IBM wants to hire applicants without college degrees. A senior vice president shares what he looks for in future employees.

  • Obed Louissaint, SVP of Transformation & Culture, recently spoke with Insider about the company's efforts to create a more inclusive workplace through jobs that don't require traditional four-year college degrees.
  • IBM states that nearly 50% of its requisitions don't require a bachelor's degree. Of the company's new hires, 15% are employed specifically to fill these "new collar" roles.
  • Louissaint encourages applicants of all backgrounds to still show curiosity for tech through bootcamps, certificate programs, and online badging programs like Codecademy, EdX, and Harvard Online Learning.
  • Last week, former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and Merck CEO Ken Frazier announced an initiative that has already raised $100 million in funding to help hire and train Black workers without four-year college degrees.
  • IBM is also proactively developing diverse talent through their P-TECH program which helps students in under-served communities earn high school diplomas, associate degrees, and paid internships within six years or less, at no cost to the student.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

If you thought that obtaining a bachelor's degree was the only pathway to a career at a big tech company, think again.

Obed Louissaint, Senior Vice President of Transformation & Culture at IBM, recently spoke with Business Insider about the company's efforts to create a more inclusive workplace through "new collar" jobs.

Coined by IBM in 2016, new collar positions do not require four-year college degrees or other resume hallmarks that are traditionally necessary to gain employment in the tech industry.

Instead, IBM hires diverse applicants who possess transferrable skills for roles such as application developer, systems administrator, software developer, and cyber security specialist.

The hope is that the company will tap into the broadest talent pool possible and make the workforce more diverse and inclusive.

Just over 33% of American citizens have a college degree, according to the Census Bureau. This percentile does include individuals who are retired, thus lowering the number of active college graduates in the workforce.

Although fewer men and women are pursuing traditional post-secondary education, more than 60% of job openings still require applicants to have an education beyond the high-school level.

Read more: A 32-year-old software engineer went through a 'super stressful' interview process at Amazon — but turned down the $167,006 offer. Here's how she decided other things were more important than money, without burning any bridges.

IBM recognizes that many applicants can still perform essential roles despite the fact that they are not college graduates.

In response to the continued changes in the workforce, IBM states that nearly 50% of its requisitions do not require a bachelor's degree. Of the company's new hires, 15% are employed specifically to fill "new collar" roles.

"When we look at the number of open tech jobs in the marketplace, we know that they stay unfilled. We have to find new sources of talent to manage through the dilemma of an unemployed workforce and an unfulfilled demand in the workspace."

The National Center for Education Statistics projects that nearly 20 million students will return to college or university in the United States during the Fall 2020 semester. Compared to enrollment numbers in 2010, current enrollment is expected to drop by six percent. 

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic threatens to increase college dropout rates and decrease future enrollment rates as young professionals struggle to overcome extreme financial challenges presented by the pandemic. Thankfully, those aspiring to work for IBM can still achieve their goal no matter their current occupational or educational status.

Louissaint says that many current new collar employees have surprising backgrounds.

An Army veteran who taught elementary school in Asia sought to reinvent herself with a career in tech. Her certification in cybersecurity from a community college, coupled with her global perspective and "negotiation skills" required for managing children earned her a role as a cybersecurity responder. 

He offers another example that's equally diverse: Tony was a barista at a coffee shop that served IBM employees. After indicating his curiosity for technology, he took advantage of IBM's new collar apprenticeships, which became his pathway to becoming a software developer with the company. IBM's directive echoes that of Apple, Google, and other prominent tech companies not requiring incoming employees to have four-year degrees. 

The tech firm is also proactively developing diverse talent through their P-TECH program which helps students in under-served communities earn high school diplomas, associate degrees, and a paid internships at IBM within six years or less, at no cost to the student.

Read more: I'm a Google recruiter who's interviewed thousands of candidates at top tech companies. I wish more job seekers knew these 4 things about the interview and hiring process.

Louissaint encourages applicants of all backgrounds to show their curiosity for tech through some sort of self-learning.

Developing a practical technology skillset through self-paced learning, bootcamps, certificate programs, and online badging programs are key to building a pathway to new collar employment with IBM. 

Aspiring applicants can build these tech skillsets from home through programs offering free courses such as Codecademy, EdX, and Harvard Online Learning. 

"I can't underscore enough the importance of curiosity and continuous learning," Louissaint reiterates. "That's what we look for in people who want to help reinvent IBM for another 109 years."

Get the latest IBM stock price here.

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