New IBM partnerships to address cybersecurity talent shortage also drive social impact

At its Think conference in Boston, IBM this week announced new initiatives with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Specialisterne Foundation and six Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to provide free STEM job training to US military veterans, neurodivergent students around the world, and college students from underrepresented communities in the US.

These initiatives build on the more than 170 academic and industry partnerships announced in 2021 and a commitment to provide 30 million people of all ages with the new skills needed to build a career. To achieve this goal by 2030, IBM is leveraging its existing programs and professional development platforms to expand access to education and in-demand technical roles, especially among underrepresented groups.

In seeking partnerships, IBM relies on organizations that share its vision of providing access to the underserved and reaching as many people as possible. Looking for a partner in cyber security skills, VA offered both. IBM SkillsBuild will be an enhanced resource for transitioning service members seeking job training and credentials through the VA to pursue a career after completing their military service. Together with the VA Consortium of Employers Employing Veterans Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC), IBM will help military veterans pursue personalized learning paths and other accelerated, non-traditional job training for high-demand tech careers . The Department of Defense estimates that 250,000 Service members annually transition to veteran status. These new learning modules mean an accelerated path to higher-paying jobs for veterans who have already received authorization and some skills through their service. But of course skill is only half of the equation. The other half is the opportunity to offer a job after completing training and the VA has many partnerships with organizations, including IBM, ready to hire. And that is the goal, of course, to get people hired.

In 2021, IBM Chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna has committed to IBM partnering with HBCUs to establish Cybersecurity Leadership Centers with the goal of creating a more diverse American cyber workforce. This week, IBM announced the first six of more than 20 Cybersecurity Leadership Centers with the following HBCUs and HBCU systems: North Carolina A&T State University, Southern University System, Clark Atlanta University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Morgan State University, South Carolina State University.

Being an IBM partner isn’t just about providing teachers and students with free access to multiple IBM Cloud SaaS environments. These universities will have access to a personalized IBM Security Learning Academy portal, which includes courses designed to help the university enhance its cybersecurity education portfolio. In addition, IBM will continue to provide access to IBM Academic Programs. The curriculum and platform are tailored to the specific institution IBM works with. This approach makes it possible to design courses that complement or expand the catalog of classes offered by a specific university so that they can attract more diverse students and serve the talent market in the areas in which they are located. The portal used is the same one that IBM provides to clients, ensuring that what students learn matches what the job market is looking for.

To further enhance that real-life experience, HBCU faculty and students will have the opportunity to take advantage of the IBM Security Command Center. They can experience a very realistic simulated cyber attack designed to prepare and train them in response techniques. Experiential learning is a big trend we see in colleges across the country. Theoretical knowledge gained from books married to real-life experience is ideal for the fast-paced world of technology. This is especially true in an area like cybersecurity, where we are seeing an acceleration and amplification of the risks facing organizations in everything from financial services to healthcare.

The latest partnership announced with the Specialisterne Foundation focuses on leveraging IBM SkillsBuild tailored to the job training needs of neurodivergent people in 13 countries. The Specialisterne Foundation works with people on the autism spectrum and with profiles such as ADHD, OCD and dyslexia so that their talent can be put to use by matching their specific skill set with the right profession and role. With a goal of employing 1 million people by 2030, its mission is well aligned with IBM. To this end, IBM is also linking its internal neurodivergent talent and talent acquisition team to provide support and seek new hires. For underrepresented groups, it’s always critical to see people who look like them reflected in the jobs they aspire to hold. This is particularly true for neurodivergent talent who, more often than not, might face mismatched skill sets and opportunities in the workplace.

“It is crucial that we empower diverse communities with the training and credentials necessary to be career ready, while building a strong pipeline of tech talent to meet business demand. The collaborations we reveal are the latest step in a series ongoing initiatives with organizations — helping underrepresented communities thrive as we work to empower 30 million people around the world by 2030,” Justina Nixon-Saintil, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility and ESG at IBM, told me.

As these partnerships are implemented, IBM is also underscoring the critical role of credentials in updating and upskilling. Credentials allow for a skill-first approach, rather than a title-first. We’re already seeing more tech companies changing the requirements for the positions they’re trying to fill to really focus on skills that candidates can demonstrate through unconventional education or real-life experience.

Considering credentials that most closely reflect the skills needed to get the job done is critical in part because of the rapid pace of technology I mentioned earlier, but more importantly because of how technology is reshaping work. As more and more workflows go digital and technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum, and cybersecurity are implemented, job roles may remain the same, but the skill set needed to get the job done will certainly change. This is why reskilling and upskilling should not be seen as a momentary necessity due to today’s multi-generational workforce, but as an ongoing process that will remain relevant for years to come.

Divulgation: The Heart of Tech is a research and consulting company that engages in or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author has no equity positions in any of the companies mentioned in this column.

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