4 October 2017 | By Mark Wakefield Community

P-Tech: a new model of schooling

Current skills gaps will widen if education and training fails to keep pace with new technologies. We can all be part of the solution

Emerging technologies are changing the world of work – and in the UK we urgently need to adapt our models of schooling to respond to the rapidly changing employment landscape.

In medicine, we are already seeing cognitive computing being used to help doctors select treatments for patients from the huge amount of research now available, which no individual has the capacity to review and analyse, let alone apply. Artificial intelligence is set to bring similar opportunities to other sectors, such as law, retail and recruitment.

These changes are challenging what knowledge and skills are needed in the workplace. And many employers are already struggling to recruit the right people. Cyber security is an area where the skills gap is particularly acute. But it is just one high profile example.

The supply of young people emerging from our schools and universities with the necessary skills is a long way from being able to meet current, let alone future demand.

The solution shouldn’t just be about plugging the existing skills gap but creating a workforce with the skills to adapt in a workplace constantly transformed by technology.

Introducing P-TECH

One approach is to disrupt the qualifications and skills our state school system offers. In the US, many of the vacant technical roles relating to cyber security, cloud computing and software development do not require a degree. Companies such as IBM are starting to recruit people who hold an associate degree – a US qualification that sits between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree; a middle level qualification for middle level jobs, or what IBM calls “new collar” jobs.

We’ve also gone further and helped to set up “P-TECH” schools (Pathways to Early College High Schools). Students, aged 18, are now graduating from these with a high school diploma and an associate degree (equivalent to a Level 4 qualification such as a HNC or BTEC here in England) in, for example, engineering or computer systems technology.

Central to the P-TECH school model is a partnership between the school, business and further or higher education. The school’s business partner, in this case, IBM, plays a significant role in helping to shape the school’s curriculum so that professional skills development is embedded in subjects along with significant work-related learning opportunities.

IBM also provides every student with a mentor, to motivate and support them throughout their high school journey, and offers paid summer internships for students when they are ready.

Critically, P-TECH schools are non-selective and serve disadvantaged communities, promoting social mobility and ensuring that all students, regardless of their background, are given the opportunity to progress to work, apprenticeships or university. Young people attending P-Tech schools are very significantly outperforming their peers in just about every dimension – school attendance, academic attainment, technical education and, critically, what we here describe as “employability skills”.

The first P-TECH school was opened in Brooklyn, New York in 2011. Since then its success has seen the model scaled up, with the support and involvement of over 300 other employers. There are now 60 P-TECH schools operating across six US states, with a further 20 schools planned.

The model is also spreading internationally: it has been introduced to Australia, where there are currently two schools and another 12 in the pipeline; schools have recently opened in Morocco and are in plan for South Africa; and there are advanced discussions with ministries of education in several other countries.

Call to action for UK business

We believe that the P-TECH school model can and should be part of the solution for addressing the skills gaps in the UK too. IBM in the UK is currently working with education stakeholders – the government, multi-academy trusts, FE providers and employers – to adapt the model to fit the UK’s 11-18 year-old secondary school system.

But for the model to have real impact and drive systemic reform it requires more businesses to join the mission to address the skills gap by adding value to secondary education. 

We are seeking other employers who share these concerns, and more importantly, are committed to addressing those concerns through action.

If you would either like to learn more about the P-Tech model or want to participate in the initiative through your organisations, please contact Mark Wakefield at IBM:

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