From Africa to Austin, "new collar" jobs open digital doors for young people

This information provided by Smart Cities Council Compassionate Cities.

In an op-ed piece for USA Today, IBM CEO Ginny Rometty noted that many of the in-demand and unfilled technology jobs in the U.S. don't require an advanced degree. She urged more government investment in vocational education and training for what she calls these "New Collar" jobs.  The term refers to new kinds of careers that require sought-after skills in cybersecurity, data science, artificial intelligence and cloud technology, among others. The company recently extended its new collar jobs push to Africa with a $70 million investment. It's an exciting and ambitious effort, as you'll read below.   – Philip Bane


The tech giant is calling its initiative "IBM Digital – Nation Africa." The idea is to build much-needed digital, cloud and cognitive IT skills to help support a 21st century workforce in Africa. 

The program, which is designed to reach up to 25 million African youths across the continent in the next five years, includes a Watson-powered, cloud-based learning platform that will offer free skills development programs.

The initiative will provide a range of programs from basic IT literacy to highly sought-after advanced IT skills including social engagement, digital privacy and cyber protection. IBM says it wants to help raise overall digital literacy, but also foster a culture of innovation and encourage and enable entrepreneurs to grow businesses around the new solutions.

Driving economic vitality
"IBM sees effective, high quality IT education as a key driver of economic vitality in Africa," says Hamilton Ratshefola, country general manager for IBM South Africa. "In order to find solutions to Africa's challenges, industries across the spectrum need to enable the existing and future workforce to perform at the forefront of technologies such as cognitive and cloud computing. This will be the key to spurring economic growth."

Today, IBM says, many African companies cite a local skills gap as one of the major bottlenecks to growth. In South Africa alone, where more than a quarter of the workforce is unemployed, businesses struggle to find appropriate skills, particularly in the IT field.

The initiative will provide a variety of free resources including:

  • Ready-to-use mobile apps
  • Web guides, demonstrations, interactive simulations, video series, and articles
  • Online self-assessment tests to track the progress of individuals, together with industry recognized 'Open Badges' aligned to digital competencies. The badges can then be shared with prospective employers
  • Creation of a volunteer program to support and promote digital literacy within their communities
  • A platform on which new applications can either be made freely available or sold

Making IT more inclusive in the U.S.
After pledging to hire 25,000 American workers by 2020, IBM has been showcasing success stories of employees who are making a success of their "new collar" jobs.

"IBM is making the IT industry more inclusive. With our emphasis on new collar jobs, we are focused on hiring for capability, not just credentials," said Sam Ladah, Vice President for Talent at IBM. "In fact, over the past few years, 10% to 15% of our U.S. hires did not have a traditional four-year degree. An even larger percentage of our U.S. job openings do not necessarily require a four-year degree."

"Through programs ranging from coding camps to community college courses and innovative vocational schools, our new collar colleagues have built marketable skills in fields from cybersecurity and cloud computing to digital design," Ladah added.

"Their experiences underscore that new collar jobs offer pathways to career success, and also the importance of expanding career-relevant skills training programs to help more Americans fill the more than half-a-million technology jobs currently open in the United States."

Meet a few of them:

  • Randy Tolentino (Austin, TX) – One day, while writing hip hop lyrics, Randy spontaneously decided that a technology career would afford him the best opportunity to provide for his family. From there, his new collar journey took him from California to Texas, and included a mix of college education and software development camps. Today, he's part of a team helping IBMers worldwide employ new technologies and methodologies to better serve clients.
  • Cecelia Schartiger (Rocket Center, WV) – When she couldn't find work as a teacher, Cecelia decided it was time to reinvent her career. She joined IBM as a project staffing professional, but was soon intrigued by fast-growing opportunities in cybersecurity. Through on-the-job training and coursework at her local community college, she built the skills she needed to take on a new role – securing sensitive workloads for U.S. Government clients as an IBM cybersecurity professional.
  • Savannah Worth (San Francisco, CA) – She pursued an education in creative writing, but developed a fascination with programming and computer science. After completing an immersive six-month coding bootcamp, Savannah became one of the first employees at IBM's Bluemix development garage in San Francisco. She's still creating, but at the intersection of art and code.

"America's high-tech skills gap is a very real challenge," said Christopher A. Padilla, VP of IBM Government and Regulatory Affairs. "But these new collar IBMers show that it absolutely can be closed.

Related articles:
Talent crisis: GE takes on gender equality in science and tech
Steal these ideas: 9 innovative approaches to reducing youth unemployment

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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