Justina Nixon-Saintil: “Education programs will adapt to meet targeted needs”

Education programs will adapt to meet targeted needs: As a global community, we are beginning to understand that we cannot take a “one size fits all approach” with education. From high school students to professionals looking for reskilling, I anticipate that programs will continue to put the participant’s needs first — based on the stage of their […]

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Education programs will adapt to meet targeted needs: As a global community, we are beginning to understand that we cannot take a “one size fits all approach” with education. From high school students to professionals looking for reskilling, I anticipate that programs will continue to put the participant’s needs first — based on the stage of their careers or additional differentiators. At IBM, we have seen the value that comes when programs uniquely support all audiences.


There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Justina Nixon-Saintil, IBM Vice President and Global Head, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Justina Nixon-Saintil drives strategic, socially responsible programmatic investments that enable IBM’s technology and talent to address some of society’s biggest challenges worldwide.
 
The CSR programs Justina manages enable IBM and its employees to transform their altruism into reality. She leads IBM initiatives such as SkillsBuild and P-TECH, which use multi-sector partnerships to help create more inclusive and innovative schools and workforces. She also spearheads corporate practices that underpin the company’s tradition of uncompromising ethics and transparency in its operations and environmental footprint. On top of this, Justina leads IBM’s skilled employee volunteerism efforts to foster community success and wellbeing; these efforts demonstrate the power of technology when combined with humanity.

As IBM’s Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) focal point, Justina communicates these ideals by spearheading the company’s annual Corporate Responsibility report, as well as articulating the company’s “Good Tech” narrative to stakeholders, including investors.

Previously, as director of CSR at Verizon, Justina created and led programs to make education more inclusive. She brokered partnerships with community organizations to help bring innovative resources and experiences to under-resourced students in hundreds of schools.

Justina was also Verizon’s liaison to President Obama’s White House Office of Science and Technology, U.S. Departments of the Interior, and US Department of Education in support of the president’s ConnectED initiative.

Earlier in her career, she was an Engineer for the U.S. Department of Energy. Justina, who is an Aspen Institute First Mover Fellow, earned her Master of Business Administration from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business and her bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

Thank you so much for having me!

I’m from Dominica, a small Caribbean island in the Lesser Antilles. As a child, I was very curious about how things worked and enjoyed problem-solving, especially in math. I had no exposure to engineers or even a thorough understanding of what engineers did, but my older sister guided me to apply to the School of Engineering at the University at Buffalo. It was a difficult journey, but I prevailed and graduated as the only Black woman in Mechanical Engineering that year. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as it opened many doors, provided a good salary, and allowed me to enjoy using my engineering skills throughout my career.

Today, I serve as the Vice President and Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at IBM, and I have been working here since December 2020. Within my role at IBM, I am focused on education and skills, volunteerism, and responsible stewardship, and I also lead the company’s communications on Good Tech. I have a firm belief that technology can solve some of society’s greatest challenges — whether those challenges are related to education, climate, or equity. I am also passionate about creating economic opportunities in STEM fields for Black and Brown students in underserved communities.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe disruptions to our global economy — and to vulnerable workers within that economy. At the same time, the growing role of technology in all industries is contributing to even deeper employment uncertainty for aspiring and current professionals. More than 42% of all jobs will change significantly by 2022, according to McKinsey, requiring new skills like analytics or design thinking, in addition to soft skills like complex problem-solving.

These disruptions have made it clearer than ever that skills are currency in our global economy. Education and businesses are going to have to continue to pivot to prepare the future workforce to meet market demands. But future workers are not always concerned that automation will replace their jobs — in fact, 37% of Gen Z respondents, in a recent “I am the Future of Work” Online Poll to be published by OECD and IBM, believed that automation may actually work in their favor (with the right skills training, of course). Clearly, new technology will create new types of jobs. But in order to train people for these new jobs, we need to offer a variety of skilling initiatives to meet students and job seekers where they are.

To that end, IBM recently committed to skilling 30M people globally by 2030 — a bold expansion of our long tradition of education and workforce programming. By broadening access to skills-first education across the globe, we can create new pathways to careers that prioritize diverse talent — ultimately supporting those most affected by COVID-19 and the shift to the digital era.

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

The concept of “practical skills, not just degrees” has become a hotly debated topic in recent years. Is college worthwhile, given the severe student loan debt that typically ensues? Will it provide me with the skills needed in today’s digital era? Will it give me a foundational, social-emotional experience that will benefit my future career?

