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IBM’s P-TECH Program Connects Dots from School to Career

What if, on your first day of high school, you were invited to embark on a pathway leading to a future job involving technology, and that each step of your academic career was designed to help you succeed?

IBM’s Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) model, launched in 2011, does exactly that, working with students at public high schools around the world in a no-cost program that prepares them for a tech career in practically any industry. Students who might never have imagined working in computer programming enter into a tailored curriculum that leads to a high school diploma, one-on-one mentoring with an IBM professional, the opportunity to obtain an internship with IBM, an associate’s degree, and eventually, the chance to land a job that involves tech in some way.

“There’s an incredible amount of buy-in from IBM,” says IBM Corporate Responsibility Education Program Manager Sarah Walsh, who coordinates the P-TECH program at the Cy-TECH Academy, a technology-focused magnet program at Tara High School in Baton Rouge. “We want to do anything we can to help. It’s not just about donating resources, but taking time and making a commitment to help students get there.”

From a pre-high school summer bridge, to an associate’s degree

Students enrolled in the Baton Rouge-based program earn a high school diploma at Tara High and continue in the program for an additional two years, tuition-free, to earn an associate’s degree in applied science from Baton Rouge Community College, a program partner. Enrolled students are often the first members of their families to consider pursuing a college degree. They begin by participating in a Summer Bridge Program, a six-week course that prepares them for success even before ninth grade begins.

Throughout high school, P-TECH students take courses designed to mold their tech skills. They also work with an IBM mentor and participate in enrichment activities that develop their “soft” professional workplace skills, like collaboration, critical thinking, constructive feedback and time management. By their sophomore year, Tara High P-TECH students can hop on a bus and take courses at nearby Baton Rouge Community College, where they’ll later continue their pursuit of an associate’s degree. The P-TECH program is completed in six years, but students can finish earlier if they work at an accelerated pace.

Filling the training gap

It’s a win-win program, says Tara High School Principal Karen Triche, a former computer science major and technology professional.

“This is a way for our students to have the same opportunities as students from more affluent communities to obtain the education and training they need to have a successful career,” Triche says, “There are many excellent jobs that go unfilled every year because of a shortage of skilled candidates, and this is a way to correct that imbalance. We’re shaping students to be lifelong learners, and to be able to keep up with technology as it changes in the workplace.”

IBM’s 800-employee Client Innovation Center is located in downtown Baton Rouge. The global tech giant also has an Application Development and Innovation Center in Monroe, La.

IBM’s efforts thus far reach 120,000 students worldwide

IBM’s P-TECH initiative started in New York in 2011, yielding graduates just four years later. Currently, there are 220 P-TECH schools and 150,000 student participants. The goal of the program is to address the technology skills gap and meet employer needs in a given community, preparing students for “new collar” jobs – skilled tech positions that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree.

The first students were accepted into IBM’s P-TECH program at Tara High School’s Cy-TECH program in May 2018. The program has room for 30 students per cohort, says Triche.

The power of mentoring

A major part of the program is to match students with mentors, employees at IBM who support their protégés through monthly meetings.

“It’s a great way for students to learn how to navigate a professional work environment and to develop the kind of skills that complement technical expertise, including interview skills, maintaining eye contact, meeting deadlines and being prompt,” says Walsh.

The three program partners, IBM, Tara High and BRCC, meet regularly to make continuous improvements and to ensure the academic curriculum is aligned with workforce needs.

Triche says one of the cornerstones of the program is that it is designed not just for kids with exemplary STEM skills, but those who have the potential to be molded for a career in technology.

Fostering grit

“We’re looking for the student who may not have been planning to go to college, and whose parents or guardians likely did not go to college,” Triche says. “We’re looking for that student who likes to tinker, who is willing to work hard and who can see themselves working in some form of technology.”

Walsh and Triche say the program teaches students to persist, ask questions and not fear failure. “We’re training them to not give up,” says Triche, “but to keep trying and to stick with it.”

Louisiana is one of 11 states in the U.S. where IBM’s P-TECH program has been announced or currently operates. Click here to learn more.

Interested in finding out more about IBM’s jobs in Louisiana? Check out Louisiana Job Connection for their most recent job openings.