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SUNY Ulster, IBM Partner For New Collar Initiative


A community college in the Hudson Valley is the latest to join an IBM partnership that aims to prepare students for jobs that require high tech skills but not necessarily four-year degrees and other credentials. IBM’s initiative is an effort to steer individuals toward open technology jobs it struggles to fill.

SUNY Ulster is joining with IBM for the company’s “New Collar” career partnership. The school is one of the newest community colleges in IBM’s initiative. John Sheehan is coordinator of SUNY Ulster’s Computer Science program and is working with an IBM manager in Poughkeepsie on how the “New Collar” partnership with SUNY Ulster will take shape.

“And we’re just starting to brainstorm things that we might be able to do right here in the Hudson Valley to specifically help his site in Poughkeepsie, which has traditionally been an area where they do a lot of software development for mainframe computers, still do,” Sheehan says. “And they’re looking for skills that they’re having a hard time filling and so, in our case, I think we’re looking at potentially a specialized program here at SUNY Ulster for those rather unique skills that sites like IBM Poughkeepsie need.”

An IBM spokesperson, in an emailed statement, says, "It's very early in our partnership with SUNY Ulster so we are still working out the details, but we look forward to working with them and other community colleges across the country to ensure industry-ready skills for their graduates.”

New collar jobs fall between white collar and blue collar jobs. For 2016, IBM reports that New Collar professionals accounted for around 15 percent of the company’s U.S. hiring. At any given time, IBM has thousands of job openings because there are not enough candidates with the right skill sets. Again, Sheehan.

“And IBM developed a lot of very specialized technical skills that they need for their mainframe computer development and they’re finding what we’re learning is it’s been difficult to attract young millennial students fresh out of college with technical degrees to do these kinds of technical jobs,” Sheehan says. “They may not seem as exciting and interesting as a lot of the jobs that students get when they come out of college now in technology, but they’re great paying jobs and they’re vitally needed, and it could be a really good thing for the economy here in Ulster County and in the Hudson Valley to offer skills and programs here in our program that directly transfer to jobs at IBM.”

IBM wants to bring in people with non-traditional backgrounds, who built skills through coding camps, community colleges or other programs like P-TECH. Sheehan sees SUNY Ulster’s new partnership with IBM as dedicated to building skills to meet ever-evolving technological trends, steering Ulster students into apprenticeship opportunities and well-paying jobs. And he sees the “New Collar” initiative as part of local tech developments.

“Particularly for students in the Hudson Valley of any age who are interested in careers in technology like computer programming, engineering, I think the message that I would like to pass on is there’s some interesting things going on around here that not everybody knows about. There’s small enclaves of software startups in areas like Kingston and Poughkeepsie. We still have the big corporate giants like IBM.” Sheehan says. “And there’s a lot of people who were in technical positions, and maybe they’re freelance web developers and things like that, and we do periodically have meetups, in Kingston, often. And so the word is there’s an opportunity to make the Hudson Valley a mini Silicon Valley of the East, and that’s a vision I think a lot of us in this area have.”

In a June 2017 announcement about expanding its New Collar community college partnerships, IBM says, in addition to collaborating on curricula design for next generation IT skills, it will work with community colleges near its major U.S. facilities to offer more local students the opportunity to participate in internships and apprenticeships within the company, as well as direct hiring for IBM careers. Sheehan, who was a project manager and engineer for eight years at IBM, says a core knowledge in computer programming with added skills is marketable. IBM already has “New Collar” partnerships with SUNY Orange and Dutchess Community College. Sheehan says discussion continues about when to roll out programs for the “New Collar” initiative. He hopes to do so in the fall, at least on a pilot program basis.

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