Why the Senate Must Act on Education

By Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President & CEO, IBM

October 24, 2016

Preparing American students for 21st century jobs


The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act has long played a powerful role in supporting the career and technical education programs so vital to preparing American students for promising, high-wage careers. But today, it supports too many programs that prepare students for jobs that are either low-wage or far less in demand.

That is why we at IBM, together with hundreds of businesses, labor associations, civil rights groups, and educators, strongly back efforts to modernize the Perkins Act and applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for passing reauthorization of this legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support. By passing this much-needed reform and modernization bill, the House has taken an important step toward realigning training with work. We urge the U.S. Senate to embrace this spirit and move quickly to send this important bill to the President’s desk.

As part of this effort, we have played a leading role in creating and launching Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH), which represent a new vision for public education in America. In this new model, schools span grades 9 to 14 and operate within existing state budgets, integrating the best elements of high school, college, and career training, along with experiential learning by combining rigorous academics with a career focus. We are particularly proud of the fact that P-TECH students are admitted with no special tests or requirements, receive paid internships and are paired with mentors from the business community.

In just six years, students — many from traditionally underserved communities — graduate with an associate degree applicable to STEM careers with a solid future, such as engineering, information technology and applied science. The P-TECH curriculum is mapped to the job skills needed at companies like IBM. Our industry partners in this endeavor, having interacted with students for years, feel comfortable putting them “at the head of the line” when they apply for available jobs after graduation. For our part, IBM offers mentorships and paid internships as well as the commitment that successful graduates are first in line for available jobs.

This model, which is building national and international momentum, was designed to be both widely replicable and sustainable. In our view, these are just the sorts of programs we think the Perkins Act will soon be well positioned to support on a national level.

America’s workforce must be equipped with the skills high-tech employers are looking for, particularly in the STEM areas. We must align education and training with the evolving needs of the American economy to close the skills gap, connect high schools with post-secondary education, create quality jobs, boost productivity and prepare our nation’s youth to succeed in a new era of technology.

The opportunity before the Senate is to make innovative programs like P-TECH the rule, not the exception, in U.S. education. Only leaders on Capitol Hill can make that happen. Once again, we call on the Senate to move with all due speed, and put Perkins Act legislation on the President’s desk.