Falcon tech students Jahziel Llamas and Jorge Melgoza work with IBM's Evaristo Ramirez.

There’s a new label being used to describe a job category that’s not quite “white collar,” nor is it “blue collar.” It’s “new collar,” and I first read the term in an article Ginni Rometty, chairman, president and CEO of IBM, wrote recently for USA TODAY.

She used the term in the context of what industries will need in the future – and it applies to an IBM-inspired partnership that Front Range Community College has with two school districts (St. Vrain Valley and Adams 12) and two major employers in northern Colorado (IBM in Boulder and Level 3 Communications in Broomfield).

The Nature of Work is Evolving

Rometty writes:

“According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are more than half a million open jobs in technology-related sectors in the United States. At IBM alone, we have thousands of open positions at any given moment, and we intend to hire about 25,000 professionals in the next four years in the United States, 6,000 of those in 2017. IBM will also invest $1 billion in training and development of our U.S. employees in the next four years.

“We are hiring because the nature of work is evolving – and that is also why so many of these jobs remain hard to fill. As industries from manufacturing to agriculture are reshaped by data science and cloud computing, jobs are being created that demand new skills – which in turn requires new approaches to education, training and recruiting.

“And the surprising thing is that not all these positions require advanced education. Certainly, some do – such as in quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

Employees Need Skills—Not a Four-Year Degree

“But in many other cases, new collar jobs may not require a traditional college degree. In fact, at a number of IBM’s locations spread across the United States, as many as one-third of employees don’t have a four-year degree. What matters most is that these employees – with jobs such as cloud computing technicians and services delivery specialists – have relevant skills, often obtained through vocational training.”

Pathways in Technology


Falcon Tech student Ilse Hernandez works with IBM’s Kaylyn Sigler.

Pathways in Technology Early College High School (or P-TECH for short), was designed by IBM to help address this new collar trend and workforce needs. It’s a six-year program that combines a traditional high school curriculum with a community college program. It also provides high school students with mentoring and job experience with an industry partner. Students graduate with a high school diploma AND a two-year college degree in computer information systems.

P-TECH originally started with one school in Brooklyn, where one-third of the initial cohort graduated one or two years ahead of the six-year schedule, and not one student dropped out. Today, P-TECH is in about 100 schools across the country, with more to come.

Level 3 at Northglenn High School STEM

In the fall, Level 3 employees attended a workshop to meet students and gain an understanding of problem-based learning, which is the curriculum of the students they will be mentoring at Early College at Northglenn High School STEM. Level 3’s program is called Building Our Own where the goal is to engage students in STEM, help them be successful, and provide them with entry to Level 3. In a sense, Level 3 is building a talent pipeline.

IBM at Skyline High School

IBM mentors met with their students at Skyline High School in Longmont. The students and mentors got to know each other by working through some computer-based puzzles.

The students and mentors also heard from Stan Litow, IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs and president of the IBM International Foundation. He spoke directly to the students.

“We’re all behind you,” he told the students. “You can be successful, and we’re going to help you be successful. You’re in college now. You’re on a pathway to get your degree.”

Opportunities for Students

The future is up to the students. Join IBM or Level 3 with their college degree from FRCC. Work elsewhere. Continue on to a four-year degree. No matter what, these students are on the ground floor of the new collar economy. If you know someone in these school districts who could benefit from P-TECH, contact Kerry Glenn at kerry.glenn@adams12.org for Northglenn High School or Brandon Shaffer at shaffer_brandon@svvsd.org for Skyline High School.

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