Former IBM CEO underestimates the importance of a college degree

A four-year bachelor’s degree has long been the first step up the US corporate ladder.

But the move to prioritize skills over higher education is widespread some of America’s largest companiesconsists of Google, EY, Microsoftand Apple. Strong advocates say the change helps break down unnecessary barriers to diversity in the workplace.

“I truly believe that an inclusively diverse workforce is better for your company, it’s good for business,” said Ginni Rometty, former IBM CEO, told Fortune Media CEO Alan Murray during a panel last month on Fortune Connect, Fortune’s executive education community. “It’s not just altruism.”

Under Rometty’s leadership in 2016, tech giant IBM coined the term “New Collar Work” related to roles that require a specific skill set rather than a four-year degree. It was a personal commitment to Rometty, one close to home for the 40-year IBM veteran.

When Rometty was 16, her father left the family, leaving her mother, who had never worked a day in her life, suddenly in a position of support.

“She had four kids and hadn’t finished high school, and she had to get a job to… get us out of this downward spiral,” Rometty told Murray. “What I see there is that my mother is gifted; She’s not dumb, she just doesn’t have access, and that’s forever in my mind. “

When Rometty became CEO in 2012 after the Great Recession, the unemployment rate in the US fluctuating around 8%. Despite the plethora of applicants, she struggled to find employees with training in the specific area of ​​cybersecurity she was looking for.

“I realized I couldn’t hire them, so I had to start building them,” she said.

Children ‘can work’

In 2011, IBM released a corporate social responsibility efforts called Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), in Brooklyn. Since then, it has been expanded to 11 states in the United States and 28 countries.

Through P-TECH, Rometty visited “a very poor high school in a dingy neighborhood” that received corporate support, as well as a community college where they are helping with the curriculum. technology-based teaching and practice.

“That’s it! These kids can do the job. I don’t have [applicants with] college degree, so I learned that the tendency to learn is more important than just having a degree,” says Rometty.

Realizing that the students were perfectly capable of performing the tasks IBM needed, Rometty turned Rometty back to the drawing board when it came to IBM’s own application workflow and audience. She said that at the time, 95% of jobs at IBM required a four-year degree. As of January 2021, less than half remain and the company is continuing to reevaluate its role.

For jobs that no longer require a degree and are instead based on skill and a willingness to learn, IBM has consistently hired PhD holders from the best Ivy League schools, Rometty told Murray. But the data shows that people without degrees are also hired for the same jobs done. “They were more loyal, their retention rates were higher, and many went on to earn their college degrees,” she said.

Rometty has since become co-chair of OneTen, a civic organization committed to recruiting, promoting, and advancing the one million uneducated Black individuals four years into the next ten years.

If a college degree no longer becomes mandatory for white-collar jobs, many other qualifications – skills that cannot be easily taught in a training program, apprenticeship or in the first month of work – can also become available. died, University of Virginia Professor Sean Martin of the Darden School of Business told Luck last year.

“Companies themselves are missing out on people that research shows…maybe less empowered, more culturally savvy, more eager to be there,” says Martin. Instead of pedigree, he added, hiring managers should look for motivation.

That is certainly the case with IBM. As the company expands, says Rometty, the tendency to learn quickly becomes a more important hiring factor than just a degree.

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