16th November marked an important moment for Ireland’s education system, and for the community in Dublin’s north east inner city, as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, announced pilots of the P-TECH model in three local schools.
Ireland is the first country in Europe to adopt the P-TECH school model. First established by IBM and local educators in Brooklyn, New York, P-TECH (Pathways in Technology) aims to give students in underserved communities a career pathway in the digital economy. It combines second-level school with elements of third-level education and workplace experience with industry partners. The aim is that P-TECH graduates can earn a third-level qualification along with the skills required to enter the workforce, without necessarily having to spend four years at university. P-TECH students who have achieved the educational goals will be first in line for consideration for suitable jobs with the industry partners. Importantly, there is open enrollment, with no exam or entrance requirements, and it is free of charge to students and their families.
IBM launched P-TECH as a direct response to the dual challenge of skills shortages and educational disadvantage. The jobs market is being transformed by technology — the European Commission estimates that in the EU in 2020, the gap between the demand and supply of ICT specialists will be around 500,000. In Ireland alone, the 2018 FIT ICT Skills Audit identified more than 12,000 vacancies across entry, competent and expert levels. This gap affects not only the tech sector but businesses across all sectors as they digitize.
Our belief is that many of these jobs, in areas such as cloud computing, cybersecurity, and digital design, do not necessarily require a four-year degree. Apprenticeships and innovative models like P-TECH that combine second and third level education with applied workplace skills can be an effective route into such careers, and a route that is more attractive to a diversity of students.
While successful in the US (in 110 schools) and in four other countries, P-TECH is not a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, in Ireland, we have spent considerable time working with the Department of Education and Skills and the initial school and college partners to shape a pilot programme that fits with Ireland’s education system. More detailed work will take place over the coming months before the first Irish P-TECH students start in September 2019.
The Dublin pilot involves a broad range of partners: three schools (Larkin Community College, Marino College and St. Joseph’s CBS); the National College of Ireland as the third-level partner; Cisco, Irish Life, Irish Water, and Virgin Media, together with IBM, as the industry partners; as well as the North East Inner City Programme Implementation Board, and the Department of Education and Skills. The involvement of businesses is a crucial element of P-TECH. They provide one-to-one mentoring for the students, workplace learning, worksite visits, speakers, project days, and paid internships.
Tackling educational disadvantage and the skills gap is a tall order – requiring a change in mindset, a vision, and hard work from all those involved: governments, businesses, school administrations, teachers, and not least the students themselves. The outcomes for graduating students from the first US schools is very encouraging, for example with on-time graduation rates four times the national average. Achieving similar results in the Irish context is an outcome really worth working for and IBM is proud to be working with all the partners in the Dublin pilot, and with the Irish Government to achieve that.