Perspectives

UK’s First P-TECH to Open

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P-TECH Combines classroom and career training to address tech skills shortage

Today, the UK takes an important step in advancing digital skills in education and workforce development, as IBM announced the launch of Pathways in Technology programme, or P-TECH, initially at two schools and one college.

P-TECH is a new, non-selective, approach to secondary school education. Established by IBM and local educators in Brooklyn, New York in 2011, the P-TECH model provides students — largely in disadvantaged communities — with a viable career path in today’s increasingly digitised economy. The model combines traditional secondary school approaches with tertiary education, structured work experiences, and paid internship opportunities provided by employer partners.  Students will aspire to graduate from the P-TECH programme with a Level 4 qualification, such as BTEC or HNC, that enables them to immediately enter a competitive entry-level job or further pursue higher education.

Commenting on the announcement, Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said Margot James,

“Developing the next generation of tech talent is vital if we are to maintain our position as a world-leading digital economy. Through IBM’s initiative and our Digital Strategy, we will continue working with industry to inspire the talent of tomorrow and give some of the country’s brightest young minds the chance to learn digital skills and thrive in the future economy.”

Scheduled to open its doors this September in the city of Leeds, this is the first P-TECH programme in the UK, and only the second in Europe, following the announcement in Ireland at the end of 2018 that P-TECH would officially launch in 2019.

P-TECH is coming to the UK at a pivotal time in education. The European Commission estimates that by 2020 the gap between the demand and supply of ICT specialists in the EU will be around 500,000. Meanwhile, because UK school systems are primarily designed to enable progression to university, many young people can find themselves excluded from professional “new collar jobs” due to a lack of qualifications and employability skills.

Speaking about the initiative, Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the CBI, said, “Time and time again, CBI members tell us that one of the biggest challenges they face is access to the right skills as new technologies and demands transform the UK economy.  Initiatives like the P-TECH model show businesses are stepping up, equipping young people with the necessary skills to prepare them for the modern world.”

Many of these entry-level careers, such as those in areas like cloud computing, cybersecurity and digital design, do not necessarily require a full degree. Apprenticeships and innovative school models like P-TECH, that combine second and tertiary education with applied workplace skills, are proving to be an alternative progression route either into such careers or into university. These routes are often more inclusive, expanding both education and economic opportunity. The P-TECH programme very deliberately seeks to promote social inclusion by focusing on students from underserved backgrounds.

Since P-TECH was specifically designed to address the dual challenge of skills shortages and educational disadvantage, it has huge potential to support the UK’s broader skills agenda. For example, a key objective of the UK Government’s Digital Skills Strategy is training 1.2 million people in technical and digital skills by 2022. P-TECH can enable this kind of fast turnaround, as graduates from P-TECH can earn a tertiary qualification and develop the skills required to give them the opportunity to enter the workforce, go on to university or embark on an apprenticeship. The open enrolment concept, with no exam, entrance requirements, or feeds, provide opportunity regardless of the students’ background. Ultimately, by enabling students to earn an advanced qualification, along with the academic, technical and professional skills required for 21st century success, P-TECH puts students in the driver’s seat, empowering them to make the best choices for themselves and their families.

Speaking about P-TECH, Julian David, CEO of techUK said, “techUK is delighted to see IBM launch their P-TECH education model here in the UK. The world of work is changing fast and it is heartening to see industry giants like IBM helping the UK prepare for that change by offering new, innovative pathways for students into tech roles.

“Today’s digital skills gap is estimated to cost the UK £63bn in lost GDP every year, so with around 7 million AI jobs forecast to be created in the UK alone by 2037, this will require efforts being made now to ensure the UK can meet that need. It is vital that as we close that gap we ensure we do it in a way that increases the diversity of the workforce. IBM’s P-TECH does just this by targeting disadvantaged students who might otherwise never find their way to a career in tech.”

By the end of 2019, there will be at least 200 P-TECH schools across 13 countries.  Thus far, only a handful of schools have completed the full six years of the model. To date, 185 students have graduated from the most mature schools, and early results show an on-time graduation rate five times the average for low-income students.

P-TECH has a set of design principles that are key to successful student outcomes and has been proven in markets as diverse as Australia, Morocco and Taiwan.  However, it’s important to recognise that P-TECH does not have a one-size-fits-all approach. While adhering to key tenets, IBM has spent considerable time and effort working with relevant authorities to ensure P-TECH is both compatible with existing education systems and generate results that deliver according to local market needs.

