IT Skills Gap Series

How to Close the Technology Skills Gap

In the final installment of CIO.com's three-part look at the technology skills gap in America, Gary Beach offers 12 examples how companies are bridging the gap with innovative programs. He also offers suggestions for what you can do to build the next generation of IT pros.

The first two articles in this series on the technology skills gap focused on numbers. Lots of numbers. Numbers of Americans unemployed and underemployed. Numbers of open jobs that firms cannot fill because they claim applicants do not have the needed skills. And the shocking numbers earned by American students in international assessment examinations that rank them 32nd in the world in mathematics and 22nd in science. Not a beneficial return on investment for another stunning number: the $600 billion American taxpayers spend annually on public education in the United States.

In Part 3 of our series discussing the technology skills gap, Gary Beach chats about what companies can do to bridge the gap between employees and the necessary skills needed to compete.

But this final segment of the series will shove aside numbers to focus on "people." People who have crafted innovative public/private partnerships that are demonstratively closing the science and math skills gap in America.

I write about these human efforts in my book, "Let's Build Some Arks." The title was borrowed from a story I read about Louis V. Gerstner,Jr., the former chairman and CEO of IBM. When Gerstner joined the company from RJR/Nabisco in 1993, IBM was in a state of disarray.

Wall Street analysts pleaded with Gerstner to split up the company. But the new CEO ignored those calls and instead met with thousands of IBM employees asking for their advice on how to keep the company whole with these words: "no points for predicting rain, points only earned for building arks." Gerstner wanted solutions and he got them as he revitalized an American business icon.

What follows are 12 examples of "arks." That is, extraordinary public/private partnerships aimed at helping the United States bridge the skills gap our nation faces.

1. AT&T Aspire Foundation

Randall Stephenson became CEO of AT&T in June 2007. One of his first mandates was to add 5,000 U-Verse installers. (U-Verse is AT&T's cable/Internet/phone offering). There was only one problem. He couldn't find enough skilled workers to do the job and that frustration led Stephenson to start the AT&T Aspire Foundation that provides education grants to high school seniors and challenges AT&T employees to "be remarkable, be memorable&.be a mentor." The AT&T Aspire Mentoring Academy has a goal of donating 1 million employee mentoring hours by 2016.

2. Broadcom MASTERS Program

The Broadcom MASTERS program (MASTERS stands for Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars), launched in 2010, is an innovative initiative with one goal: to inspire thousands of middle school students each year to consider future careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

The MASTERS program is a yearlong competition, in partnership with the Society for Science and the Public, among students across the nation. I had the opportunity to speak with several students who competed in the Broadcom MASTERS program. I wanted to get from them how the program changed their perspective on science and math.

One student summed up the value of the program well with these words, "my ideas about going into a scientific field of work were cemented. My MASTERS experience sealed the deal for me."

Another reason I like the MASTERS initiative is because it does such a good job at emphasizing the importance of other skills - like collaboration, communication and creativity - in the education process.

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