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IBM's Rometty: The skills gap for tech jobs is 'the essence of divide'

President and CEO of IBM Ginni Rometty REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Artificial Intelligence, or “augmented intelligence” as IBM (IBM) CEO Ginni Rometty prefers to call it, “looks beautiful,” but it could be painful if the world is not prepared for it.

“A lot of people say, ‘So will A.I. replace jobs?’ The answer is: it will,” Rometty said during an event on Wednesday hosted by the Economic Club of New York.

IBM just finished a study in collaboration with MIT that found that 10% of jobs will be replaced, according to Rometty. In an era of man and machine, these jobs will be 100% changed, she added.

“Do we really have a country — it is true in every country, by the way — a workforce ready for that?”

What it all boils down to is that “skills is the issue of our time,” she said.

“If you look at it just some pure numbers, the United States: half a million open tech jobs, five to six million open jobs in general. Our high schools only teach 25% of computer science. This great country only produced 400,000 computer science people. Hard to believe such small numbers.”

‘The essence of divide’

She characterized this skills gap for those job openings as “the essence of divide.”

“When people think there’s no brighter future in front of them … that is the seeds for revolution. And so, if we don’t change people life-long learning and particularly this thing about getting ready for this era and if you think that the world can be that everybody gets to university — God bless our university kids here — but that everyone gets to university or PhD, forget it. This is not a good future.”

She believes that a public-private partnership can help solve this. One way to do this is to train people for what she calls “new collar” jobs that don’t require a college or graduate degree.

In 2011, IBM helped start the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn. This program offers four years of high school and two years of community college. There are now around 100 of these schools.

“Think of it as a six-year high school,” Rometty said. “And, these kids … they’re graduating where they can do lots of different types of jobs. A very simple promise: a curriculum, you have a mentorship, us 300 companies, and a chance at a job. That’s really it. I think this is infinitely solvable…but it’s a real issue to be addressed.”

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo FinanceFollow her on Twitter.

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