Inclusive Workforce

IBM Japan’s “Access Blue” Program Trains Students with Disabilities for New Collar Jobs

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In my country of Japan, there is a legal requirement (Act for Employment Promotion of Persons with Disabilities that states that at least 2 percent of employees across all business organizations (with workforces greater than 50) must be persons with disabilities. This requirement will increase to 2.2 percent in 2018 and 2.3 percent in 2020. Currently, only approximately 47 percent are meeting these goals.

Conversely, there are not enough people with disabilities with the necessary skillsets to find jobs in the marketplace.Students in the Access Blue program sit around a table and listen to a presentation as part of their internship program.

To help solve this problem, IBM Japan created the Access Blue internship program that is designed to equip technical and non-technical interns with practical and basic skills needed for employment.

Launched in 2014, this unique seven-month program invites students with different types of disabilities to gain real-world experiences and marketable technology skills. The unique curriculum was developed to help students identify their skill gaps, as well as gain a deeper awareness about their strengths.

Leveraging IBM’s deep heritage of inclusion and expertise in accessibility, Access Blue teaches students IT skills and exposes them to new technology innovations, ultimately changing their career path.

Students with Disabilities

Most students in Japan are recruited by employers through universities, as well as employment agencies in the greater Tokyo area when they graduate in March.

Students with disabilities have less advantages. Most have little or no part-time job experience during their academic years, and have very limited access to information regarding career opportunities.

While some universities give special attention to students with disabilities by providing extra assistance, many academic institutions find it difficult to identify students with disabilities and the kind of support they need for employment.

IBM’s goal was to give students the knowledge early enough to compete with other students and an equal opportunity for success. We also wanted to establish a new approach that helped employers utilize each individual’s unique potential rather than hiring persons with disabilities to merely meet a specific quota.

Access Blue also helps change the mindset of these students. It helps them develop confidence that they can do the professional work and make a difference for the organization. One student in our program, Yu Nomi, a graduate student from Tsukuba University, told me this was a lifetime change. She went from a welfare path to a career in IT in seven months.

Today, she works in the IBM Global Technology Services providing backend support for high availability computing. She also acts as a role model for other students with disabilities in the Access Blue program.

To date we’ve had 66 interns go through the program, eight of which have been hired directly by IBM. The other students who have been hired by other organizations are now working as an IT engineer or in a support role. We have 15 additional students in this year’s program.

Students from IBM Japan's Access Blue program pose for a picture.

Students from the Access Blue program, including Yu Nomi (second from left in the front row), receive real world experience and skills needed to help find employment.

Refinement to the Program

We continue to upgrade the curriculum to help make the interns more effective, such as extending the curriculum that worked well, introducing pseudo client proposal projects, and doing roll plays with simulated clients.

The program also gives the students with disabilities a chance to work with other student interns, giving both a chance to learn from each other.

We also give the students skills and competency assessments along with periodic one-on-one meetings that allow for direct feedback to help advance personal development.

Establishing Best Practices with Access Blue

Our hope is that Access Blue will be replicated by other organizations across Japan. We have created a successful model that other companies can use to give skills to people of different abilities, and a chance to succeed in the marketplace.

At IBM, for example, this program also helped change the mindsets of all of our employees. By having our students work alongside our other employees – and across business lines – it helped remove awkward barriers and perceived stereotypes.

Now, we have developed an eco-system within IBM Japan around hiring and enablement of people with disabilities.

We are excited by the continued prospects of this program and hope we can continue to break down barriers and leverage the skills and insights of this untapped segment to develop new innovations.

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