IBM’s Hiring and Development Strategy Aims at ‘New Collar’ Employees

IBM’s Hiring and Development Strategy Aims at ‘New Collar’ Employees

In an op-ed at USA Today, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty discusses her organization’s plans to hire 25,000 employees in the US and invest $1 billion in training and development over the next four years, to help meet the demand for new skills created by new technologies. “The surprising thing,” she adds, “is that not all these positions require advanced education”:

This is not about white collar vs. blue collar jobs, but about the “new collar” jobs that employers in many industries demand, but which remain largely unfilled. … In fact, at a number of IBM’s locations spread across the United States, as many as one-third of employees don’t have a four-year degree. What matters most is that these employees – with jobs such as cloud computing technicians and services delivery specialists – have relevant skills, often obtained through vocational training.

Indeed, skills matter for all of these new positions, even if they are not always acquired in traditional ways. That is why IBM designed a new educational model that many other companies have embraced – six-year public high schools combining a relevant traditional curriculum with necessary skills from community colleges, mentoring and real-world job experience. The first of these schools – called Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH – opened five years ago in Brooklyn. It has achieved graduation rates and successful job placement that rival elite private schools, with 35% of students from the first class graduating one to two years ahead of schedule with both high school diplomas and two-year college degrees.

This strikes me as a big deal. The “new collar” neologism will stick and is a fascinating example of HR as PR. Rometty’s ideas strike at a core challenge in the US economy today—namely the shortage of skilled workers to fill available jobs—but what I’m curious about is what kind of career paths lie ahead for these “new collar” workers.

If we implemented everything Rometty recommends tomorrow, that would be fantastic in many ways. On the other hand, how do we make sure we train new economy workers in a way that their careers don’t end when in-demand skills inevitably change?

We don’t want to repeat history, but what’s not clear from her op-ed is how we ensure that new economy workers develop business acumen and pursue growth-based careers that focus on continuous acquisition of critical experiences, not just technical skills. Fortunately, it’s completely doable in this model. We just have to make sure that the pursuit of creating a technically proficient new economy workforce doesn’t blind us to the need for other skills too.