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Strengthening the Future Workforce and Creating a Model for Innovation through Tri-Sector Partnerships

The EvoLLLution | Strengthening the Future Workforce and Creating a Model for Innovation through Tri-Sector Partnerships
Taking the lead to launch the PTECH school as part of a Tri-Sector partnership has helped to close the skills gap, improving IBM’s chances of developing a strong future workforce, while building its strong brand identity in the process.

The skills gap—the barrier that stands between the jobs that are available and unemployed members of the labor market—is widening daily. Many employers have blamed higher education leaders for this phenomenon, a central theme to many critiques of postsecondary education, but few employers have taken the lead to help address this concern. In 2010, though, IBM partnered with the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York and New York City College of Technology to launch Pathways in Technology Early College High School (PTECH). The school enables students to begin their college and professional lives more quickly with a great deal of support, and students have the opportunity to earn their associate’s degrees while pursuing their high school diploma. In this interview, Stanley Litow, reflects on the factors that lead to the launch of PTECH and shares some insights on what it takes to create a Tri-Sector partnership that truly spurs innovation.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What factors led to the launch of the PTECH School?

Stanley Litow (SL): The skills gap in the US is one of the most critical problems standing as a roadblock to advancing US competitiveness. It is impacting IBM and so many of our clients and it desperately needs a creative solution. We can’t sit back and wait. We must forge public-private partnerships to address this issue.

While contemplating a range of options, IBM was approached by the Mayor and Chancellor of Schools in New York City for a creative way to address this issue in NYC. We told them that a high school diploma is not going to connect graduates to 21st century jobs in a knowledge economy and therefore we asked if they would be open to innovation.

When they responded positively, we conceived the design for a grade 9 to 14 school with a career pathway that would connect school to college to career.

Evo: What were a few of the most significant challenges you and your colleagues faced in making the school a reality and a success?

SL: We were never about beginning one school. We were out to build a model that would go to scale across districts and states as well as globally.

Among the challenges were establishing an innovative model within the existing per-pupil expenditure that would have no institutional regulatory or legislative barriers to make replication possible.

We also needed top level buy-in from all key political leaders and support on the local level from local elected officials and key stakeholders. Finally, we needed to find the right on-the-ground leader to work closely with us to implement this innovative model and help bring it to scale.

Evo: What are a few of the advantages IBM gains from its investment and its support of PTECH?

SL: IBM has benefitted enormously from the global recognition we have received as a result of creating the PTECH movement.

First and foremost, we have aligned the results with our overall brand around innovation, transformation and the ability to not only address but also solve critical problems.

Secondly, we have positioned this successfully and received strong support on other issues from key government leaders that has impacted our bottom line, from the President, governors, mayors, prime ministers and so on.

Finally, PTECH has earned IBM interest and support from our clients and enormous amounts of free media coverage around the world.

Evo: How reliant is the success of the PTECH model on its partnerships not just with IBM, but with nearby, high-quality postsecondary institutions as well?

SL: PTECH is an innovative model for transforming schools, but it also includes a governance model that supports cross-sector collaboration and partnerships that allow us to effectively solve one of the world’s most pressing problems: the link from school to career.

In individual schools, cities and states we created a decision-making model including all the key stakeholders, with a clear governance model that allows it to be successful. This includes making sure all the key participants—business, K-12, higher education and government—are equally represented, get their needs met, identify and obtain clear and measurable benefits and are able to adjust to meet the needs of others.

Public private partnerships and Tri Sector partnerships will not be successful without such a clear shared governance model.

Evo: How do you see the PTECH model continuing to grow and expand in the future?

SL: Public-private partnerships—or Tri-Sector Partnerships—can be successful but most are not. Mistakenly, they focus on creating a model or island of excellence and perhaps naively trust that replication will happen organically. There is no evidence in education that this is true and most efforts from philanthropic groups or businesses have not been successful for this reason.

To get around this we have built into the design of PTECH the core elements that will lead to success and broad national and global replication. First, we built an innovative model that addresses the core problems. Second, we designed it with little to no barriers to replication. Third, we identified clear metrics of success. Fourth, we built into the design revisions to address issues before they turned into problems. Finally, fifth and most importantly, we built into the effort an in-depth understanding of the core barriers that would inhibit expansion and scale.

This is why PTECH has expanded so rapidly and continues to expand.

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