Photo credit: Jennifer Burgess, IBM

A tech icon vaults entry-level hires into bigger roles


IBM’s focus on training helps prepare young workers for better jobs, even if some of those positions are at other companies.

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IBM has a long history of training the workforce of the future. In the 1940s, it collaborated with Columbia University to lay the groundwork for what would become the modern field of computer science. More recently, IBM co-created an open education model called P-TECH that’s centered on generating opportunities for high school students in science and technology. What started as a single Brooklyn campus now spans more than 300 schools on six continents and includes over 600 industry partners.

Skills-based hiring is certainly not unique to IBM. But few are doing it at such scale. The company employs more than 250,000 people around the globe and hired tens of thousands of employees in 2021 alone. And once candidates get in the door, the company continues its commitment to skills development, inevitably increasing the value of its employees in the process.

“We’ve removed the college requirement from 50 percent of our jobs. As recently as a decade ago, it was more like 10 or 20 percent, and those jobs were largely in manufacturing,” says IBM chief human resources officer Nickle LaMoreaux. Now, many positions that were long ruled by college graduates, like software development, have been democratized. “Why do I care if you learned Python at a four-year prestigious college or took classes at a community college, or in the military, or if you taught yourself in your basement? I don’t.”

“A lot of people say, ‘Aren’t you training your competition?’” LaMoreaux says. “Maybe. But we’re also training future IBMers.” – Nickle LaMoreaux, Chief Human Resources Officer, IBM

This overarching commitment to workforce training has made IBM a Top 50 Career Launchpad firm on the 2022 American Opportunity Index, which measures how well the 250 largest U.S. public companies are doing at creating economic mobility for their workers. The Index draws on the real-world outcomes of employees in roles open to non-college graduates.

The Career Launchpad category recognizes firms that excel at hiring entry-level workers and providing a stepping stone for workers who leave. Many firms have business models with limited opportunities for entry-level workers to advance internally. Career Launchpad leaders provide their entry-level workers with skills development and professional experience so that when those workers move on to their next job, they wind up moving to a higher-level job, often with better pay. This represents an incredibly important metric for any ambitious job seeker to consider.

Several technology firms are among the Career Launchpad leaders, including Adobe, Apple, CDW, Oracle, and Salesforce. There’s also a solid contingent of wholesalers (Arrow Electronics, Avnet, Energy Transfer, Kinder Morgan, Marathon Petroleum, US Foods, and Wesco International), materials and chemical manufacturers (Builders FirstSource, Nucor, PPG Industries, and U.S. Steel), as well as retailers (BJ’s Wholesale Club, Lowe’s, and Rite Aid).

At IBM, the commitment to skills development goes beyond working with and advancing outside initiatives. The company also offers apprenticeship programs in cloud, cybersecurity, and software development, all of which allow candidates to earn while they learn, and has an extensive paid internship program. Last year, 90 percent of the apprenticeship graduates got a full-time job offer with IBM. The company offers a free, digital learning program called IBM SkillsBuild, which is available to everyone—be they IBMers, candidates, or the ranks of competitors.

LaMoreaux fully understands how some might view the company’s philosophy on skills development as somewhat self-defeating. The risk of providing free education to the masses is that they’ll get a job somewhere else. The risk of continually increasing the skills of existing employees is that they’ll be highly valued in the marketplace and get poached. But IBM—a company that’s been around for more than 110 years—is known for taking the long view.

“A lot of people say, ‘Aren’t you training your competition?’” LaMoreaux says. “Maybe. But we’re also training future IBMers. If talent is coming here because they know they can keep current on the future of technology, that’s a wonderful thing. For those who want to use their skills as a launchpad, well, we hope they stay in the ecosystem as clients and partners—or even potentially come back as boomerang hires.”

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