriculum and groom talent for tomorrow's tech companies.
26 July 2018

A batch on pathways in technology early college high school. Source: Facebook

You don’t have to be a recruiter to realize that we don’t have the tech talent we need to fill all the open positions and mandates in the job market.

There is still unemployment, yes – but unfortunately, it seems as though those that are unemployed will continue to remain unemployed if they don’t train themselves on new skills that are currently in-demand.

Today’s job market requires database management, programming, and statistical analysis of large data sets, among other things, all of which are what experts call “new collar jobs” because you don’t need a four-year college degree to be qualify.

However, the bigger problem is that we’re not doing enough to educate today’s students for the jobs in the market, not through the conventional education system anyway.

Corporations such as IBM, Google, and Microsoft understand that, and are making efforts to influence what kids learn, in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and in other parts of America, but these are sporadic efforts.

Yes, the efforts that these companies are putting in are driving some change. However, regulators and educators need to wake up. Microsoft Excel is a critical life skill, but it can’t form the bulk of the technology curriculum of school students.

The young mind is malleable, and they’re able to absorb programming languages just as quickly as they’re able to pick up foreign languages such as Spanish and French. And there’s plenty of proof that you don’t need to be a certain age to be a competent programmer.

The truth is, unless the curriculum in schools changes to reflect the new technologies and skills in demand in the workplace, the graduates we produce will be just as unemployable as the employed population in today’s economy.

In an exclusive conversation with TechHQ, IBM’s Global Workforce Policy Vice President David Barnes explained the what and why of their education project in New York, and more importantly, discussed how the government and educators can act as catalysts for the movement.

IBM, which started the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) way back in 2011 has been working on improving how New York’s students get the right education as they progress from grades 9 through 14 in school, and confers a high school diploma and an associate degree in applied science to those who graduate.

“When they graduate from grade 14 with an Associate’s Degree and a qualified record, they will be ‘first in line’ for a job with IBM and a ticket to the middle class, or even beyond,” said Mayor Bloomberg when then program was announced.

Graduates are recruited by IBM to do all sorts of exciting “new collar jobs” such as working on data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

“Right now, there’s poor alignment between what educators are producing and what employers want. The curriculum is just not contemporary. In part, that’s because of the lack of a strong relationship between educators and companies – both of whom have different expectations of the students,” said Barnes.

The truth really is that our education systems are conservative and the government needs to help fuel some of the changes needed before corporations can step in and form fruitful, symbiotic partnerships with educators.

The problem with educators deciding curriculum in isolation is that they don’t really know what companies need today and they’re often quite bad at estimating what kind of candidates companies will need tomorrow.

Companies, on the other hand, can not only shed light on what they’re doing and the requirements they have at present, but could also share more about projects they aspire to do and the talent they’ll need to lead and support those projects.

The biggest benefit of corporate engagement in the education system, especially where technical competence is concerned, is the fact that schools can actually leverage their relationships to help students find internships. Doing so will provide students with opportunities to apply what they learned in the classroom and truly unleash their critical thinking skills.

In conclusion, Barnes emphasized that there’s no way that the current education system can produce competent graduates to fill the needs of tomorrow’s jobs – unless of course, they’re studying computer science or specializing in some of the advanced technical skills that are in-demand now.

The only way to equip students and to ensure that all companies have access to the tech talent they will need, now and in the future, is to vote for a change in curriculum.