Today, leaders in business, government and across civil society in the U.S. and around the world are grappling with disruptive changes in technology, markets and society, changes that are having a major impact on economies and employment. But even as many seek to revitalize traditional industries, lasting job creation will require an understanding of important new dynamics in the global labor market. 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.
Consider just one industry in one country. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are more than half a million open jobs in technology-related sectors in the United States. At IBM alone, we have thousands of open positions at any given moment, and we intend to hire about 25,000 professionals in the next four years in the United States, 6,000 of those in 2017. IBM will also invest $1 billion in training and development of our U.S. employees in the next four years.
We are hiring because the nature of work is evolving – and that is also why so many of these jobs remain hard to fill. As industries from manufacturing to agriculture are reshaped by data science and cloud computing, jobs are being created that demand new skills – which in turn requires new approaches to education, training and recruiting.
And the surprising thing is that not all these positions require advanced education. Certainly, some do – such as in quantum computing and artificial intelligence. More than 50 leading U.S. universities are now part of a new partner program that incorporates cognitive technologies into everything from core computer science coursework, to robotics, to hackathons.
But in many other cases, new collar jobs may not require a traditional college degree. 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.
There will soon be 100 schools of this kind. Governors and mayors from across the political spectrum have become champions for this new approach, and at IBM, we have committed to work with states to open at least 20 more P-TECH schools in the next year.
Update the Perkins act
With increased national focus on relevant career and technical education – with Congress and the Administration playing a key role – we could build a national corps of hundreds of thousands of skilled workers ready for the new collar jobs employers have open today.
One major step would be to pass early in 2017 an update to the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act that governs federal support for vocational education. Next, leaders should focus more on connecting high-school graduates and others without four-year degrees to jobs. For example, we should modernize federal college work-study programs, which dispense nearly $1 billion to help students work to earn their college tuition. Currently, most of these jobs subsidized with federal funds are low-wage and in college cafeterias and libraries. Using this program to foster meaningful internships in private companies would help students build the skills they need for the new jobs and earn more for their tuition.
Most of all, to create new collar jobs we will need new kinds of collaboration – involving federal and state governments, public school systems, community colleges and private business, across multiple industries. We will not always agree, but progress in job creation will come from open discussion and engagement. Together, we must work to reform education, policy and strategic approaches – in the U.S. and around the world – for today’s job opportunities that will build a future of growth and prosperity.
Ginni Rometty is Chairman, President and CEO of IBM, and her opinions expressed here are her own.
This article originally appeared on USA Today.