Bengaluru : IBM India chairman Vanitha Narayanan said the company is planning to launch a skill development programme for high school students that will prepare them to be part of industries of the future. And she hopes other companies will join the initiative so that more schools can be covered.
The programme, which will be similar to one that IBM launched in the US seven years ago called Pathways to Technology, will focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills from the 9th standard. From the 11th standard onward, the students do internships. In the 12th standard, they graduate high school, but the programme continues until the 14th year. So it is a 12+2 programme, at the end of which the students are hired.
Narayanan, who was elevated as chairman in January, told that a major reason for the programme is that college is not affordable for a lot of kids. “And even when they graduate college with an undergraduate degree, many of them do not have the necessary skills,” she said.
Narayanan said it is not just a CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiative. “This is where business and HR get engaged and declare that these are the skills that we need four years from now. I am going to commit to take people in for internships. I may not be hiring them but creating a pool where someone surely hires them,” she said.
Narayanan describes the emerging jobs for which the students will be prepared as “new collar jobs.” “Because when you look at manufacturing in the next decade, it will not be a blue collar job. It will be about understanding the relevant technologies,” she said.
IBM began this model in September 2011 in a school in Brooklyn in New York, through a partnership with the city’s education department and two colleges. The number of schools that follow a similar programme has risen rapidly since. While IBM backs some of them, Wired magazine writes that tech giants like Microsoft and SAP, and energy companies like ConEdison, have also established similar programmes. “They go by different names and are geared toward different career paths, but they all follow the IBM playbook, an extensive guide the company publishes online,” Wired wrote two years ago.
Barack Obama, when he was US president, praised the programme as a potential solution to the country’s high youth unemployment rate and its growing need for a skilled tech labour force.
The Brooklyn school saw a dramatic drop in dropout rates following the introduction of the programme. The first batch, which started in 2011, graduated this month. Many of them have been hired by IBM.
Narayanan said she has received tremendous interest in the programme from industry partners and student groups in India. “Now it is about getting a few pilots nailed down. I do not want to go to ten schools. I want to go to three schools at the most where I can test out the system. It is not only about us pushing an agenda. You have to get the headmasters, teachers, and government on board,” she said.
The programme is part of a concerted effort by IBM to align with India’s national priorities. “In the past two-three years, campaigns like Digital India, Skill India, Smart Cities and Startup India were great platforms for a company like us to support a national agenda,” Narayanan said, referring to several initiatives in each of these areas. Narayanan, as chairman, now focuses on these programmes, while managing director Karan Bajwa handles IBM’s day to day operations.
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