All of these questions are important to consider when making decisions on attending college. Personally, college was a life-changing experience for me. It surprised no one in my family when I went on to pursue mechanical engineering at SUNY Buffalo.

I love learning. I love searching for answers and solving real-world problems — and my degree supported me in pursuing the career I have today.

But as our economy shifts and threatens to leave people behind, we need to create alternative and expedited pathways to careers, especially for underrepresented populations. There are terrific programs like IBM SkillsBuild, which offers free courses and badges on both technology and human-centered skills, plus access to job placement and coaching resources. IBM also co-founded the P-TECH education model, which awards public high school diplomas and no-cost associate’s degrees. There are also apprenticeship programs like the one at IBM, which award college credit while paying and preparing candidates for jobs.

So, to a student considering college today, I would say — consider all of your options and choose the one that’s right for you and for your future.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment but employment that fits their talents and interests?

In February of 2021, we released a study at IBM on voluntary job changes and skills growth, which examined consumer attitudes and employer challenges in retaining workers. Among other points, the study revealed that one in four employees globally plan to switch employers in 2021. Many have called this “the Great Resignation” — and it is still very much underway.

Voluntary job changes are still top of mind for today’s labor market, as employees seek career changes due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Younger generations have shifting expectations of their employers, as it relates to work-life balance and career advancement. They also recognize that, in order to prepare for the jobs they want, they have to prioritize skills development. As one example, more than 1 in 4 Generation Z respondents in the study I mentioned say they’ll pursue an apprentice opportunity.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appear frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

We believe in shaping the future of work to ensure that the digital era doesn’t leave people behind. Students and employees believe in this as well — and we’ve seen that they are increasingly demanding skills training to be more confident in pursuing jobs of the future. As one example, in an IBM study, 58% of consumers surveyed said that they plan to take continuing education courses — mostly online — this year.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

As noted in our study on voluntary job changes and skills growth, of the 28% of surveyed employees who plan to switch employers in 2021, the need for a more flexible work schedule or location and increased benefits and support for their well-being were cited as top reasons for their possible job changes.

The pandemic changed employees’ expectations for their careers and their employers. After a year and a half of disruption, we have all begun to reprioritize work-life balance for the future of work.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

We need to make a commitment, as a society, to protect the most vulnerable workers in our economy, whether that means expanding access to skills training or creating new pathways to degrees, or bolstering support systems for workers balancing caregiving and other equally important responsibilities. It took a pandemic for many of us to recognize the vastness of these issues, and the value of supporting each other through them — and so we now need to act with more thoughtfulness, direction, and purpose.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

Our research pointed to a fundamental disconnect between employees and employers; 87% of employees believe they already have the necessary skills to meet their job/employment goals in 2021, but 45% of employers say they can’t find employees with the skills that they need.

As employers, it’s our responsibility to skill emerging and untapped talent, and re-skill or upskill existing talent to meet the needs of the marketplace. This means creating more personalized learning plans and career paths for employees, as well as more flexible and inclusive cultures. Employers and employees should work together to develop these new strategies and ensure they work for all.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

The pandemic has created employment uncertainty for aspiring and current professionals, particularly among underserved populations.

For example, though Hispanics are growing in population and economic impact in the United States, 33.7% of Hispanics between 18 and 19 years old are unemployed and less than 4% of them hold science and engineering positions — despite there being over half a million technology jobs available in the United States. Unfortunately, this pattern of poor representation and lack of opportunity repeats itself in the Black community and low-income communities in the US, as well as young communities in Europe.

In addition, the pandemic disproportionately impacted women, who shouldered the burden of labor market disruption as stay-at-home orders transformed homes into both offices and remote learning classrooms. Mounting evidence shows employment among women has dropped faster than average, including in the technology sector.

It is long overdue for these issues to be addressed, and we are faced with further urgency given the exacerbation of these issues due to the pandemic. At IBM, we advocate for increased, global, and personalized skills education training, so that all individuals are empowered to take on the jobs of tomorrow. Skills are a currency, and jobs are power — by investing in STEM education, we can minimize the economic and social divide and help underrepresented communities to thrive.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

While the future of work is ever-changing and requires diligent, thoughtful preparation, we at IBM remain optimistic about the opportunities young people will receive and contribute to. Today’s digital transformation is creating millions of jobs that require new skills. If we invest in educational training for our future workforce — students — and commit to greater involvement with our current workforce — employees — people worldwide will be able to excel at these “new collar” careers, and the global community will reap the benefits.

