Written by Sarah Boisvert

It’s been about two and a half years since IBM’s CEO Ginny Rometty coined the term New Collar but IBM has been focused for years - at least a decade, if not longer – on facilitating a true paradigm shift around employment.  And I’m fortunate to be at the forefront of that effort.


UNUM: What exactly are New Collar Initiatives at IBM?

KJ: New Collar jobs involve utilizing a tech skill, and with the skills gap we’ve been trying to broaden the pool of eligible workers by helping provide alternative ways to acquire those skills.  10 to 20% of all jobs at IBM may not require a college degree, but with advancement in new technologies, different skills are required than in years past.  By creating industry-aligned education models we hope to close the skills gap, not just for our company, but to give people new opportunities.


UNUM: How did you become involved in this New Collar Initiative?

KJ: Well, I’ve been at IBM for 16 years leading teams that focus on programs for developing our human capital like employee engagement.  I saw the New Collar Initiatives as a tremendous opportunity to reinvent the historical model and make a real difference by changing the trajectory of people’s lives.  I can relate to manufacturing and our staff who are on the factory floor as my own Dad was an apprentice 40 years ago to become an electrician.


UNUM: What is special about the New Collar initiatives that you and your team created?

KJ: The team and I focus on employment aspects of New Collar Skill development & accessibility. For example, we’ve conceived and launched the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) program.  In six years, high school students get their high school diploma and also earn a no-cost associate degree in tech fields like Cyber-security.  The focus on workforce incorporates on-the job experience as well as mentoring.

Our platinum offering is a Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Program we’re offering in collaboration with the Consumer Technology Association in order to share lessons learned.  There are 200 today and I hope to see 450 apprentices over 2019. This is pretty exciting!


UNUM: Are all your programs geared to young people?

KJ: Not at all! I think of Learning plus IBM’s Workforce Hands-on Training as a “Career Re-inventor” for anyone who wants to change their path.  We work a lot with former Military Veterans and help them gain entry-level jobs in tech for a strong transition to civilian life.

I wanted to design courses in such a way that we allow anyone to leverage different learning styles. So we incorporate many different options including Digital Badges that allow for a self-paced completion.  That resonates with so many adults who have other responsibilities like childcare.


UNUM: How do you see your work at IBM impacting the entire workforce ecosystem?

KJ: The skills gap problem is so big no organization can do this alone. We’re at an inflection point in the U.S. and adoption of innovative strategies is key to success. When starting out it was a new idea, now we can reconcile apprenticeships with technologies. Program success has driven adoption.

We’ve chosen to make our programs open source in order to help other organizations.  A good example is the IBM Community College Skills Accelerator. Community Colleges are fantastic partners who are willing and interested in connecting and we are sharing open source resources with them to help grow all programs.

I’m really passionate about this work.  As we add more diversity to tech companies it can only bring more value to our culture, and in the process open doors for our citizens.