The global workforce is facing a skills gap, affecting more than one billion jobs by 2030. As adoption of technology increases, the World Economic Forum estimates that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025. Globally, 69% of employers report talent shortages and difficulty hiring – mainly due to skills gaps.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) is facing these challenges, with more open cybersecurity and coding jobs than it can fill with local talent. To help address this gap, BCBST and East Tennessee State University (ETSU) forged an innovative partnership to develop the BlueSky Tennessee Institute. Based at BCBST’s Chattanooga headquarters, this groundbreaking collaboration will provide students with the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in computing and a job offer at BlueCross – all in just two years.
Google Cloud joins the collaboration as an industry and learning partner, providing content and mentorship to prepare BlueSky Institute students for in-demand jobs in technology. Google will provide scholarships to complete the Google IT Support Certificate course and will provide free access to Google Cloud Skills Boost for BlueSky students. BlueSky Institute’s accelerated bachelor’s degree will provide a new pathway into some of the fastest-growing tech careers in the nation. The program will help develop much-needed talent for BlueCross – and prepare the next generation of technology leaders. The program will place a special focus on identifying and recruiting high-potential students from underserved communities in the Chattanooga area.
As BlueSky launches its first cohort of 32 students, I spoke to Mathew Desjardins, site director and senior lecturer at ETSU, Melissa Graham, Student Success manager at BlueSky Tennessee, and Katie Berlent, Public Sector Future Workforce lead at Google Cloud, about how this partnership was developed.
What problem were you trying to solve in establishing the BlueSky Tennessee Institute?
Graham: We found that in our region, there were only 50 computer science graduates over a three-year period. Our goal is to eventually recruit and enroll 50 BlueSky students per year. So we said, how can we not only fill our tech-talent gap, but do something for the community that hasn’t been done before?
Berlent: Yes, the key problem we’re trying to solve here is the talent gap. We hear every day from customers, such as BlueCross and others all over the world, that finding Google Cloud-trained talent is a top priority for their businesses.
How did you come up with this solution?
Desjardins: It was serendipity. BCBST wanted to develop an intensive job training program. ETSU has an amazing computing department. We were already using Google’s Cloud Career Readiness Program, and BCBST was already working with Google Cloud on another project. I’m glad that we were able to collaborate in a way that was best for ETSU, best for BlueCross BlueShield, and ultimately best for the students.
Berlent: We worked closely with the BlueSky Institute team to develop a two-year plan, in which Google Cloud will provide scholarships for BlueSky students to earn the Google IT Support Certificate, access to Google Cloud Skills Boost, and the Google Cloud Career Readiness Program. Google will also provide Google Cloud Teaching Credits to support hands-on learning in the classroom, mentors for the students, and an opportunity to work on Google projects at BCBST as interns.
As you launch the program, what has surprised you the most?
Graham: To see all 32 students show up on day one was a beautiful surprise. We had zero losses in enrollment over the summer, and it really feels good to know that the students trust us with such a major decision in their lives. We are definitely celebrating that as a win for the program.
Where do you expect to see the biggest impact?
Graham: For some of our students, this was their only route to a bachelor’s degree. Some of them were going to stay home and go to a local community college, due to either cost or wanting to still be near family. BlueSky Institute has really been able to eliminate some of those barriers to a bachelor’s degree. That has been very rewarding for us. The multigenerational impact is also very important. Because we’re recruiting from underserved communities, we know that earning these degrees and walking into careers with these certifications is going to trickle down for generations and benefit these communities moving forward.
Desjardins: The students all asked me, “So what’s the cost to us?” And I said, “Nothing.” Google gave us these 500 certificates. I tell them, “I don’t care if you do the Google certificate or not, but I bet ‘future you’ is going to care if you do this Google certificate or not. So I hope you earn as many as you can, because you want to be a better you.” To underline what Melissa said, providing a debt-free education and training certificates–that’s amazing. I, too, feel like this has been the most rewarding part of my career up to this point.
Berlent: Research shows that long-term and wraparound supports make a huge difference in student outcomes. For Google, this is an incredibly exciting partnership because it has all the right components to get these students to the end goal of employment. The students in BlueSky Institute will graduate with industry-standard credentials in addition to that degree. That’s a powerful combination that prepares them for the jobs that are in demand today and in the future.
What do you hope this program will achieve in five years? Or ten years?
Desjardins: Five years from now, I would love for this to be a model that’s being used nationwide. I would love for other businesses to also adopt this model, not just in the education and technology sectors.
Graham: Our number one goal is student success. We set our goal high for a 100% graduation rate. That would be really powerful and exciting – and then we want our students to choose BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee as their employer and continue with us long term. Then, like Matt, I would love for BlueSky Institute to reimagine how post-secondary education works, how businesses can partner with universities and others to impact the workforce.
Berlent: In the short term, we want Google content to help and motivate students to succeed. In the long term, I truly hope more employers like BCBST, industry partners like Google, and educational partners like ETSU can come together to support students in preparing for in-demand jobs of the future, especially within under-represented student populations who have the least access to learning this content. This is a model we’d like to see replicated many times over.
To request more information or apply to the BlueSky Tennessee Institute, click here. To learn more about Google’s workforce development initiatives, check out Grow with Google, Google Cloud Skills Boost, and Google Cloud for Faculty Programs.
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