In 2019, IBM Institute of Business Value shared a staggering data point in a research report: in the world’s 12 largest economies, 120 million workers may need to be retrained/reskilled by 2022. The report warned about the fast pace of technology deployment driving a churn in skills requirements. New skills requirements continue to emerge, while other skills are becoming obsolete. Executives who took part in the study indicated the need for workers to blend both digital skills and behavioral skills to have a successful career. Data showed a shift from 2016 to 2018 from a focus was on fundamental and advanced technical capabilities in math, science and computing to behavioral skills such as critical thinking, effective communication, problem solving and empathy.
In 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, IBM launched Open P-TECH, a free digital education platform focused on workplace learning and digital skills. This was an extension of P-TECH (Pathways to Technology Early College High School), a model adopted in 220- schools across 24 countries, touching 150,000 students. It’s a four-year high school program with a two-year Community College, basically, a six-year program during which you get your Associate Degree for free with a curriculum that helps you prepare for the kind of careers available today.
Open P-TECH scaled the initial idea by going digital so that the program can reach an additional 250,000 students across Australia, Brazil, India and the United States. Open P-TECH provides modules for students and teachers that include courses on emerging technologies and classes on professional competencies. Using the platform, students preparing for internships and “new collar” jobs earn the same badges as professionals in the field.
The digital transformation that took place during the pandemic only accelerated both the need for digital skills and the related need for behavioral skills. Before the pandemic, the focus was on reskilling employed talent to fulfill the business’s need and skill the future generation of workers. The focus has now shifted to underserved communities struck by unemployment because of the pandemic.
To accelerate its efforts, IBM announced a new partnership spanning 12 countries and with over 30 global organizations, including governments, community colleges, non-profits, and employment agencies, focused on improving underserved populations’ skills and employability using the online learning program IBM SkillsBuild. One attribute that IBM saw as critical for the success of the initiative is that these partners have the ability to connect with underserved groups and have their trust. In addition, the connection with local organizations also helps IBM deliver content that is not just high-quality and useful but also relevant to the needs of the individual markets.
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The program is centered around making job-seekers marketable within 3-6 months through a combination of professional workplace readiness and technical skills, badges and credentials recognized relevant to the market they are in and with personal mentoring. This is a tighter timeline than the 12 to 18 months of some of the modules that IBM had initially designed. Timing is critical when looking for a job and it is essential to balance skilling with over-skilling. While the goal of the initiative is the same across the 12 countries, the population that IBM and its partners target changes to reflect local needs. In the US, the initiative focuses on Black and Brown communities and women. In Latin America and India, the target audience shifts to young adults and in Europe it is more about immigrants and reskilling of workers in companies that shifted business focus. Localization of content went beyond topics taught and included optimization for mobile devices and offline consumption. Courses are designed with both an online and face-to-face component, but they all shifted to online during the pandemic, which had the advantage of reaching a broader audience at a time of need.
To ensure real work impact, IBM also partnered with ManpowerGroup, the third-largest staffing firm globally, to connect these job seekers to real career opportunities. ManpowerGroup will provide market insights on future job needs and openings on its portal, and the organizations will support learners on IBM SkillsBuild to match the demand.
This collaboration will support IBM’s goal to skill 500,000 people by the end of 2021 through the IBM SkillsBuild program. The initiative will also provide 15,000 people with special program-based learning experiences, and it will secure 7,000 jobs across different industries.
For organizations facing a skill shortage, addressing the issue is more complex than it might seem. Organizations are easily able to identify the employees, who need re-skilling and up-skilling. Yet, efficiently communicating the business needs to get buy-in rather than instill fear can be a challenge. More importantly, being able to design and deliver the right curriculum is no easy task.
Initiatives that bring together a curriculum platform like IBM’s SkillsBuild, local stakeholders helping shape and refresh content and partners like ManpowerGroup to scale impact, will play a critical role in the continued focus on digital transformation and post-pandemic economic recovery.
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.