This week I had the pleasure of participating in JFF Horizons, where I spoke about the importance of a skills-first approach to workforce development. This is something my team and I work on every day at IBM because we’re committed to investing in the future of work, with a focus on underrepresented communities. It was inspiring to hear from many other thought-leaders who are championing this movement and some IBM partners who are helping us drive progress in developing the ecosystem needed to advance a skills-first approach.

When we look at the state of hiring today, we know many talented individuals have the knowledge, skills, and abilities companies are looking for, but the system that we have doesn’t work well for applicants or employers. We need a modernized system where learners’ credentials are portable, verifiable, and use common frameworks making them valued and accessible to employers and academic institutions. This has been an issue of concern for a while now, but it’s taking on greater importance and visibility as companies struggle to hire. Surveys show us that talent shortages in the U.S. have reached a 10-year high and that this shortage is even worse among tech workers with more than 1.2 million U.S. job vacancies in software-related professions.

To address this dilemma, companies need to see beyond the old paradigm of skills vs. degrees and create an integrated system of training, credentials, and degrees that meets the needs of individuals and employers.  One that acknowledges that people’s school to work journey is not a direct path, nor does it end with a degree program, but rather is one that may cross secondary and post-secondary education, professional training, and skills acquired through work with or without a degree.

Many companies are talking about hiring candidates without degrees but aren’t executing a new strategy to get them into gateway careers. As an employer offering training programs and an issuer of credentials, IBM is investing in the future of work with a multi-pronged approach:

  • applying our technology to improve the structures and systems that underpin the new ecosystem;
  • pioneering practices in our hiring and education programs; and
  • advocating for policies that will help other employers and training providers.

We can do more and we should all work together and take the following steps to create the ecosystem we need:

  • First, we must review and rewrite job descriptions to ensure they are open, inclusive, and skills-based. Today at IBM, more than 50% of our US job openings don’t require a 4-year degree.
  • Secondly, we need to work together to enable credentials to be recognized by employers across the market and by academic institutions alike. For example, we recently announced partnerships with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Specialisterne Foundation to equip U.S. military veterans and neurodivergent learners worldwide with the training and credentials they need for high-demand technology careers.

This week, I also had the pleasure of meeting with the Community College Workforce Coalition to talk about the systemic issues and structural pain points we face together. Community colleges have always played a valuable multi-dimensional role in our communities to deliver training and create a market-responsive degree and non-degree pathways. Whether students attend a community college to pursue a degree or to upskill for a job, individual credentials can be earned along the way and help them make progress towards their goals.

IBM is committed to extending skills training and technology credentials and making sure we provide free education to individuals from underrepresented communities. I encourage everyone from the private, public, and non-profit sectors to think about this important work. Together, we can tackle the talent shortage, close the skills gap, and create access to careers in tech for those who have traditionally been excluded. Let’s create the partnerships we need to validate credentials and close the skills gap.

To learn more about what IBM is doing across education and workforce development, click here:


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