The Equity Factor

IBM’s Education Initiative Big On Ideas, Short On Jobs

Brooklyn’s P-TECH school seeks to train students on computers and engineering. Credit: Alan Chin

Greg Lindsay’s Forefront story this week explores IBM’s dive into education. The software giant’s new vocational school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn keeps kids in the classroom and, like vocational schools of the past, teaches them a workforce-ready skill. There is, as Lindsay wrote, “the promise of a well-paying job upon graduation.”

But are the jobs there?

I think America’s education system needs progressives and innovation (sorry, I’m not going to call it disruption). We should applaud IBM’s collaboration with New York City’s public schools and the City University of New York. P-TECHPathways in Early Technology College High School — hasn’t had a graduating class yet, but it does have the backing of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Obama.

Instead of welding, P-TECH’s focus is on computers and engineering. The hope is that it will serve as a model for other vocational schools in a 21st-century economy. But IBM’s U.S. employees have dwindled, from 133,789 in 2005 to an estimated 91,000 last year. And 3,300 employees in Canada and the U.S. were let go in June. The majority of those jobs, Lindsay reported, were the type of skilled jobs P-TECH students are being groomed for.

And those jobs are going offshore. This isn’t news by any means — tech companies and textiles and manufacturers have been going overseas for years — but IBM is training urban youth specifically for this type of work.

“In 2009, the last year geographic data is available, IBM hired 18,873 workers in India, another 13,376 in the “Asia/Pacific” region, and just 3,514 in the U.S,” Lindsay wrote. I don’t want to imply that IBM’s P-TECH program is disingenuous. But how can the company in good faith put kids through a vocational school for a vocation that is largely outsourced?

It’s not IBM’s duty to employ the first graduating class from P-TECH and every single subsequent graduate. It is working in earnest to make cities and neighborhoods better by keeping kids in school. But unless IBM or other software and engineering companies stake a larger claim in the U.S. job market, where wages are higher, these kids aren’t going to just waltz into a well-paying job.

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Bill Bradley is based in Brooklyn. His writing has appeared in The Daily, Bloomberg Businessweek, GQ.com and Vanity Fair, among others. Follow him on Twitter @billbradley3.

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