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IBM tells PHL firms to invest in tech-savvy work force

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By Santiago J. Arnaiz

FROM AI to blockchain, conversations on adopting new technologies have been ongoing these past few years, with firms both private and public scrambling to future-proof their systems. But the reality is most firms are nowhere near ready for the future of work.

There’s no question about the benefits of leveraging on latest technology to power today’s workflows, but the transition towards better structures has been slow. The development bottleneck? A lack of skilled workers to manage this transition.

As with the rest of the world, the Philippines suffers from a yawning skill gap in technology. Unable to leverage on its rich labor force to take advantage of opportunities opening up across the globe, how will a developing economy keep up?

Last Jan. 22, IBM announced a tripartite partnership with Taguig City and Taguig City University to launch the local leg of its global P-TECH school model.

“There is a massive skills shortage in the world and we feel a responsibility as one of the creators of many of these amazing new technologies that we fill that skills gap,” said Harriet Green, CEO of IBM Asia-Pacific. “The Philippines needs more of these skills if the trajectory of six to seven percent growth is going to continue.”

FROM BLUE COLLAR TO NEW COLLAR
Created in 2011, P-TECH draws a direct path through high school, college, and career, uniting expertise across sectors to strengthen education and reinvigorate local economies.

All this is designed to prepare the future of the Philippine work force to cash in on “new collar jobs” in various industries affected by advances in technology.

New collar jobs refers to the roles opening up in tech’s fastest growing fields. From cybersecurity to cloud computing, these are positions that require more specialization than a high school education provides, but not necessarily a college degree.

These new jobs are a “potential upside for roughly 654,000 net new jobs to be created by 2022, from a baseline of 1.15 million jobs in 2016”, according to the Philippine IT-BPM Accelerate PH Future Ready Roadmap 2022.

When P-TECH kicks off in June, the Philippines will be the second country to adopt the model in Southeast Asia and only the tenth in the world, following 110 P-TECH schools across the United States, Morocco, Australia, and Taiwan.

Enrolment in the program is free, as it is specifically targeted towards the underprivileged to make competitive, not only locally but also globally.

In the United States, where the program was conceived, IBM has seen massive progress with P-TECH, with scholars graduating four times faster than the average US community college graduate. Scholars from lower income groups even graduate up to five times faster.

“These P-TECH scholars graduating, every single one of them, within a matter of weeks, gets work,” said Harriet Green.

In the Philippines, P-TECH will span grades 11 to 12, with students participating in a paid internship program, and culminating in an associate’s degree in computer technology. Over the course of their senior high school year, these scholars will benefit from mentorships, worksite visits, and project days.

“Most people still put focus on getting a four-year college degree, so we end up with a lot of people with these diplomas that are unable to find jobs because their degrees don’t match the requirements of the marketplace,” said IBM Philippines’ Chief Technologist Lope A. Doromal, Jr.

“We’re not going to make any changes to the existing curriculum, but we will be supplementing it,” he said. “As the students goes through their normal education, they will have interactions with IBM-ers and our corporate partners so they have real life experience of what it’s like being in a working environment.”

FUTURE-PROOFING THE WORKFORCE
“Our outcome-based curriculum hasn’t been very successful in terms of the employability of our graduates,” said Taguig City University President Dr. Juan C. Birion, referring to the current K-12 educational framework. “In senior high school, the graduates are not yet that acceptable when it comes to employment. P-TECH is the right answer to that problem.”

As the country’s first P-TECH school partner, Taguig City University will be joining an ecosystem of more than 200 schools by the end of 2019, and 550 industry partners in sectors like technology, health care, and advanced manufacturing. IBM said it hopes to continue building its community of school and industry partners.

“We’re very aware of the urgent need for skilled STEM talent,” said Harriet Green. She said partnerships among government agencies, educational institutions, and private partners looking to invest in the future can boost efforts to build a strong local workforce.

“P-TECH is a direct response by IBM to the global skills crisis and is very much in line with the needs and strategy of the Philippines as a nation,” she said.