IBM is partnering with universities and adapting its own employee development models to ensure the availability of a new type of professional—what it calls a “T-shaped person” or an interdisciplinary generalist, rather than a narrowly-focused specialist.
My October 5, 2009 blog, Technology Vendors‘ Roles in Addressing the College Conundrum, assessed some of the primary changes that colleges and universities must undergo to help prepare their students to find and to succeed in the knowledge jobs of the 21st century. It explained the critical roles the private sector can play in helping colleges make these changes and why IT vendors are particularly well suited to help.
My July 27, 2009 blog, How IBM is Helping Universities Develop 21st Century Workforces, provided a high-level overview of IBM’s Academic Initiative and Global University program. I recently completed a deeper examination of IBM’s initiative and wrote a more detailed report (IBM’s Effort to Create the Workforce of the Future) that explained these programs within the context of IBM’s employee development program. In this report, I spelled out the benefits the programs will deliver to universities, students, IBM partners and customers—and to IBM itself. The entire report is available for purchase on my web site. To whet your appetite, here’s a summary of the report’s primary findings.
IBM has been one of the leaders in partnering with universities and other organizations to ensure the availability of the type of IT professionals required to build, run and optimize the types of IT infrastructures and solutions that have become the foundations of 20th century organizations. While it is continuing with these efforts, it is now focusing its primary efforts on partnering with universities and adapting its own employee development models to ensure the availability of a new type of professional—what it calls a “T-shaped person”.
These T-shape people, whether IT professionals, business professionals or public service professionals, must be interdisciplinary generalists, rather than narrowly-focused specialists. Although they must certainly have deep skills in specialty (the vertical axis of the T), they must also have sufficient understanding of a broad range of related disciplines (the horizontal axis) to allow them to see contextual linkages, to constructively participate in interdisciplinary teams and to continually adapt their visions and their contributions to rapidly changing conditions and needs. But whatever the individual’s specialty (whether IT, business, scientific or any other field) all must understand how to apply IT tools to the needs of their profession.
Therefore, IBM is adapting how it works with universities to leverage its traditional relationships with IS, engineering and business departments, into all types of disciplines, from psychology, through public affairs through medicine. These new relationships are multi-faceted, including everything from help in designing courses and curricula; providing required hardware and software; funding research, scholarships and internships; and helping to create interdisciplinary research centers that bring together academics, businesses and government officials to address gnarly problems in areas including transportation, energy, food safety and environment.
IBM’s initial goal in creating T-shaped professionals and research centers is to feed the company’s own need for qualified people. It selects future employees from among this expanded pool of graduates and is adapting the company’s internal employee development programs to transform these interdisciplinary graduates into solution-focused professionals who can proceed through any of five broad career paths.
But if these efforts go as anticipated, they will accomplish much more. They will help promote independent research that is aligned around IBM’s primary market objectives, provide solution-focused employees for IBM customers and partners and ideally inspire a new generation of students to understand how they can use IT (ideally IBM’s IT) to bring new value to their own fields. Ideally, many of these fields will align with the rapidly expanding sets of market needs being addressed under IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative. It can, in other words, be a win-win proposition, helping everybody, with the exception of IBM’s competitors.