Workforce readiness: Emphasising relevant skills, not the time-to-qualification

New collar skills, according to IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, do not require the traditional 4-year degree; the emphasis is on the relevant skills needed to do the job instead of the time it takes to achieve qualification, as is usually the case. That includes skills that are acquired via vocational training.Why this shift in work skills and definition of workforce readiness?

There is a generation or more of youths who have more convenient access to technology and tools; for example social media and mobile; making them more adept and comfortable at handling and operating these technologies when it comes time for them to enter the workforce.

Areas that IBM has identified would see a proliferation of new collar skills are cybersecurity, data science and even artificial intelligence.

IBM’s APAC Corporate Citizenship lead, David Raper, observed, “We struggle to fill roles because of skills gaps. We need to quickly develop these skills in today’s fast-growing environment and learn how to recognise the skills that are needed.”

Holistic approach

A mindset change for skills that are needed in this new economy, also needs to be complemented with reskilling of teachers so that they can impart relevant skills and information to students.

Realisation and acknowledgment at the top; the CEO-level no less; sees IBM being active in facilitating new collar skills training and promoting its acceptance in HR departments and today’s workplace environments.

In March 2016, IBM piloted MY Teachers Tryscience with 300 teachers from Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, to raise proficiency levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects among lower secondary school students. An estimated 15,000 students from 300 schools are expected to benefit from the programme.

Another initiative, Teacher Advisor with Watson, is a free cognitive coach for teachers to provide lesson plans and instructional material, that is powered by IBM Watson. The current version of Teacher Advisor allows teachers to leverage natural language to ask targeted individual questions and receive specific answers and resources that better meet teaching requirements.

IBM has also introduced a career and technical education model that emphasises STEM subjects and blends in free, public high schooling with community colleges. This model of education began in 2011.

This is what IBM calls their Pathway to Tech or P-TECH style of schools, and today they boast 60 of these types of schools in seven states in the US. They hope to achieve 80 P-TECH modelled schools by end of 2017.

In the US, 96-percent of students are from minority communities. Over 40 students became early graduates last year, instead of graduating at the original timeline of June, this year, and 8 of them have secured jobs at IBM.

More than 250 businesses from all industry sectors have joined IBM in supporting P-TECH’s innovative approach to preparing graduates for college study, new collar jobs or both.

Closer to home, Australia has around eight P-TECH schools, and aim to reach 14, by 2018.

Replicating P-TECH in Asia

Bringing the P-TECH model to Asia is not without its share of challenges.

Raper said, “There are common theme challenges in this region – syllabus, teachers, industry partners – the syllabus hasn’t caught up with demands of the industry.”

He shared that besides the high-level government involvement, there would have to be alignment of all the different education bureaucracies, and finding industry partners to help map required industry skills to education syllabus.

“The minimum curriculum stays the same, but it is injected with invaluable workplace skills that are also taught via internships and mentorships,” Raper concluded.


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