Louisiana is a great place to live and work. That’s why I brought my family to Baton Rouge when I accepted a new position at IBM. It’s also why our company has focused on expanding opportunities and creating new pathways to a good-paying job here in Louisiana.

Today, IBM is expanding its high-tech skills apprenticeship program to Baton Rouge. This program is the latest in a series of partnerships with the state of Louisiana, Baton Rouge public schools and IBM to level the playing field of opportunity for young people, veterans, mid-career workers, those without a bachelor’s degree and everyone in between.

These apprenticeships prepare people for what we call “new-collar” jobs, which are high-tech careers in technology’s fastest-growing areas, like data science, software development, systems administration and cybersecurity. New-collar jobs are about prioritizing skills over specific degrees, and recognizing that to work in today’s top tech jobs, you don’t necessarily need a degree that may bring with it expenses or student debt.

IBM has thousands of jobs at any given time, and a number of those are new-collar positions at IBM’s technology centers in Baton Rouge and Monroe. We’re looking for skilled, talented workers, and this apprenticeship program offers a way to build those skills on the job while earning a paycheck.

Some quick facts about today’s job market

  • The U.S. technology industry currently has more than 700,000 open positions because there aren’t enough skilled workers.
  • Over the next three years, 120 million workers worldwide will require retraining and re-skilling for the era of AI and intelligent automation.
  • Apprenticeships and new-collar education programs confer industry-recognized credentials and fast-track participants into well-paying jobs with zero student loan debt.

The apprenticeships in Baton Rouge will expand new-collar opportunities to military veterans, high school graduates and other mid-career adults. Nationally, IBM has hired more than 200 apprentices since the program debuted, and we plan to add 450 apprenticeships per year over the next five years. In Baton Rouge and Monroe, we are starting with 50 apprenticeships and expect that number to grow.

The payoff for participants is substantial. IBM’s apprentices earn while they learn and are eligible to receive benefits, including matching 401(k) contributions, during the program. Nationwide, 91 percent of apprentices find employment after completing their program, with higher than average annual starting salaries.

Our commitment to helping prepare more students and workers for well-paying careers is also why IBM launched our P-TECH schools in 2011. P-TECH is a new education model that combines high school with community college and job training for 125,000 students across the United States and around the world. Students graduate with both a high school diploma and a no-cost associate degree, and the skills to work in the tech industry right away.

Last year, we worked with Baton Rouge Community College to bring the highly-successful P-TECH model to Tara High School right here in Baton Rouge. IBM employees are actively involved with the program, serving as mentors to approximately 30 local students who are learning career-relevant skills.

In the years to come, we look forward to watching the Tara High students enter the new collar workforce at IBM and elsewhere, or continue their educations at four-year institutions.

But IBM also recognizes our obligation to help prepare society for the opportunity these powerful technologies will create. By expanding new approaches to skills education and training, we’re helping to ensure the benefits of this new era are felt in the communities where we live and work, here in Louisiana and beyond.

Charles Masters, IBM vice president of North America Client Innovation Centers, lives in Baton Rouge.