IBM Deepens Its Commitment to Social Justice by Increasing Work Opportunities for Graduates of Special STEM Program

By Trish Hall

IBM announced on July 20 that it is greatly expanding the number of internships and apprenticeship positions it reserves for U.S. students from the educational program called P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School). The program takes students tuition-free from ninth grade through an associate degree, providing technical skills and training in areas that employers are seeking. In a typical year, the company has about 150 interns from P-TECH. In the expansion, IBM will offer internships and other positions to 1,000 students and P-TECH graduates between now and the end of next year. They will have access to a range of experiences, from paid summer internships to apprenticeships to full-time jobs. IBM believes that progress in social justice and racial equality will come through education, skills and jobs. Creating opportunity at the educational level and creating experiences for students from underrepresented communities provides a bridge to employment. The company is trying to create more open and equitable pathways for all Americans, regardless of background, to acquire the skills and training that leads to good jobs.

Joel C. Mangan, IBM’s executive director for P-TECH, said the program gives underserved and underrepresented minority students access to tuition-free high school and STEM college qualifications in an effort to set them on good career paths. Its goal is to use STEM education to help break the cycle of poverty. But these students need more than training, he said; they need to understand how to flourish in the workplace and continue to develop their skills. Most important to him in the new internship commitment is its emphasis on creating pathways to success in the workplace.

P-TECH graduates tend to be younger than four-year college grads, he said, and unlike the graduates of top colleges that often land at IBM, they may not know how to reach out and navigate their careers and the continuous skills development they need in order to continue to grow and succeed at work.

“They need a lot more support to continue to build their skills,” he said. Graduates who join IBM as apprentices will be expected to spend much of the year learning about corporate culture and deepening their skills. He said he expected that at least 20 percent of their time would be dedicated to acquiring more skills. Also important, he said, will be having supportive managers who are coaching them and helping them grow.

Mangan, who was born in Cameroon and has worked for IBM for 16 years in four different countries, lives in Brooklyn, where the first P-TECH school was founded in the Crown Heights neighborhood.

“Programs like this are critical in a city like New York, where fewer than one in four students who enter ninth grade will earn a community college qualification within three years after high school,” Mangan said. And for young Black men, he notes, that number is even worse.

He admires the P-TECH program for choosing students through open enrollment mechanisms such as lotteries, rather than tests. Many P-TECH students are performing far below grade level when they start, he said. Through the program they are supported so they can earn their high school diploma and associate degrees within 6 years. The overwhelming majority of P-TECH students are Black or Hispanic.

A founding partner of P-TECH, IBM is showing its dedication to expanding work opportunities for those in the program, which in the U.S. operates in 11 states. The intensified commitment, Mangan said, will “demystify work and give them the courage to apply to companies like IBM.”