At its Think conference in Boston, IBM announced this week new initiatives with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Specialisterne Foundation, and six Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) to provide no-cost STEM job training to U.S. military veterans, neurodivergent learners worldwide, and university students from underrepresented communities in the U.S.
These initiatives build on the more than 170 academic and industry partnerships announced in 2021 and the commitment to provide 30 million people of all ages with new skills needed to build a career. In order to achieve this goal by 2030, IBM is leveraging its existing programs and career-building platforms to expand access to education and in-demand technical roles, especially among underrepresented groups.
When looking for partnerships, IBM relies on organizations that share its vision of providing access to the underserved and reaching as many people as possible. When looking for a partner in cybersecurity skilling, the VA offered both. IBM SkillsBuild will be an enhanced resource for transitioning Service members seeking job training and credentials through the VA to pursue a career after completing their military service. Together with the VA’s Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) Employer Consortium, IBM will help military veterans pursue customized learning paths and other accelerated, non-traditional job training for high-demand technology careers. The Department of Defense estimates that 250,000 Service members transition annually to veteran status. These new learning modules mean an accelerated path to higher-paying jobs for veterans who have already received clearance and some skills through their service. But, of course, skilling is only half of the equation. The other half is the opportunity to offer a job after the training is done and the VA has many partnerships with organizations, including IBM, ready to employ. And this is the goal, of course, getting people hired.
In 2021, IBM Chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna pledged for IBM to partner with HBCUs to establish Cybersecurity Leadership Centers with the goal of building a more diverse U.S. cyber workforce. This week, IBM announced the first six of more than 20 Cybersecurity Leadership Centers with the following HBCUs and HBCU systems: North Carolina A&T State University, Southern University System, Clark Atlanta University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Morgan State University, South Carolina State University.
Being a partner for IBM is not just about providing faculty and students with no-cost access to multiple SaaS IBM Cloud environments. These universities will have access to a customized IBM Security Learning Academy portal, including courses designed to help the university enhance its cybersecurity education portfolio. In addition, IBM will continue to give access to IBM Academic Programs. The curriculum and the platform are tailored to the specific institution IBM is working with. This approach allows to craft courses that complement and or expand the catalog of classes a specific university is offering so they can attract more diverse students and cater to the talent market in the areas they are located. The portal used is the same that IBM provides to clients, ensuring that what students learn will match what the job market is looking for.
To further enhance that real-life experience, HBCUs’ faculty and students will have an opportunity to benefit from IBM Security’s Command Center. They can experience a highly realistic, simulated cyberattack designed to prepare and train them on response techniques. Experimental learning is a big trend we see in universities across the country. Theoretical knowledge acquired from books married to real-life experience is ideal for the fast-paced world of technology. This is especially true in an area like cyber security, where we are experiencing both an acceleration and a broadening of the risks organizations face in all fields, from financial services to health.
The last partnership announced with Specialisterne Foundation is focused on leveraging IBM’s SkillsBuild tailored to the job training needs of neurodivergent individuals across 13 countries. Specialisterne Foundation works with people on the Autism spectrum and those with profiles such as ADHD, OCD, and dyslexia so that their talent can be put to use by matching their specific skill set with the right profession and role. With the goal of getting 1 million people into jobs by 2030, its mission is well aligned with IBM. To this end, IBM is also linking its internal neurodivergent talent and the talent acquisition team to provide support and scout for new hires. For underrepresented groups, it is always critical to see people who look like them reflected in the jobs they aspire to have. This is particularly true for neurodivergent talent who might more often face a mismatch of skill sets and opportunities in the workplace.
“It is crucial that we empower diverse communities with the training and credentials needed to be career-ready while also creating a robust pipeline of technology talent to meet business demand. The collaborations we unveiled are the latest step in an ongoing series of initiatives with organizations helping underrepresented communities thrive as we work to skill 30 million people worldwide by 2030,” told me Justina Nixon-Saintil, Vice President, IBM Corporate Social Responsibility and ESG.
As these partnerships roll out, IBM also underlines credentials’ critical role in reskilling and upskilling. Credentials enable a skill-first, rather than a degree-first, approach. We are already seeing more tech companies shifting the requirements for the positions they are trying to fill to really focus on the skills the candidates can demonstrate either through non-conventional education or real-life experience.
Considering credentials that more closely reflect the skills needed to get the job done is critical in part because of the fast pace of technology I mentioned earlier, but, more importantly, because of how technology is reshaping work. As more and more workflows go digital and technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum and cybersecurity roll out, the job roles might remain the same, but the skill set required to get the job done will certainly change. This is why reskilling and upskilling should not be thought of as a moment in time need because of today’s multi-generational workforce but as an ongoing process that will remain relevant for years to come.
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.