Since the 1970s, the demand for skilled technical workers has increased across sectors. In 1970, only 25% of jobs required postsecondary training. Today, an estimated 70% of jobs require additional training. The demand for skilled workers is particularly dire in STEM professions. Unfortunately, high-tech and manufacturing companies often continue to find college and university graduates under prepared for the real world of work.

Company Sponsored Schools: Training Future Workers

The question can be asked, What If Any Is the Strategic Value of Workplace Training?

In an effort to address the shortage of well-trained STEM professionals, a growing number of companies are starting their own training programs. While training has long been part of the workplace, these current initiatives represent a new model of workplace training. Rather than offer one-off workshops or short courses to employees, today, more companies are training future workers. But should companies be charged with educating future workers, or should STEM programs at the secondary and postsecondary levels be updated to better meet the needs of the private sector? To explore this question, consider two private sector experiments in education: IBM’s P-TECH Academies and Honda’s Computer Integrated Manufacturing Lab.

P-TECH Academies

The first P-TECH Academy (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) was a collaboration between IBM, the City University of New York and the New York City Department of Education. Established in 2011, the school aimed to offer an integrated high school and college curriculum with a focus on STEM subjects while also providing workplace skills, such as leadership, communication and problem solving. Each P-TECH student is also paired with a mentor at IBM to help ensure their success and explore career pathways. The school promised to graduate students with a high school diploma and associate in applied science degree in computer information systems or electromechanical engineering and to give graduates priority for IBM entry-level positions. Since 2011, IBM has established additional P-TECH academies in New York and Chicago. While the long-term impacts of the initiative are not yet clear, to date, the academies, which also are designed to target students from communities with historically low high school graduation rates and low rates of college participation, have reported relatively high graduation rates, despite the fact that at the original P-TECH Academy, the proficiency of incoming students was lower than the city average. The question that remains is whether P-TECH’s successful intervention into educating traditionally under-achieving student populations will also prove effective at increasing the number of workplace-ready STEM graduates over time.

Honda’s Computer Integrated Manufacturing Lab

Like IBM, Honda has developed a program that targets future workers. In the case of Honda, however, rather than set up stand-alone schools, like P-TECH, they have created a series of mobile labs designed to bring STEM education to students at schools in various locations. Their Computer Integrated Manufacturing Lab Program (CIMLP) has two components that both aim to support STEM education at the secondary level. First, there is a mobile laboratory that visits intermediate and high schools and other locations where young people congregate, which aims to encourage young people to enter technical fields. Second, the company is investing in permanent labs at career-tech facilities. While the mobile labs are primarily focused on recruiting students at a time in their lives when they are making key decisions about potential career paths, the permanent labs will be used to enhance training for students who are already committed to pursuing a STEM career. A key component of the Honda initiative is to expose students to possible careers in manufacturing. After all, when most young people think about manufacturing, they are still more likely to think about low-end assembly line jobs than highly skilled positions in fields such as robotics. It is precisely such misperceptions that Honda is invested in changing.

The advantages of the IMB and Honda approaches to training future workers are difficult to ignore. As opposed to hiring recent graduates who may or may not have the knowledge and skills required to work in the high-tech or manufacturing industries, these companies are recruiting and training future workers. The focus is on developing a highly skilled workforce from a young age rather than recruiting and training (or retraining) recent college and university graduates. In theory, developing a highly skilled workforce at a young age holds the potential to reduce the need for training and retraining workers down the line. After all, if the training needs of the private sector are taken into account in the secondary and postsecondary STEM curriculums, the time and cost currently dedicated to training recent graduates will be reduced and more importantly, there will be more highly skilled STEM graduates on the job market, increasing competition and competence on the job.