UofL, IBM partnership prepares next-generation workforce - CAT

UofL, IBM partnership prepares next-generation workforce

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The University of Louisville and IBM announced a partnership that includes the establishment of an IBM Skills Academy focused on digital learning and technology skills. It will be housed in the newly-created Center for Digital Transformation in the Miller Information Technology Center on the Belknap Campus and will open by the start of the fall semester. 

Specifically, the academy will provide curriculum and educational tools concentrated on eight fast-growing technology areas: artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, cybersecurity, cloud computing, internet of things, quantum computing, data science and design thinking.

Through IBM’s existing Academic Initiative, IBM will make available software and cloud technology with an estimated value up to $5-million a year.

“But the value of this far exceeds that figure. When you have two great institutions working together, who can say where the opportunity lies?” said UofL President Neeli Bendapudi, who made the partnership happen along with Naguib Attia, IBM’s vice president of Global University Programs, after the two met recently at an event.

This skills academy is the first of its kind that IBM has developed with a higher education institute. The company is in discussions with four universities to open similar academies in the United States. Attia said the initiative is starting here because of Bendapudi’s “passionate leadership.”

“When I heard about IBM’s vision to try and bridge the digital divide, I knew we had to work quickly,” Bendapudi said. “It is important for us to be nimble with this, to be truly transformative, to say, ‘We see what’s coming, how can we be proactive?’ I am extremely grateful to IBM.”

Bendapudi said students will benefit from the academy through course credit and IBM certification, while faculty will be trained on skills curriculum to then be able to teach colleagues and students. But the benefits are expected to extend well beyond UofL’s campus, as trained faculty will also serve as workforce development agents for the community.

Attia said over 120-million jobs will be affected within the next three years by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.

Indeed, the share of jobs requiring AI skills has grown 4.5 times since 2013. Global spending on blockchain solutions in 2018 equated to $2.1-billion and is expected to grow to $20-billion by 2024. Meanwhile, the global cybersecurity market, currently valued around $120-billion, is expected to jump to over $300-billion by 2024.

“These skills are the most critical issue of our time and the south has the highest number of employees without an education beyond high school,” Attia said. “If we don’t work to close this gap, it could have a negative impact on millions of people.”

Because of the pervasiveness of these emerging technologies and the speed at which they’re evolving, Attia noted that such skills training will be available for all students, regardless of their area of study.

“The future is not going to leave the good people of Kentucky behind,” he said.

City, state leaders react to announcement

Underscoring the impact this announcement has locally and state wide, a press conference was attended by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Congressman John Yarmuth, Terry Gill, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, and – via video – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I attend a lot of events where I can say ‘this is a great day for Louisville.’ But with this announcement, I can say this is an important day for Louisville; this is a critical day for Louisville,” Yarmuth said. “The world is changing at 100 miles an hour and this initiative will deal with issues of the future, including the benefits and challenges of technological change.”

Mayor Greg Fischer added that the academy will help build on the city of Louisville’s employment growth trajectory from the past eight years – about 80,000 new jobs – noting that nearly every new position includes some technology skill requirement.

“Our goal is to quintuple the amount of employees receiving technology training every year and this (partnership) is exactly what we’re talking about,” Fischer said. “If we’re not integrating technology in everything we do, we’re really missing the boat.