New IBM mentorship program readies students for a tech-powered future


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

Take cloud computing. According to a new global study by McKinsey, a consultancy, only 18 to 19 percent of firms in Asia have moved their critical workloads to the cloud. There’s no question about the benefits of leveraging latest tech to power today’s workflows. But the transition towards better structures has been painfully slow. The development bottleneck: A lack of skilled workers to manage that transition.

As with the rest of the world, the Philippines suffers from a yawning skill gap brewing around tech. Unable to leverage its rich labor force to take advantage of massive opportunities opening up across the globe, how is a developing economy to keep up?

Last week, 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 ready the future of the Philippine workforce to cash in on “new collar jobs” opening up across various industries affected by advances in tech.

New collar jobs refer 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 constitute 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 later this year in June, the Philippines will be the second country to adopt the model in Southeast Asia (after Singapore later this year) and only the tenth in the world, following 110 P-TECH schools across the United States, Morocco, Australia, and Taiwan.

Enrollment in the program is designed to be entirely free and specifically targeted towards the underprivileged to get them 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. And speaking to the program’s drive towards inclusive growth, scholars from lower income groups 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, culminating in an associate’s degree in computer technology. Over the course of their senior high school, 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 across technology, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing. IBM says they’re hoping to continue building that community of school and industry partners in the months to come.

“We’re very aware of the urgent need for skilled STEM talent,” said Harriet Green. According to her, partnerships among government agencies, educational institutions, and private partners looking to invest in the future are the best path towards building a strong 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.