Launching the P-TECH model in the UK will be no different, where there will be a strong working relationship with Leeds City Council.

Cllr. Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council said on being the 1st UK city to be involved in P-TECH, We want Leeds to be the best city for children and young people to grow up in, and are very proud to be the first city in the UK to be involved in P-TECH, which we believe has the potential to offer better futures for young people.

This innovative and exciting initiative brings together schools, further and higher education establishments and employers to address the skills gap by building a workforce with the technical and professional skills required by businesses in the city.  This is vitally important for the future competitiveness and sustainability of Leeds and helps to address the issue of social mobility.”

The two schools and one college participating in the UK launch are Cockburn School, Cockburn John Charles Academy and Leeds City College, with strong support from Leeds City Council, the education faculty of Leeds Beckett University (who are evaluating the programme), and critically, the full involvement of employers, including IBM.

David Gurney – Executive Headteacher, Cockburn Multi-academy Trust talked about the academy’s pride in being a partner, “I am extremely proud to be a partner in this programme – ‘Working in the spirit of partnership’ is key to the success of the Cockburn Multi-academy Trust. We seek to widen our students’ aspirations, so they can reach destinations that are attainable and fulfilling. P-TECH fits perfectly with our vision of ‘Transformation to Excellence’ that focuses on a relentless drive to continue to improve and excel in all areas.”

Rob Dixon – Head of School, Cockburn School was equally confident about P-TECH Our students have high aspirations and this programme will help to propel them into an industry that is set to shape everyone’s future. I am confident that our work with such excellent education and business partners will lead to success for the children in our Cockburn community and lead them to become successful citizens in the modern world we live in.”

Siobhan Roberts – Head of School, Cockburn John Charles Academy said of the initiative, “It is our goal to send every student out into the world ready to play their part and be successful on an increasingly competitive and challenging global stage. The P-Tech programme will place our students at the heart of education and industry and give them a world class educational experience.”

Employers are a core element of the P-TECH model. Collectively they will provide students with access to one-to-one mentoring, worksite visits, project days, and paid internships. Further, by employing a P-TECH Fellow, a position that serves as the school-business liaison officer, they will work closely with participating schools to map the skills needed for success in high demand occupations within their sector and adapt the curriculum content accordingly.  Ultimately, when students graduate from P-TECH, they will stand “first in line” for jobs with their industry partner – a guarantee of a coveted interview for appropriate opportunities that lead up a career ladder.

The success of any P-TECH project depends on this kind of close public-private collaboration, with a shift in mindset and full buy-in from every stakeholder. By securing the commitment of employers, schools and most importantly, the students, P-TECH continues to strengthen ties between education and the economy.

Leeds City College CEO and principal of Luminate Education Group, Colin Booth said about P-TECH: “P-TECH is an innovative programme which will establish long-term partnerships between industry, schools, colleges and higher education, giving businesses a chance to play an active role in the learning and career development of their future workforce. Supporting students at school and college to prepare for careers in the tech industry is a regional and national priority. At Leeds City College, we are committed to helping students connect and build relationships with industry partners, where they can engage in hands-on, project-based activities in the classroom and workplace, challenge them to meet their academic potential, and make informed decisions about their future career pathways.”

‘Combining the expertise of excellent local school and college teachers, bespoke digital industrial knowledge from major organisations such as IBM, and the aspirational staff at Leeds Beckett University will lead to a sensational experience for these students. The collaboration between the #PTECHLEEDSUK partners has been an absolute pleasure to be involved with, and will ultimately contribute positively to the educational attainment, employability and future aspiration of youngsters in the Leeds area.’

Dr Steve Burton, Director of Teaching Innovation, Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett University said: We believe the UK pilot has potential to deliver similar results, and we’re excited to get to work with our P-TECH partners to help the UK’s educationally disadvantaged students and tackle the growing digital skills gap.  It is hoped the P-Tech initiative will make a strong contribution to social mobility, as it creates the pathways for progression whilst students are still in school.”

‘This is an exciting project for the Leeds region.  The prospect of developing a curriculum which fuses everything that is excellent about education, with bespoke digital and industrial input from organisations such as IBM for local youngsters has enormous potential to improve the life chances of young people in our area.’  Reiterated Professor Damien Page, Dean of Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett University

Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Manager - IBM UK

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