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IBM targets teaching soft skills in its most popular SkillsBuild courses – Fortune

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BY Kayla SolinoJune 30, 2023, 2:03 PM

People experience the installation “Democratie” by Yoann Bourgeois Art Company during the BAM Circus Festival, as seen in May 2023 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

As technology begins to advance and companies lean more toward new areas such as artificial intelligence (A.I.), the broad awareness to address skill gaps across all levels within organizations is being noted. Upskilling and reskilling are already popular trends, and industry leaders such as IBM are providing steps for workers to do so easily.

Nearly 70% of human resources professionals believe their organization has a skills gap according to a 2023 report from Wiley, a global leader in research and education. Similarly, 68% of C-suite executives feel their workforce is lacking in needed skills, along with 69% of managers. A higher percentage of all three groups identified this skill gap in their organizations, compared with the 2021 survey.

Traditional routes for employees to pursue upskilling and reskilling include continued education and graduate degree programs, though there are an increasing number of non-traditional ways to gain new abilities, such as bootcamps, certificate courses, or self-taught online learning.

IBM is stepping to help with this learning process through its SkillsBuild courses and credential programs. SkillsBuild is a free education program primarily focused on underrepresented communities in tech and is designed to help adults, high school and university students, and university faculty develop new skills and access new career opportunities. The tech giant in 2021 committed to skilling 30 million people by 2030.

IBM sees itself at the forefront of training the future workforce, says Justina Nixon-Saintil, chief impact officer at IBM. And the SkillsBuild program aims to serve those people who have been historically excluded from the tech field—including women, minorities, low-income individuals, refugees, and veterans. 

“Because technology is advancing so quickly, especially these days, I think it’s important that we are training and upskilling and reskilling people to be successful in those fields because in the end that benefits IBM and it benefits our clients, as well,” Nixon-Saintil tells Fortune. “There is the responsibility to make sure we are not leaving vulnerable communities behind, but there’s also a significant benefit—especially to technology companies—to make sure that they are skilling and reskilling people and making sure they can be a part of this future workforce.” 

Part of the mission of SkillsBuild is to close larger gaps that exist between underrepresented communities and certain industries—and IBM aims to do so by designing content that can reach as many people as possible.

Why SkillsBuild focuses on soft-skills learning

The platform offers more than 1,000 courses in 20 languages on cybersecurity, data analysis, cloud computing, and other technical disciplines—in addition to workplace skills. Participants can earn IBM-branded digital credentials recognized by the market and which they can then share on platforms such as LinkedIn. SkillsBuild even has partnerships with universities and community colleges. 

Some courses offer the opportunity to do real-world projects with IBM partners upon completion of a course. And courses such as Cybersecurity Fundamentals, Artificial Intelligence Fundamentals, Data Fundamentals and Information Technology Fundamentals can even help individuals looking to learn a new skill or make a career switch.

As of February 2022, 1.72 million students and job seekers worldwide have joined IBM SkillsBuild to expand their learning, and this past month’s hottest SkillsBuild courses are taking learners back to basics: IBM’s most popular courses among adult learners are in the durable and professional skills space. IBM defines durable skills as those that “constitute a base layer of mindsets and dispositions,” and incorporate skills that are more foundational in nature.

IBM’s professional skills courses key in on durable skills such as creative and critical thinking, business acumen, interpersonal communications, presentation delivery and design, problem-solving, professionalism, team collaboration, and more. Specialized courses such as Working in a Digital World: Professional Skills focus on the soft skills needed to excel in particular fields, such as the IT workforce. 

These soft skills may not be taught as routinely in minority and underrepresented communities, and therefore these candidates don’t typically possess the same social, professional, or educational opportunities as others. 

“You always need to upskill your technical skills, but for people who traditionally have been left out of the workforce who are really trying to get that first job—they need those durable skills,” says Lydia Logan, IBM’s vice president of global education and workforce development. “That’s what helps them to stay in a job—understanding how to do presentations, how to collaborate, how to communicate—and that’s regardless of what your field is.” 

SkillsBuild provides an accessible and affordable way to obtain new skill sets to help bridge workers into new careers and opportunities. What’s more, you don’t have to wait to get started. Anyone can access IBM’s SkillsBuild courses online to gain “career-connected, market-valuable credentials,” Logan says. 

Check out all of Fortune’s rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.

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