The concept of the P-TECH school model was born out of a very clear need: U.S. employers are finding it difficult to fill jobs due to a lack of prepared workers with the appropriate technical and professional skills needed in today’s economy. Businesses are finding that many young adults are coming to their doors without the relevant skills needed to enter and succeed in their job sectors, particularly growing industries that emphasize science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills. This “skills gap” issue has long been a problem even before the financial crisis of 2008, which exposed serious weaknesses in the world’s economic infrastructure.
As the economic downturn forced companies to rethink their business strategies, those most committed to full economic recovery saw the need to reconsider their workforce by prioritizing the alignment of education and workforce development. These companies acknowledged that innovative strategies were needed to ensure that a robust and skilled talent pipeline would be ready to work in a rapidly changing market.
IBM, the globally integrated technology and consulting company, has been at the forefront of this movement by focusing on the gap between the skills that the company needs for its business and those that young people are being taught in traditional high schools and post-secondary institutions. IBM saw an opportunity to combine its business and corporate citizenship strategies to reimagine the education system in our country so that students—even before knocking on company doors—are prepared with the skills and knowledge to succeed in a market that is constantly evolving.
Recognizing that developing a solution necessitated unprecedented cross-sector collaboration, in 2011, IBM teamed up with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and the City University of New York (CUNY) to tackle this idea. Building on DOE’s history of career and technical education and CUNY’s early college high schools in New York City, the partners devised a model linking classroom learning from high school and college with industry-based skills training that lead directly to jobs.
In September 2011, the first grade 9-14 career and technical education high school opened in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or “P-TECH,” emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, and blends free, public high schooling with community college courses at CUNY’s New York City College of Technology. From the beginning, the partnership between private and public institutions emphasized that the P-TECH school would be open to all students interested in the school’s STEM focus and related associate degree, which would be offered at no cost to their families. By successfully completing a six-year sequence of high school, college, as well as work-based learning program including internships and apprenticeships, Brooklyn’s P-TECH has been designed for students to be considered “first-in-line” for jobs at IBM.
Since then, cities across the nation have opened schools based on the P-TECH model, including in Chicago, Illinois and Norwalk, Connecticut. In 2013, President Obama visited the original P-TECH school in Brooklyn after challenging other companies, school districts and post-secondary institutions to form similar partnerships. New York State announced 10 school districts within its state that will open new grades 9-14 schools by September 2015, adding to the 16 already opened as of September 2014. New York City currently has six grades 9-14 schools opened.