As mentioned, IBM is expanding its commitment to education. As part of our commitment to skill 30 million people by 2030, we are partnering with many civic, social, and economic development organizations worldwide to make SkillsBuild for Job Seekers and Students even more useful. Globally, the IBM-inspired P-TECH public education model is opening many more schools to address the high-tech skills gap at scale. We have partnered with the American Council on Education to offer up to 45 college credits for our Software Engineering Apprenticeship — allowing students to fast-track their degrees while receiving real-world skills training at the same time. And we are investing in our own employees, creating opportunities for IBMers to develop 21st-century skills. We are optimistic that global partnership will help all participants — students, professors, schools, universities, public and private entities — to overcome barriers more quickly and accelerate innovation.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

There are thousands of jobs unfulfilled in the market due to a lack of qualified professionals. This is affecting corporations at all levels, mostly in their ability to attract talent, as well as to grow and innovate. And it is even worse for small and medium companies, which are disproportionately affected by talent attraction in a demand shortage. To close this global skills gap, we need to invest in educational training programs that allow untapped talent to fulfill their potential. Furthermore, we need to ensure all learners can participate in the future of work by focusing on the inclusion of underrepresented communities in the skills trades.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Education programs will adapt to meet targeted needs: As a global community, we are beginning to understand that we cannot take a “one size fits all approach” with education. From high school students to professionals looking for reskilling, I anticipate that programs will continue to put the participant’s needs first — based on the stage of their careers or additional differentiators. At IBM, we have seen the value that comes when programs uniquely support all audiences.
  2. Training programs will move to a more local level: Content that maintains local relevance and is adapted to local languages, needs and agendas guarantee a better and deeper understanding and experience. That’s why we take a customized approach with our skills training programs — for example, the needs of the young learners who participate in IBM STEM for Girls from one country may not necessarily match the needs of those from other countries. Programs should be flexible so that we can meet the specific needs of a community.
  3. Businesses will invest in both hard and soft skills education to support career development: To be successful, employees must not only be technically proficient but know how to collaboratively solve problems with an understanding of interpersonal dynamics and self-awareness. Programs like IBM SkillsBuild recognize this and offer coursework for both spheres of the workplace.
  4. Underrepresented communities must be — and will continue to be — prioritized: The skills shortage is affecting underrepresented communities the most, leading to a misrepresentation of these communities in the technology sector. Businesses are beginning to understand the impact they can create when prioritizing the inclusion of all learners. Through a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary inclusive approach, we can build systems that are more reflective and more inclusive of every person. IBM collaborates with NGOs and partners to reach the untapped talent in these communities and help them access our technology, programs, and resources across the globe. We have seen firsthand how the economic and social divide decreases when underrepresented communities thrive.
  5. Professional support will become more personalized: Especially with the onset of the pandemic, communities have been turning towards more personalized learning programs — ensuring that systems and content are adaptable enough to meet the specific needs of learners. At IBM, we believe this will only continue to grow, and we work daily to ensure its realities. One of our key social responsibility pillars is skilled volunteerism, particularly when it comes to skills and education. IBMers have become specialized mentors to help organizations, students, teachers, and job seekers in the development of their skills, and act as role models empowering learners in their careers.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

I actually have two favorite quotes that have shaped my journey and perspective along the way:

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” ― Dolly Parton

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

These two quotes go hand in hand for me — primarily, Dolly Parton’s quote reminds me that working hard can make a difference for the greater community and that this is what it means to be a true leader. And Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, supplementally, reminds me that there are a finite number of hours in a day — trying our best is important, and so we must remember that our best is good enough.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would absolutely love to have breakfast or lunch with Michelle Obama. Not only is she influential as the first Black First Lady of the United States, but she was impactful in every facet of her time at the White House. She was successful and brilliant in her work — putting social justice issues and community needs at the forefront of her projects, illustrating to the global community the elevated role a First Lady can have. On top of the success in her career, Michelle was successful in life — raising two daughters under so much scrutiny while at the White House, while being true to her family’s needs. I’d love to chat about all things education and family with Michelle — and how they are often interwoven.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

To follow my career, you can check out my LinkedIn and Twitter pages.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.


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