Obama, in State of the Union, offers shout-outs to tech

The president pointed to cites IBM's training program, Apple plan to return manufacturing to U.S.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama made a point of drawing attention to three big tech firms: IBM, Apple and Intel.

Apple was praised by the president for its recently announced plan to begin "making Macs in America again," and Intel won plaudits for its $5 billion chip manufacturing plant in Arizona.

But a program that may be the most revolutionary is an IBM-backed two-year-old effort to train IT professionals, called P-Tech, in Brooklyn, NY. It's essentially a high school/ community college combo, and its principal, Rashid Davis,said he "was definitely surprised and happy" about the high-profile shout-out.

But Davis said said the point the president was making didn't apply simply to his program alone. "The high school diploma is no longer enough," he said in an interview, stressing that workers need higher levels of education now to support a family.

In his speech, Obama said the nation's goal should be to "make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job." He noted that countries like Germany "focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they're ready for a job."

That's what P-Tech does. The 227 students enrolled in this program can work concurrently on the requirements for a high school diploma as well as on an associate degree in applied science in computer systems technology or electromechanical engineering technology. The program is offered at no cost to the students.

It's called a Grade 9-14 model because it includes an associate degree. A student can complete the associate degree requirement as early as year 12, the normal high school graduation year.

P-Tech is collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York and IBM, which help to shape the school's instruction program.

The aim is "to make sure that students are leaving with the credentials that are required to meet job demand," said Davis.

The P-Tech program doesn't impose test requirements for admission. Students, who build apps and computer simulations, can pursue additional college training, or seek a job.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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