A bipartisan agenda to expand new collar jobs
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In July, several members of Congress introduced the New Collar Jobs Act, a bill aimed at growing America’s cybersecurity workforce by incentivizing training, increasing scholarship funding and providing student debt relief.

As the company that coined the term, IBM is delighted that policymakers have adopted new collar jobs as an economic priority. We truly believe that helping more Americans build the skills for fast-growing new collar careers — roles that do not necessarily require a bachelor’s degree — can help close this country’s widening skills gap.

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This new legislation targets workforce training in one field, but policymakers can go further. They should work together across the aisle to provide more American workers with access to the broader range of well-paying new collar jobs available in the technology sector.

 

At IBM, we have seen numerous examples of students, young professionals and mid-career workers alike who have learned the skills necessary to thrive in today’s modern economy. They are former teachers, fast food workers and rappers who now fight cyber threats, operate cloud platforms and design digital experiences for mobile applications.

They’ve acquired new collar skills through community colleges, coding camps and 21st century school models like P-TECH, which IBM pioneered. What’s more, many of these jobs are located in areas traditionally underserved by the technology industry —places like Rocket Center, WV; Columbia, MO and Baton Rouge, LA.

With more than half a million technology jobs open right now in the United States because workers lack the right skills to fill them, our nation needs to significantly expand the reach and effectiveness of programs that students and workers can access to build new skills in artificial intelligence, data science and cloud computing, in addition to cybersecurity.

Essential “soft skills” such as teamwork, adaptability and communications also need to be emphasized in all classrooms. We need schools, colleges and employers working in public-private partnerships that better connect students and workers to the training they need.

To accomplish this, Congress should first reform federal education programs to help more people, especially those traditionally underrepresented in the technology industry, learn the skills and behaviors needed to build thriving careers.

IBM has seen firsthand how career-focused education can make a difference for students and communities through the P-TECH program, a six-year public high school model that combines a relevant, career-focused traditional curriculum with necessary skills from community colleges, mentoring and real-world job experience.

The first of these schools opened six years ago in Brooklyn, NY, and has achieved graduation rates that are four times the U.S. national average for all students. States with Republican and Democratic governors alike have embraced this model, and we are on track to soon have 100 of these schools serving thousands of students.

Policymakers and business leaders should expand this bipartisan program and others like it by passing a long overdue update of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which currently awaits action in the Senate.

Congress then should reform the Higher Education Act (HEA) and permit students to apply education support funding to skills training programs beyond traditional academic degrees that feel out-of-reach for many students and job seekers. Today, skills required in new collar roles can be built through coding boot camps and professional and industry certification programs. Any reform of the HEA should give job seekers more flexibility and support to participate in these career-oriented programs.

It also is the case that new collar workers often require certifications for many roles requiring technical skills. The Brookings Institution, for example, has found that over 30 percent of jobs today require a license or certification. Permitting funding for credentials and accreditation programs through the HEA will create opportunities for new collar workers to apply for many of today’s in-demand jobs.

Finally, it is time to increase work-based learning which provides training with a paycheck. The Trump administration took a positive first step in this direction with its Executive Order expanding apprenticeships. Policymakers also should modernize Federal Work Study programs so students can build in-demand new collar skills with employers instead of working in the school library or cafeteria.

The demand for new collar skills will only continue to grow, and we must increase the number and nature of pathways students and workers can access to build them. Taking these common sense, bipartisan steps now will establish a strong skills-training infrastructure that can address America's immediate shortage of high-tech talent and ready our workforce for a new era of innovation and technological progress.

Putting more Americans on the path for promising new collar careers is an issue that unites our country and transcends partisan politics. IBM is ready to work with all policymakers to advance the new collar cause.

David Barnes is the vice president of global workforce policy at IBM and leads the company’s advocacy on employment, skills and the future of work. With extensive executive experience across Asia, Europe and Australia, he engages government leaders to advance a more contemporary and inclusive employment environment.


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