The technology sector is New Zealand’s third biggest exporter and faster growing industry with companies crying out for IT graduates. Global technology company IBM has developed a free combined high school and college education programme in America called P-Tech to address the global skills gap and transform the education system for the technological age, with an eye to develop a P-Tech programme here in New Zealand.

Education was identified as the major barrier to AI adoption in a report released by the AI forum New Zealand on May 2.  While countries such as Canada, UK and Singapore all have national AI investment strategies, New Zealand’s implementation of AI has been slow, despite the potential for it to increase New Zealand’s GDP by $54 billion by 2035.

“AI technology has now moved from science-fiction movies into the mainstream,” IBM New Zealand’s David Raper says.

“There are shortages in the hundreds of thousands of millions of people globally who are able to work with block chains, that are able to work with AI and there’s so much opportunity there for people with the skills to be accessing the employment and creating opportunities that these new technologies bring to bear.”

He said education is no longer about getting “the piece of paper” but having the skills available to match the new wave of jobs coming through. These “new collar job” are typically in the STEM fields and at a “middle-skill level”– an associate degree or two-year diploma. By 2024 about 50 per cent of the jobs created will be at the middle skill level but the education system is not producing these type of graduates, Raper said.

“If you’re a manufacturing company, a generation ago you would have been working on the line working on cars – now what you need in that sort of job is Excel to be monitored and to be finding problems and trouble-shooting those problems,” he said.

“What we’re seeing now is IT is not just for IT firms anymore – every company is becoming an IT business.”

Students at P-Tech complete both the high school requirements and an associate diploma in applied science in computer sciences in a combined 6-year programme. They have a mentor throughout their time at the school and gain industry experience with a paid internship opportunity available in their third year.

The course is free, and requires no admission test with a focus on supporting underrepresented and disadvantaged students. Alongside meeting the high school and college requirements students are taught skills include teaching collaborative work, critical-thinking skills and how to fail.

Rashid Davis is the founder of P-Tech and has worked in the education sector in New York for over 20 years as a teacher and principal. It is the collaborative design between industry, schools and policymakers that allowed P-Tech to work backwards to ensure graduate skills matched the job market, he says.

“[We asked] how do we make sure we are not focusing on hardware that will need to be replaced but really focus on skills that industries want… so that way we could actually work backwards to make sure the gaps we know are missing could be filled.”

It isn’t about introducing iPads and laptops into the classroom either which quickly become outdated Davis said. It is about creating changing how the classroom looks with collaborative spaces and tools for students to work with but also to teach students to become life-long learners.

“We have to teach students how to learn and how to constantly grow… it isn’t about getting one type of credential because they will be learning for the rest of their lives,” Davis said.

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