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In Washington D.C. in September, the U.S. Department of Education’s White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) held the 2018 National HBCU Week Conference, “HBCU Competitiveness: Aligning Institutional Missions with America’s Priorities.” Martin Tuchman School of Management (MTSM) Associate Dean Cheickna Sylla was there as a panelist, discussing the partnership between MTSM and IBM that is providing a fast track to critical-skills development for success in today’s digitally driven global business world.

MTSM is IBM’s flagship university partner in North America for the company’s IBM Skills Academy, a key component of IBM Global University Programs that delivers digital technologies and education focused on cloud-based business operations management, business data analytics, and artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to extract business insights and implement decisive actions. Working with academia on this initiative, IBM aims to bridge the national skills gap in these areas.

“We are in the midst of a digital transformation and companies across all business sectors are looking for people who understand and integrate fundamental business knowledge with technology skills to make this transformation successful,” said Sylla at the conference. “Clearly, this is a new era for working professionals in this digital world of global business. … The DNA of both IBM and NJIT are connected in supporting business and industry needs in terms of the talent and technologies.”

Backed by its “Business With the Power of STEM” approach to learning, MTSM began weaving IBM Skills Academy material into its programs last year through three career tracks: business intelligence analyst, business process analyst and predictive analyst modeler. NJIT students are able to earn industry-recognized digital badges and IBM technology certifications for IBM tools, including IBM Watson, along with the academic credits that accompany their classes. Such microcredentialing and certification give students a significant competitive edge during their job, internship and co-op searches.

“But we’re not stopping there,” noted Sylla. “In collaboration with our NJIT Alumni Association, we will be creating programs that invite NJIT alums and Executive MBA students to special Saturday sessions to learn about IBM Watson Analytics and earn badges, while also being introduced to the predictive analytics, blockchain and AI workshops.

“There are also plans to expand the initiative into professional certificate and outreach programs to go beyond NJIT students and engage the broader community, including veterans and working professionals across the region.”

Sylla shared some of the lessons MTSM has learned since implementing the IBM Skills Academy: make it easy for faculty and staff to participate, clarify the benefits of completing mastery certification to students, develop relationships with regional companies for student employment opportunities, and enlist student ambassadors to promote the initiative to other students.

He also advised the attendees to “listen to industry needs, clearly articulate and convey value proposition, and leverage resources to deliver effectively and efficiently. Business folks need to be engaged in each step, from recruiting and engagement to delivery and hiring.”