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Putting inclusive learning to work in Philadelphia

A Smarter Cities approach to closing the workforce skills gap

With global unemployment at its highest since 1991 and more than 197 million jobless workers worldwide1, politicians are abuzz about the urgent need for job creation. But employers — particularly those in the U.S. — are facing a different challenge: an ever-widening skills gap.

Despite having 12+ million2 unemployed working age adults to choose from, the U.S. manufacturing industry alone has more than a half million unfilled openings3 due to the shrinking pool of qualified candidates. Seattle-based aerospace company, Boeing, says it also expects to be hard pressed to hire the 3,000 - 5,000 skilled workers it will need this year.4

Demand for workers with education and training in science, technology, engineering and math is not expected to slow anytime soon. Of the anticipated 47 million jobs to be created between now and 2018, half will require specialized technical skills.5

To help close this gap for its own citizens — an estimated 600,000 of who will lack the basic skills to compete in the new global workforce by 2030 — city leaders in Philadelphia, P.A., looked to IBM for a creative solution. Philadelphia applied for and was selected in 2011 as one of 24 cities to receive a Smarter Cities Challenge grant from IBM that provided three weeks of full-time consulting services to help address the problem. The visiting IBM consultants were tasked by Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter to deliver an actionable plan to fulfill the city's vision for a first-of-a-kind human capital management system.

The team's resulting solution proposal, Digital On-Ramps (DOR), provides a scalable, sustainable model to integrate the city's vast existing (but currently siloed) network of public and private organizations working to advance literacy, digital literacy and employment. The DOR takes a blended, ‘anytime, anywhere' approach to learning that combines traditional classroom education with virtual, online course work that individuals can access on the device of their choice (e.g., personal computers, laptops, smart phones, tablets).

Central to the DOR design, is the diversity of Philadelphia's citizens and their unique range of learning needs. From the beginning, the ability of the DOR to effectively meet the needs of each individual learner was a critical success metric established by the IBM team. The DOR, they determined, had to work for everyone from the person who dropped out of high school, to the individual who needs assistance with the 3 Rs (Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic), to the degreed professional looking to advance his or her career. Finally, the system also needed to be usable by every citizen — including more than 228,000 Philadelphians with disabilities6 and the nearly 20 percent of the city's population that speaks a language other than English at home.7

Today, the city is working to implement the DOR roadmap developed by IBM. While still in the beginning stages, Philadelphia's city leaders believe the ultimate outcome will be a highly innovative, replicable model to help other cities close workforce skills gaps.

"The Smarter Cities Challenge is really about putting Philadelphia and cities all across the country and around the world in a position to truly create the 21st century workforce of the future," said Mayor Michael Nutter. "To take an individual from where they are and prepare them not just for a job, but for a career…that's what Smarter Cities are all about."

About the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge

The Smarter Cities Challenge was launched in 2010 by IBM Citizenship to help 100 cities over a three year period address an array of critical challenges ranging from urban agriculture to public safety. Learn more about the Smarter Cities Challenge and see the list of 33 cities selected to receive grants in 2012.

Join the conversation

Ask questions and learn more about closing the skills gap with inclusive, anytime-anywhere learning for Smarter Cities during the next IBM Accessibility Facebook Expert Hour on April 25 at 12:00 PM EDT.

Additional link resources

Smarter Cities Challenge: Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

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