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IBM Canada is addressing ‘skill security’ by giving universities and colleges a class-ready curriculum

Lila Adamec on IBM Canada’s working relationship with higher education, and how the custom offering has delivered 3,000 microcredentials since 2018.

class-ready-curriculum
Photo by Desola Lanre-Ologun on Unsplash
Photo by Desola Lanre-Ologun on Unsplash

Everywhere you turn, in nearly every industry, there are labour challenges. 

In manufacturing 82% of businesses are looking for help, and for the first time since 2015 there are more jobs available than there are people.

In Ontario the Chamber of Commerce reports that 60% of its members are having trouble filling roles in health care, retail, construction, tourism, and financial services.

And despite recent layoffs with technology companies, a 2021 Information and Communications Technology Council report forecasts 11% of all employment in Canada will be in the digital economy by 2025, requiring 250,000 more people to fill roles.

Labour shortages are being fuelled by a growing number of people retiring, combined with a decline in immigration during the pandemic. The problem is exacerbated by a mismatch between available jobs and skills. Digital transformation — especially the rush to digital-first initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic — has meant that technology and related jobs are in high-demand. A whopping 80% of businesses surveyed by KPMG say they need more workers with digital skills. 

So where does one look to help fix the talent shortage and skills gap? 

Education.

“Upskilling, reskilling, and teaching students digital and technical skills is going to be a critical step in meeting growing demand in Canada,” says Lila Adamec, Leader of Academic Integration and Innovation at IBM Canada Lab. “Young students have a huge opportunity to help lead a new digital generation, and many skilled people already in the workforce can look to have their skills upgraded to learn more about cloud, or AI, or analytics, for example.”

Photo courtesy Lila Adamec

Adamec has been working on this problem for years. 

In 2017 she developed a program at IBM to address this skills gap. The approach her team took was to deliver turnkey curriculum solutions to universities across Canada. Essentially a “complete curriculum solution” as Adamec calls it, IBM provides higher-ed institutions with a complete toolkit, including curriculum material, access to IBM’s enterprise software, tests, and microcredentials. The curriculum is designed to address skills gaps commonly found in the tech sector by delivering and providing learners with “skill security.”

“With the gig economy, skill security is important, so that you can move from one gig to the next,” Adamec says. “Or if you need to upskill in an area or level up your education, and quickly get the skills you need. So much of this is becoming an agile service offering.”

With this solution, everyone wins: students get upskilling potential, and colleges and universities meet academic criteria with a curriculum that’s approved by government ministries and professional associations.

Adamec rolled out the Learn@IBM program in 2018, and since then it’s been adopted by dozens of institutions including York University, Mohawk College, Bow Valley College, SAIT, NAIT, Holland College, and Vanier College, to name a few. Classes are often filled to capacity or over-subscribed, and students credit the courses for helping them land their dream jobs.

Since its rollout, Adamec says IBM Canada has delivered more than 3,000 microcredentials to students who have taken their courses.

Meeting the needs of higher education

The education space has undergone a radical transformation in the last five years. First because of evolving student needs and increased demand for newer tech-focused curriculum, then because the pandemic forced a rethink of how and where people attend post-secondary institutions.

While the hybrid classroom is now more commonplace, colleges and universities still face pressure to deliver curriculum that is in line with what students need in today’s workforce, and that is a real challenge.

This stems from the fact that a university or college course needs to be approved by a government ministry, which can take years. The process typically requires at least one full-time person to prepare a curriculum for ministry approval, and it can cost more than $1 million per course when all is said and done. As a result, some colleges and university programs opt for a standardized approach so students achieve a minimum set of skills that correspond to the industry or sector. 

It’s no wonder that many professors will teach the same material, without extensive updates, for 5-7 years.

When Adamec designed the Learn@IBM program, she knew it had to meet ministry approval, it needed to provide students with real-world skills that are current, and it had to be done faster and cheaper than traditional means.

Adamec and her team positioned IBM to be more of a business partner than just a solutions provider. With on-staff personnel who develop course curriculum for higher ed, academic partners don’t need to bear the cost or burden of full-time staff to manage curriculum development. And because IBM has a team of technical experts, the enterprise-level software offering can be paired with curriculum to deliver a cutting-edge, up-to-date learning experience.

These academic solutions are updated frequently, and delivered to universities at a huge cost savings, functioning more like a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering. By flipping the standard, slower model of curriculum development on its head, Adamec and her team deliver subscription-based, digital solutions that’ll help schools and learners better access tech skills to fill a desperate workforce need.

Bringing the classroom to WeaveSphere

With huge success across the Canadian academic landscape, Adamec will bring the Learn@IBM experience to the WeaveSphere technology conference happening in November.

Attracting industry leaders, academics and developers, WeaveSphere is an innovation event taking place Nov 15-17 in Toronto. 

As part of the conference’s Education Day, developed by Adamec, high school, undergraduate, and graduate students will have the opportunity to participate in a full day bootcamp on Design Thinking, a problem-solving methodology that first identifies the end result and stakeholders. Even more, students will earn an IBM MyLearning microcredential at the end of the course. The course will be open twice, with 80 spots each session.

“We are excited about giving students and academics the opportunity to weave ideas and research with challenges of the business world,” says Adamec. “With Enterprise Design Thinking, everyone is welcome to the problem-solving table and we find these moments are incredible opportunities for young people to engage with, and learn from people in the workforce.”

The WeaveSphere Education Day and IBM’s Design Thinking course allows students to leverage a valuable learning experience that’ll give them a leg up in both their professional and personal lives. 

“It’s the type of course that is open to all learning disciplines,” she elaborates. “Whether you’re in finance, liberal arts, tech, engineering, medicine — whatever you’re studying, you don’t have to be an IT guru to do Design Thinking.”

And it’s these opportunities that make WeaveSphere an impactful experience for students. The opportunity to ‘weave’ with and learn from experts and industry leaders is, simply put, unforgettable. 

As student and passionate “weaver” Ali Hamdy explained, “it was cool having a voice among people who are way more experienced than me and way more educated than me. And it was cool for them to actually sit down and listen to me and respond.”

Interested in earning a Design Thinking microcredential? Visit WeaveSphere for more information and to register for Education Day.


Digital Journal is an official media partner for WeaveSphere. We will share updates leading up to the event, and we’ll be live on location from November 15-17,2022. Join us and get your tickets at weavesphere.co.

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